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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Hogarth judge

In distant archipelagoes....

Julia wrote:
After 4 years of struggle and obstruction, the Freedom of Information act has at last enabled the British public to get a look at the expenses claimed by MPs. They earn a salary that is somewhat less than a doctor or lawyer (or even a top journalist) commands and (given that successive governments have been reluctant to grasp the nettle by raising that amount) some MPs have been padding their expense accounts in various blatant ways. The House of Commons has done all it could to block publication of members' expenses, with the Speaker leading the pack, but finally we are getting a look at what has been going on.

This is the clearest explanation of what has been going on over yonder that I have run across. I saw in the papers that the Speaker had been unspoken, but the accounts mentioned only dissatisfaction with his handling of questions.

On the other hand, my sympathies probably lie with the MPs, for several reasons. It does seem like the rules of the game have been retroactively changed on them. They have every right to complain that this is not fair.

People given expense accounts are going to use them for their own comfort and enjoyment to the extent that can be done without raising suspicion. If you don't understand and accept this, if only as an inevitable fact of human nature, you are not wise enough to participate in either government or journalism. Again, this underlines the essential unfairness of changing the rules retroactively.

Because the British press operates under defamation and state secrecy rules that seem draconian in the United States, when they get hold of a petty scandal that they can exploit within those rules they will worry it like a terrier. I'll admit it's amusing to see Gerry Adams accepting handsome purses from a Queen he disdains to serve. But still, a padded expense account scandal is, at least from this side of the water, the slightest and most negligible of political scandals.

Here, at least, you wonder whether they don't have bigger fish to fry. The amount of pure dudgeon that seems to be going on in the press over there is reminiscent of the style of moral hyperventilation that's all too common over here. This may be Britain's least welcome gift to her former colony. It's pure peasant panic, more of the sort of thing that burnt Priestley's library.