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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Revisiting ‘Time for Darwin Awards for MPs Who Contribute to People’s Amazement, Anger, Jollity and Disbelief?

Revisiting ‘Time for Darwin Awards for MPs Who Contribute to People’s Amazement, Anger, Jollity and Disbelief?

No more relevant today than it was a year ago when I published it on Suite 101, but also no less relevant. I am gradually republishing all my material from Suite 101. So … the Darwin Awards for politicians:

Everybody contributes to life, the human gene pool and the entertainment of others. It may be that some politicos should be rewarded with an accolade for how they have affected voters and taxpayers.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek celebration that salute the improvement of the human genome by honouring those who accidentally remove themselves from it…

Its awarded to people who die through incredible, jaw-dropping acts of stupidity. Recent winners include the 22 year old, annoyed how slowly her boyfriend was driving, who declared itll be quicker to walk as she stepped from the moving vehicle to her death.

Latest nominations include a 32 year old man who died after winning a roach-eating contest and losing a worm eating contest at a reptile store in Florida. Apparently he scoffed a plate of super-worms, a handful of mealworms and half a bucket of roaches. However, he wasn’t awarded the Darwin, because ‘roaches and worms are edible’. An all-you-can-eat insect buffet is not normally deadly, just silly.

Its in that spirit of silly behaviour that observers of the UK political scene may wonder if an award isn’t overdue for Members of Parliament and former MPs who do the utmost stupid things that baffle and confuse the norms of common sense and defy logic and rational explanation. These are people who haven’t yet enriched the human gene pool by leaving it.

Criminal Acts

Since the story went public in 2009, a cross-section of MPs from across Parliament have been revealed to have fiddled expenses, applying their creative talents in flipping their main/secondary residences, organising repairs and even a floating duck house pond feature in one case, at taxpayers expense.

Legitimate costs in maintaining a London residence and one in the constituency were abused on a significant scale. It led to major loss of confidence in politics in general and Parliamentarians in particular. There were resignations, sackings, de-selections by political parties and anger among voters and taxpayers.

Some MPs and members of the House of Lords ended up behind bars. Others may yet follow them to jail. Former honourable gentlemen convicted of some incredible acts of folly include Labour’s David Chaytor, Elliot Morley. Eric Ilsley, Jim Devine and Conservative Lord Hanningfield.

There is a prevailing view that some others got off lightly. Lib-Dem MP David Laws seriously breached expense rules over a considerable period of time, resigned from the Cabinet in 2010 after just 17 days, and is now back in Government as an education minister.

Nowadays, expenses are more openly declared, yet still there remain loopholes to cheat the public purse. In the early autumn of this year it was reported that some 27 serving MPs are letting out their London homes while claiming rent for other properties in the capital.

In October 2012, Labour MP and one-time Minister for Europe Denis MacShane decided to resign ahead of suspension from the House for a year and possible prosecution into his fraudulent use of public funds, described by the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee as the gravest case to come before MPs.

Questionable Acts

Commons election is a privilege and an honour. The electorate have a right to expect that all being well, an MP will serve in the constituency and Westminster, keep jaunts to a reasonable level and address people’s concerns for the full term of the Parliament.

What made Louise Mensch walk away after a couple of years and cause a by-election in Corby? What critical thinking went on when she resigned, or even before she stood for Parliament?

How could Nadine Dorries MP leave her duties without permission and fly to Australia for a month to take part in the ITV game show Get Me Out of Here, I’m a Celebrity? Is it the alleged 40,000 appearance fee or is there something of the crazy, irresponsible, inexplicable about her behaviour? Would some call it flawed thinking?

Just Plain Unbelievable

Lord Patten of Barnes is Chair of the BBC Trust, charged with re-establishing public faith in the top-heavy, cumbersome BBC. He served as MP for Bath from 1979-1992. He’s had what many would describe as a distinguished career in a wide public/ministerial service in British and European politics culminating as the last Governor of Hong Kong before the lease ended in 1997 and the former colony was handed back to China.

During 2012 a massive scandal has emerged concerning historic abuse by one-time feted and honoured ‘Sir’ Jimmy Savile of under-age boys and girls in hospitals, children’s homes, prison and the BBC itself. People are still being implicated, some deceased like Savile, others alive.

The BBC response when caught out in sloppy journalism leading to accusing an innocent man and possible cover-ups of the circumstances of sustained abuse of minors over decades, was to run round in metaphorical circles, blaming others, shrugging shoulders and wondering where and when would it end.

Patten appointed BBC Director General, George Entwistle in September 2012. He was a BBC insider, self-styled as the right man for the job. Although described by David Dimbleby as clever and courteous, Entwistle was out of his depth. He was unaware of all the things that mattered as the crisis unfolded, and throughout exuded an air of incompetence that almost beggars belief.

Just 54 days later, hes resigned. And Patten has authorised 450,000 severance lump sum on top of his pension pot of 877,000. That 1.3 million package equates to over eight thousand pounds for each day he was in post. That’s not bad remuneration to be the fall-guy in this crisis.

Patten justifies it by explaining that Entwistle will help ongoing BBC enquiries into abuse and broadcasting judgements about Savile, false accusations and the discredited Newsnight programme.

Like many trapped in an untenable position, Patten enjoys the support of the Prime Minister for now. Leave aside the hapless George Entwistle. Whatever is Patten thinking of? Where is the political experience and judgement that made him a successful cabinet minster and for which hes paid 110,000 a year at the BBC?

Anybody can do anything stupid at any time and make everybody else laugh or cry. I write this as a former MP (1987-1997) to open the new 101 Channel about life in the Westminster Village.

Sources:

The Darwin Awards, web 12 November 2012

The Daily Telegraph, Martin Beckford, MPs expenses, 10 December 2009, web 12 November 2012

The Daily Mail, Martin Robinson, New MPs expenses scandal, 19 October 2012, web 12 November 2012

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