Gordon Brown: Dead Man Walking

meI’m just back from Spain, where the winter was mild, sometimes a bit rainy but more often beautifully sunny. The fish was fresh, the wine fruity and the carpet of olive groves that covers much of Andalusia as lush and verdant as ever. For four blissful months, blogging was the farthest thing from my mind. Political upheavals, natural disasters, war and pestilence, even the start of Barack Obama’s presidency: what did I care, when there were going to be tapas variadas and a bottle of Rioja crianza for lunch?tapas_1 

Well, here I am in rain- and windswept Holland finding that, apart from a few familiar features such as a still biting economic crunch, fuel prices at the pump rising -but never falling- at triple the rate of a barrel of crude and a stifling fiscal climate that hits the worst off worst, quite a lot has changed. Not just in this country, but around the world. For one thing -and I believe this may have to do with the new US President’s penchant for straight, honest talking- openness and transparency in government are beginning to spread across the world like an oil slick. Nowhere is this trend more spectacularly on the move than in the United Kingdom. Gone are the days of’ ‘tradition, old boy’ , ‘mum’s the word’ and ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. The recent publication by the Daily Telegraph of details of how Westminster’s parliamentarians  fiddle their expenses has caused such an eruption of popular indignation and contempt that change -formerly avoided like the Black Plague in a country where even things that were seriously broke never got fixed- is now by general consent seen as the only way forward. And not just a bit of change, no tinkering with a few rules about how many toilet seats the taxpayer CAN be expected to fork out for, or strict minimum and maximum age limits for relatives one wishes to put on one’s payroll, no: a complete overhaul of the entire parliamentary system is in order, nothing less will do.                                                                                                                                                                          

I find all this wildly exciting. In a few short months the UK seems to have become ready to change from the most hidebound, backward-looking Punch-and-Judy show in the western world into something altogether new and untried: a transparent democracy where MP’s serve the voters rather than the other way around, where only truth is spoken at the despatch box, where grown men do no longer prance about in tights and silver-buckled shoes and where the expenses system will only compensate honourable members for costs incurred in the actual execution of their parliamentary work. Stationery, paper clips and Bic ballpoints, rather than plasma screen TV’s, duck sanctuaries, motor mowers and swimming pools, will henceforth exercise the minds of the good people in the Fees Office. In time, the pall of cynical profiteering will lift from the Palace of Westminster, to be replaced by the shining aura of selfless devotion to the nation’s good. I love it already. Other cash-guzzling, bone lazy, self-serving, pensioned-up-to-the-hilt parliamentarians of the western world: take note. You may well be next. My very personal message, as King of Rumania, to the boys and girls we employ in The Hague is ‘Repent! The Day Of Judgement Loometh!’ Or maybe it loometh not; the Dutch are so used to forking out over the odds that they’ve become indifferent to the bloodlettings they suffer on a regular basis.APTOPIX Britain World Cup Bid

In the UK meanwhile, with the doodah having hit the fan in earnest, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his government -for want of a better word- are staring into the abyss. Granted, the expenses scandal has tainted politicians of all major parties, but New Labour has the dubious honour of out-defrauding the competition by some distance. Not surprising, of course; the snooty Tories with their posh accents and estates in the country can afford to be casual about money. For their part, the woolly, goody-two-shoes Liberal Democrats (most of them anyway) have probity and thrift tattooed on their frontal lobes. But ever since, under that tireless promoter of Middle East peace, Tony Blair, the Labourites left behind their beer and sandwiches and headed for the champagne and caviar, the lust for easy cash has taken a firm hold on them. Money For Old Rope, whyever not? With Tony and Cherie showing how it’s done, cynical self-enrichment has taken over from class solidarity as the Holy Grail of Socialism, UK style.

Whether the British Labour Party will be willing (or able) to reclaim the hearts and minds of its former core supporters (the poor, the weak, the very young, the very old) remains to be seen. Abandoning greedy habits will not be easy, but a general purge of wrongdoers, followed by the imposition of a new, draconian expenses system will help. Still, that is not Gordon Brown’s only problem. Public outrage, now that it has flared up so searingly, will also turn on the failures of Labour in 12 years of power. Going to war on a lie is the worst, but by no means the only,  low point of the party’s disastrous stewardship of the nation. In last week’s local and EU elections, voters remembered with great clarity the selling off of the country’s gold reserves at the bottom of the market, the cynical -or rather: desperate- raid on pension funds, the insulting 75 pence a week increase for OAP’s, the soaring levels of national and personal debt, the  Millennium Dome disaster, the problems caused by unchecked immigration, the cavalier handling and subsequent loss of confidential data, a health system in crisis despite massive cash injections, embarrassing U-turns (most recently over the Gurkhas) and a record of chicanery and skulduggery of which the Medicis would have been proud. Result: electoral disaster now, with more mayhem at the polls to follow.cameron-interview2_1413270c

The funny thing is: ten, twelve years from now we’ll probably be saying much the same things about the New Conservatives.


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