Magazine article The Spectator

If You Want to See Corruption, Look at the Party Leaders' Response to the Scandal

Magazine article The Spectator

If You Want to See Corruption, Look at the Party Leaders' Response to the Scandal

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle says that, for all the claims made by Brown and Cameron to be taking deeply moral action, the pattern of retribution shows that they are saving their mates and throwing their enemies to the wolves

Which of the many MPs accused of defrauding the taxpayer by fiddling their expenses is the worst offender, do you think? We need some clarity on this issue. In the public mind I have a feeling that they are all beginning to merge as one composite beast drawn from ancient mythology - a hydra-headed pig emerging from its second duck island with a tampon in one claw and a porno flick in the other, whining piteously about inadvertent accountancy errors. How should we choose between them? Clearly, some have behaved worse than others. Some have cheerfully gone along with a corrupt system to trouser a few extra quid here or there - others have told lies, cheated and employed accountants to screw thousands upon thousands of pounds from the rest of us.

My own nomination as worst offender is the Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell. He told the parliamentary authorities that his main home was in Manchester, so that he could claim a second home allowance for his pad in London. In 2004, however, he flogged his London flat - and in order to avoid capital gains tax, told the Inland Revenue that this was actually his main home.

It seems clear enough to me that he was lying to someone in order to trouser a large sum of money from the taxpayer. As a sort of final 'f*** you!' to the taxpayer he also claimed a £395 accountancy bill, which included advice on how to avoid paying the aforementioned tax. Magnificent cheek - almost admirable in its effrontery. Purnell, you may remember, was the minister who once appeared in a photograph taken at his local hospital without having been present at the time - his office had him superimposed into the snap later.

Without his knowledge, according to him.

Most definitely with his knowledge, according to almost everyone else. That caused a stir for a bit.

Come on, you might exclaim - his behaviour is bad and he should of course be sacked and prosecuted, but is it really any worse than that of Jacqui Smith, or Hazel Blears, or Chris Grayling or any of the other 'flippers'? And this is where I run into difficulties, because while Purnell's behaviour puts him in the worst tranche of MPs, my real reason for singling him out is that I loathe the man. I don't want to overstate the case - heaven forefend - but James Purnell embodies almost everything I find repulsive about modern politicians, at least partly as a consequence of my own prejudices. He is a public school-educated monkey whose career, prior to him becoming a useless MP, comprised various vapid and pointless media consultancy positions, culminating in him being appointed to the job of lickspittle to the BBC's worst-ever director-general, John Birt, in the BBC's most useless and counterproductive and overpaid department, corporate affairs. Later, as an MP, he was the most avid supporter of Lord Hutton's whitewashed inquiry into the death of the scientist Dr David Kelly, and the most vociferous critic of his previous employers, the BBC. He is a close friend of that other slippery little meeja lickspittle and bag-carrier, Tim Allan.

So, given my own surrender to personal antipathy, I suppose it is unfair to blame the party leaders, Gordon Brown and particularly David 'moral high ground' Cameron for behaving similarly when they decide who should and who should not be punished for their transgressions against the taxpayer. …

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