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Crime and Punishment: Britain’s parliamentarians to escape justice

Immigration pardon
by SS&SS

Article by John Sylvester

If transgressions are committed by governments, say in the case of the Iraq war where fictitious information was used to justify killing perceived enemies of the state, why will members of the British parliament will be pardoned over their expenses?

The furore in Britain’s parliament over the expenses debacle has added fuel to the fire now raging as the country faces its worst economic crisis of modern times, with the Exchequer laid bare for a decade or so to come.

Michael Martin, who was perceived to be the overseer for a legion of so-called fraudsters has been forced to resign as the House of Commons’ speaker in a row over MPs expenses and is the first speaker to be forced out since 1695.

Anger is brimming over at the moment as MPs have been caught with their hands in the till and, from now on, will be banned from “flipping” their designated second homes in order to milk the Commons allowances system.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has stopped the Additional Cost Allowance being used for furniture, household items and food — the sort of “extras” that has so incensed the public since details were published by the Daily Telegraph.

It is being suggested that the expenses claims are technically not illegal, although among all sorts of dubious expenses parliamentarians have claimed include swimming pools, chandeliers, horse manure and moat cleaning. But is it?

In a statement the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police said: “Due to the increase in subsequent allegations received by the Metropolitan Police, the Commissioner and Director of Public Prosecutions have jointly decided to convene a panel to assess allegations in order to decide whether criminal investigations should be started. A panel, comprising officers and a senior CPS lawyer, will commence a series of meetings next week.” Read, whitewash. No minister will ever see the inside of a courtroom as far as this scandal is concerned.

Although PM Gordon Brown has outlined plans to dismantle what he described as the “gentlemen’s club” of parliament by handing power for the oversight of every aspect of MPs’ pay, expenses and pensions to a new statutory independent regulator, he is said to be “angered and appalled” by the scandal when he was right up there “flipping” with the best of them. He even put his apartment in his wife’s name so that he could claim on his Fife home, whilst living in a grace and favour home in Downing Street. He also paid his brother £6,577 for “cleaning services”.

This one does indeed go right to the top as Chancellor Alistair Darling is one of six MPs who is said to be facing a police probe over their expenses. Another leading minister who could be the subject of a Scotland Yard investigation is Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who is alleged to have built up a property portfolio worth £1.7 million with the help of the expenses system while living free in a ministerial flat. Minister for London Tony McNulty claimed £60,000 for a house that his parents live in.

Then there’s Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice no less, who is accused of claiming the full cost of council tax back even though he received a 50% discount from his local authority. He has since repaid the difference. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, paid for improvements to his Hartlepool home in the months after announcing he was quitting as an MP. One of the worst offenders, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, claimed for three different properties in a single year, spending almost £5,000 of taxpayers’ money on furniture in three months.

One staggering claim by Tory MP Bill Wiggin was £11,000 for a phantom mortgage he never had. Then there’s the ludicrous claim of a Tory MP who has been forced to quit after using taxpayers’ money to protect the ducks in his garden pond. Or of Ruth Kelly who claimed thousands of pounds in expenses to pay for damage caused to her home by flooding, although at the time she had a building insurance policy. No wonder Labour is now on par with the almost unheard of United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) in a recent poll.

A couple of lower-level MPs have been forced to quit but the public wants far more than mere suspension. Gordon Brown is facing a cabinet revolt after Hazel Blears and other senior figures took a defiant stand against moves to shift or demote them in his next reshuffle. One comment on the Guardian’s website says: “I want Blears sacked and slung in jail for fraud.” But there are rules for the taxpayers that paid for this willful extravagance and others for parliamentarians, it seems.

Let’s just take the case of Hazel Blears. Miss Blears repaid more than £13,000 in Capital Gains Tax after it emerged that she had designated one property as her second home for the purpose of expenses but told a different story to the taxman to dodge the bill when she moved house. On this subject Gordon Brown said: “Hazel didn’t break any rule or law [she did if her tax return was incorrectly filed; it’s called tax evasion]. But what she did was unacceptable [illegal, if she evaded Capital Gains Tax]. She came to me, we talked about it and she paid back the money [when under current disclosure rules, the fine for non-disclosure is £5,000, plus the penalty for tax evasion if found guilt by HM Revenue & Customs].”

In addition, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, is also under fire for failing to say whether he paid Capital Gains Tax when he sold his second home, while building a £1.7million property empire with taxpayers’ help. He could also come into range for filing a falsified tax return if this turns out to be the case.

Let’s imagine a scenarion in which The Great Train Robbers said they were sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again; it was just an honest mistake to steal the £2.6 million but we have now given it back. Oh, well that’s all right then, you can go free. Or the case of three illegal immigrants who masterminded Britain’s single biggest visa scam and who boasted about how easy it was to cheat the Home Office, then admitted it was just another “honest mistake” and here’s the money back. Or, if an ordinary man, who Labour laughingly is said to represent, were to embezzle expenses of such magnitude from his company, he would be jailed. But the fact that the company is the government and members of the government committed the offence, there is no one to press charges. Or is there?

The Daily Mail has backed a move to bring to justice MPs whose flagrant abuse of expenses and are joining forces with the Tax-Payers’ Alliance to launch a campaign for the “private prosecutions of backbenchers and ministers who have pocketed thousands of pounds through dishonest claims”. Despite overwhelming evidence of a culture of crooked expenses claims among MPs, they say that “legal experts think it highly unlikely that police and the Crown Prosecution Service will bring criminal charges against any of them”.

Finally, this brings me to the novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who in Crime and Punishment focused on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Raskolnikov, an impoverished St. Petersburg ex-student who formulates and executes a plan to kill a hated, unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money, thereby solving his financial problems. In this parallel, perhaps Dostoevsky’s message was one of future, political nihilism in a country far away?

If murder can be committed by governments with impunity, such as in the case of the Iraq war, where use of fictitious information was given to the general public in order to justify the killing of perceived enemies of the state, then why not the individual? This, I think, is one of the many messages Dostoevsky wished to make.

Neither George Bush nor Tony Blair will ever be indicted for the Iraq war. In the same way, an individual who commits murder, for similar reasons to that of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, who argued that he was ridding the world of an evil, worthless parasite, will be jailed for life. But by some tangled paradigm of human nature, those “honourable members” of the British parliament who deliberately falsified their expenses claims will be pardoned not just by themselves, the police and the judiciary, but by the people themselves.

About the Author

V9 Design and Build (http://www.v9designbuild.com) produce tasteful web design in Bangkok, Thailand, including ecommerce shopping cart solutions, with functionality that allows owners to set up and maintain their online stores.

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