It is all a question of intent. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, just before he became Chancellor, made an advance payment for six months costed to the taxpayer on a property, when he was going to have the 'grace and favour' home that comes with being Chancellor. Now he is paying the overlap back. It is said that he has 'flipped' property several times for personal gain, at the taxpayer's expense. Then there is this business of taxpayers paying for accountancy advice, apparently including his, so that the ministers' accountants who have received this money can tell them how to pay less tax. The Chancellor then determines that everyone else who does should pay their taxes, and should not avoid tax (legal but naughty) and of course no one can evade tax. Darling said he didn't do what has been claimed, and then starts paying some overlapping money back. In his most recent interviews Darling has spoken in the past tense about his job, as has Gordon Brown.
Some thirteen Members of Parliament have now signalled their own resignation, all but The Speaker hanging on until the General Election in order to receive yet another payment, something like £40,000 to wind up the office and some getting around £60,000 as a golden goodbye.
But at the weekend Gordon Brown could well do a Night of the Large Wallets, assassinating cabinet members from their jobs to then feed these newly made backbench MPs to their constituents - many to be told to get out and don't come back, along with the 13. The trouble is, mass dismissals of cabinet ministers lead a government to be weaker, not stronger. Gordon Brown himself chose a new cabinet of minnows and they have been dismal performers. It is why he had to bring Mandelson back, a man in the House of Lords (could be Foreign Secretary?) who didn't go abroad when the Germans were discussing how to carve up General Motors in Europe. He just received phone calls offering assurances, rather like a Neville Chamberlain.
Now Gordon Brown says he wants to introduce constitutional reform as a means to bring back legitimacy to parliament. Some say no, we just want honest MPs. Cameron smells a rat, of course, as a dying government might gerrymander the system to stop him getting a large majority. I'll be surprised if voting at the next General Election is at all 'normal' after this scandal. A large number of people may regard Cameron's thrashing about regarding Tory wrongdoers as a kind of Tony Blair 'talk it to your advantage' move: "Seen it before mate," sort of thing. It is by no means certain that even his poll leads will transfer into an automatic landslide, nor that such a new government would restore confidence. It would not be met with cheers, in the way Blair's was.
Whilst it might be good to see more independents in the House of Commons, they will lack collective direction and the thought process that parties bring to both governing and opposition. So what is needed?
Let's go back to 1997. Blair spoke then of bringing in the Liberal Democrats and their radical social individualist tradition (nineteenth to early twentieth century) to add to the social democratic collective tradition. But Blair was never a strong leader; he always was a person who hid behind the bullies and the big people, and the protest from within Labour at the time was accepted because of the parliamentary majority and because he had other fish to fry. Now, 12 years later, we have this re-emerging again.
The fact is that old regimes can bring in political reform, and they have (is this not how Sweden brought in reform?). If Labour brings in proportional representation as a means of preventing its own wipeout, the Liberal Democrats should take it with both hands. Even if it is the only reform that happens, it will be worth it, because after such an election the parties will be able to negotiate reform. For one thing, the Liberal Democrats should benefit from this scandal, especially as Vince Cable is still held in high esteem, and at greater contrast, and at last Nick Clegg is beginning to come through and show clarity in public appearances. Secondly, the sheer fact of brought in electoral change would bring a better outcome for the Liberal Democrats.
I don't trust David Cameron, because I think he is a one more heave man. He is getting more ruthless, in the sense that he is allowing the scandal to get rid of some Tory dead wood in the shires. He couldn't care less if Bill Cash is replaced, for example. But though he has leaned leftward and not done an about turn (well, he has wobbled at times), he could revert to lean privatism once power is regained. Would that he would give professionalism back to the schools and health service, but it is likely to be done via huge privatisation and only having service providers. In that he wants to devolve power, let him open proposals and negotiations with the Liberal Democrats, for example, who have always favoured the local and accountable as the real nexus of power. When have Tories favoured accountability, other than through the wallet? I suspect Cameron would be dismissive with the unemployed and people at disadvantage, on some individualist ideological basis. Lean times need to be times of basic and sustainable social provision, and Cameron will favour the market.
These are peculiar and revolutionary times. The European Elections, and some local elections (not here), are going to be strange. First of all, the percentage voting in Europe will be even smaller, to the point of acute embarrassment with Europeans. Secondly, Labour in particular, a party that has avoided elections, is going to get hammered. That party has been in long term decline anyway, as the cities hollowed out and many voters went Liberal Democrat as Labour was perceived to be right wing, the party of the City of London and the glamorous rich, and watched an economy "beyond boom and bust" that went bust because it was a boom. Even now, notice how the quantitative easing is starting to find its way into some shares and house price rises (here we go again - how not to measure economic success). So what we need is a shift of landscape.
Put it like this: if Labour does not introduce reform, it could vanish away as a third party. If it does, there is a new landscape. Either way the future looks interesting.
Well overnight and the Home Secretary announces that she stands down from the cabinet even before there is a reshuffle. But why won't she leave the House of Commons, which she should also do?
So Hazel Blears goes from the cabinet, announcing a day before the elections. She wants to go back to Salford and engage with the public. She doesn't get it: they get asked in Salford and they don't want her. Someone else can engage with the public in Salford as a Member of Parliament.