MP’s Expenses – Being Machiavellian to tackle the bigger financial issues

Yesterday I wrote a comment on John Redwood’s blog that

  1. That MPs costs are an insignificant part of public expenditure.
  2. David Cameron should take a decisive (Machiavellian) approach to this, providing a clear precedent for the government to follow.
  3. We should then move on to sorting out the economy.

 

This drew two responses. I repeat them hear, with more fulsome responses than I posted earlier on the blog.

Lynne Gill Reply:
May 12th, 2009 at 6:44 am

If you think the furore over MPs’ expenses is a mere distraction you have no idea of the outrage felt by the rest of the population. Removing the party whip and asking for admissions and apologies from these miscreants is only the beginning of the process.

Their behaviour is morally repellent and conniving, and in many cases criminal – but I guess it’s going to be deemed ‘not in the public interest to prosecute’, eh?

The very least they should be expected to do is pay back what they have stolen from the tax-payers pockets. How about putting their ill-gotten gains into a fund for, oh, lets say refurbishing the almost-slums some of our service personnel are living in, between putting their lives in danger at the behest of these gross pieces of work.

 

 I profoundly disagree with your comment. I believe that in politics, as in other areas, you should give people a chance to make amends and move on. This is what David Cameron has done today, setting a precedent for the government to follow.

If we start an inquisition it will go on for months. At this time when we need better government to sort out the economic mess we are in, not to turn parliament into a Roman Circus to watch good people being thrown to the lions.

Further, most MPs have acted within the existing rules. They have not “stolen” money, but that have acted dishonourably and immorally. For them, the conformance has been to the letter of the detailed rules, rather than to the spirit of why they were laid down.

 

Donna W Reply:
May 12th, 2009 at 8:33 am

Sorry, but it is going to need much more than punishment of the 3 worst offenders.

This is Cameron’s chance to clear the Party of the Old Guard – the Squire-ocracy who have no understanding of ‘normal’ peoples’ lives.

If he let’s them get away with claiming expenses for swimming pools, moats, chandeliers, horse-manure (how apt); domestic servants etc ….. then the Tory Party will sink like a stone.

He should be demanding they all pay back the money they have mis-appropriated, seek resignations – and if they’re not forthcoming, withdraw the Whip.

 

Your comment about Cameron demanding that money should be paid back is valid, and is exactly what Cameron has done today. However, Cameron has broadly followed my line. Draw a line in the sand to those who recognise their error and apologise, then move on. Indeed he has improved on my suggestion, as he has set a clear set of rules for those wishing to retain the Conservative Whip. To do as you suggest – essentially sack those the toffs, or those you disagree with – is poor leadership.

Political parties are essentially coalitions, and the leaders need to keep a large range of people on board, who are loyal to that leadership. Machiavelli wrote in 16th century Italy that when a Prince takes over a city he should kill a few and then clearly state that peace should ensue. This way, the new subjects have a clear decision – die or become loyal. For Machiavelli, going after all the vanquished enemies would be counter-productive. It is better to transform the majority and make them loyal subjects, for given that chance most will become loyal subjects. If you are continuously crushing the vanquished, then they will have reason to rise up against the Prince.

 Being “Machiavellian” in the modern political context, is about delivering a clear message in times of crisis, sacking those who do not conform, but then offering a clear way forward to those who wish to mend there ways.  

          As John Redwood has stated, the Conservatives in power will have much bigger battles to wage. Today Cameron has shown he can fight those battles more effectively than the current Prime Minister.

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