UK Politics

In defence of our MPs

Polly Toynbee on the hysteria over Jacqui Smith’s porn charges:

keep all this in perspective. Our politicians are among the cleanest in the world – 16th out of 180 nations and bunched less than two points from the top, according to Transparency International. Below us are the US, Belgium, France and Spain. But from the uproar, MPs stretching expense rules has been made to look like the pork barrel, backhander and bribery scams that plague other countries.

Let’s repeat this: 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. If only more newspapers gave the same space to investigating opaque corporate bad behaviour that they devote to exposés of minor MPs’ misdemeanours. Eternal trivia is not eternal vigilance.
MPs under collective omerta are usually better people in private than they are allowed to be in public. This era of Labour MPs has rebelled more than any other – though rebellion is not always as honourable as suffering under collective decision. We who comment on them do well to remember how plush is our perch, in comparison.

Those who abuse, belittle and encourage popular contempt for MPs should consider that we need more good people in politics. Observing the excruciating public humiliation of the home secretary’s husband for watching a couple of porn movies, with their children cringing indoors, how many potentially good future politicians decided they would rather not invite the world to root through their private life after all?

She’s right isn’t she?