Westminster media in garage sale of MP’s secrets…

There is something of an anti democracy frenzy gripping the Westminster village at the moment, which I fully expect to end the moment the Tories take charge of number 10. A Tory friend tells me this is what happened to Major; but then the effects were not quite so destructive of the democratic since the fight is so narrowly drawn (down to the price of a bathplug for goodness sake), and the casualties are being carted out on either side of the house. You can pick up the figures for MP’s expense here (but it will cost you a cool £300,000 for the real dirty detail).

For the record, the First Minister and First Minister’s wife between them ship over £40,000 for their London residence (yes, yes, I know it’s old news, but…), and non sitting MP Gerry Adams trousers a cool £21,131 a year for staying in London. Yet, there is no way of knowing whether these expenses are reasonable without further investigation (which would seem to be the point of the Tory led agitation). It is expensive to stay in London. And it is almost certainly cheaper for an MP to buy a place than to stay in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense. We had the same mudslinging before the 2005 election, and there’s another 12 months to go..

Whoever is at the back of these leaks a corner is being turned here. Few public figures would stand the level of scrutiny being turned on public figures like the Home Secretary. If it happens now, under a Labour government, it is hard to see how it would not continue when the new government takes office. That’s fine for the guys who barely believe in a representative democracy. But there is a vortex of prurience opening up under a government that is trying (with what little collective intelligence is left it) to hose down a major dysfunction in the global markets.

What we are witnessing is a near hysterical bonfire of the vanities (with Guido starring in his the role of a latter day Savonarola). But as Polly Toynbee notes, it is also profoundly trivial:

…our MPs are rarely corrupt. Our feral press, however, finds growing transparency and freedom of information – brought in by Labour – offers easy meat for cheap stories. These hyped up “scandals” are frivolous compared with serious investigations such as the Guardian’s arduous and risky revelations on company tax avoidance.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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