Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The saga of MPs' allowances brings to mind the depredations of Gaius Verres, Roman governor of Sicily 73-71 BC. Not that there is any real comparison between MPs' moneygrubbing and Verres's ruthless looting of the island on a scale that would draw envious gasps from Robert Mugabe, but the issue they both raise - the trust that can be placed in government - is remarkably similar.

The Sicilian people were represented in court by the young Cicero, aged 36. The foundation of his success was laid by his intensive and detailed research, which took him to Sicily for two months. There he interviewed those whose inheritances had been seized, property removed or daughters violated, and went scrupulously through all Verres's files. In one scam, Verres had demanded his victims pay bribes to him by borrowing money at extortionate interest from a business ally, Carpinatius. Verres then redeposited the bribe with Carpinatius, protecting his money and doubtless taking a decent share of the profits. In order to hide his identity, however, he had his name on Carpinatius's records changed from 'Verres' to 'Verrucius'. Cicero found the records, saw the changes and drew the obvious conclusion.

All this has strong parallels with the Daily Telegraph investigation of MPs' records - records that MPs, Verres-like, would have unquestionably 'dealt with', had they been given the chance. …

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