Without wishing to take all my blogging inspiration from last night’s TV show, I have been thinking more about Tower Block of Commons and specifically the bit when Tim Loughton was being harranged outside a cornershop in Birmingham.
The harranger was expressing to the Tory Shadow Minister his disgust with MPs and their expenses fiddling. He was of the view that politicians were on a different, more privileged legal level and could get away with things that most people couldn’t.
Tim Loughton tried to insist that this was false; that everyone is equal under the law etc. Of course this is true in principle but in practice…?
MPs recently agreed to withhold Harry Cohen’s resettlement grant when he retires after the Labour MP was exposed as yet another expenses cheat. Mr Cohen failed to notice he had accumulated £60,000 of public funds to which he was not entitled. Whilst acknowledging that this was a serious breach of the rules, MPs noted that Cohen had apologised and that his wife’s illness may have been a mitigating factor.
Then there is another benefits-fraud scandal that has been discussed in the Commons. Natascha Engel yesterday brought attention to the plight of one Zoey Smith:
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab):
My hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the case of Zoey Smith, who, when she was pregnant, worked as a volunteer in a welfare rights office. She wrongly had her benefits stopped, and as a result gave birth two months prematurely. She could not cope, and she has disappeared off the face of the earth. The child has gone into care and the whole sorry story has been a disaster from beginning to end. Does my hon. Friend agree that the benefits regime for pregnant women is incompatible with meeting our child poverty targets?
I am aware of the unhappy experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent, which in essence came down to poor administration in her local benefit office.
The only other mention I can find of the case is in the newsletter of Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres.
Zoey Smith’s life appears to have been utterly devastated because she was mistakenly thought to be a benefits cheat. MPs like Harry Cohen – as humiliated as they will be and as difficult as it may be for them to find post-parliamentary employment – will probably not suffer so much. Simple juxtapositions like this make it easy to see why people are turned off politics and have so much contempt for their democratic representatives.