it’s like welfare reform but with politicians
What is the time value of scandal? One of the curious things about the current MPs’ expenses row is that the whole thing is pointless. Empty. The whole lot is going to be published anyway. So it’s interesting that the political-press complex is so obsessed by getting hold of – or concealing – information that will be published anyway. It’s clear that publication is going to be an ugly event for a lot of them, regardless of party. But it’s considered worthwhile to pay £150,000, or as Anton Vowl points out, five journalist-years to get a smattering of the information early.
This is of course precisely what I said would happen if the receipts weren’t published, here:
If this goes through, you can be certain that the only information that gets out will be selectively leaked to embarrass political opponents. It will happen to you.
And, indeed, that is what is happening. Clearly, the political-press complex feels there is value in asymmetry – even if the sky is going to fall on the whole gang, it’s worth getting in a dig at one side because that way, at least you’ve had a news cycle’s worth of partisan smears for your side. The ugly nature of the whole game is well showed up by the Phil Woolas story, which can be summed up as “he bought nappies! and tampons! whether he expensed them or not, nudge nudge, dog whistle, is he a gayer?” A nasty little nonkinetic job from Central Office, on perhaps the most egregious bastard in the government.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary authorities have gone completely mad. I especially liked the “weekend helpline” for MPs who are troubled by the prospect of disclosure. Perhaps the Samaritans could operate it, or else Hazel Blears could send them to compulsory happiness lessons and dock their wages if they don’t show up. They’ve already been offered a leaflet and an 0845 number.
If you want my advice? Bring forward publication.
Somebody is clearly rationing the leaks according to partisan considerations; I for one can’t wait for Gideon’s exes to hit the tabs, but do you see any of that? And only shock tactics will convince the buggers to take this seriously. So do it – now. Send the lot to MySociety.org, and we can have an equal-opportunity scandalfest. Drop the bomb. Exterminate all the brutes!