We are used to our MPs being out of touch. The expenses scandal of 2009 not only showed their pathological inability to play by the (incredibly lenient) expenses rules which they themselves drafted, but also to be constantly wallowing in the filth of lobby money and the corruption associated with donations.
We are also used to our MPs being rich, with the phrase most regularly on the lips of Labourites in recent months – the ‘Cabinet of Millionaires’ – being used to describe the current government as one that is insulated by a fog of wealth and personal affluence. This is supposedly a purely Tory – and now luckily Liberal Democrat – problem. While not fully true it is immensely damaging and seems to demonstrate the inherent problem with wealthy MPs trying to be men of the people.
But the Conservatives do not have a monopoly on prosperity, although we rarely hear of quite how rich the Shadow Cabinet actually is. For example, can you guess the name of this aristocratic MP? Born the daughter of a Harley Street surgeon, and cousin of Lady Antonia Fraser, niece of a countess; this former minister attended a Public School (St. Paul’s Girls), and by all accounts had to modify her previously cut-glass accent to have any credibility as a socialist spokesperson. It is of course Harriet Harman, darling of trades union and the oppressed.
Even sainted Labour figures, such as the pious Margaret Hodge, are tainted by their financial arrangements. She is reported to have a large share in a company, Stemcor, which pays 0.1% corporation tax. Despite dismissing her holding as ‘tiny’, sources estimate its worth to be over one million pounds. Not only that, but the company itself also alluded to the existence of other shares held in trust funds, in the current estimate: “excludes shares held in trust or in her children’s names”. This is deeply ironic, and demonstrates the rottenness of our political culture. While the elites are happy to lecture us on how much tax to pay and to steal from us on our deaths, they can contrive a way around it and still appear to be a popular hero.
One other thing which is clearly hypocritical in the Labour party is their constant allusion to the education of Tories. They claim that a huge proportion of Conservative MPs were Eton and Oxbridge educated, which is true. However, they are hardly paragons of state school virtue themselves, and so despite Ed Miliband’s constant trumpeting of his Comprehensive School background, a good number of his colleagues went to both a private school and an elite University. We have already heard about the privileged upbringing of Ms. Harman, but Tony Blair went to Fettes College and then on to Oxford University. This is not atypical of the current crop of Labour fixers. Hilary Benn (a fourth generation MP) was educated at Westminster, is also a grandee of the Party’s richer elements.
Alistair Darling himself went to a private school in Kirkcaldy and he was a beneficiary of a (while dour and Scottish) dose of privilege greater than that which he espoused for the nation’s children. And this hits on the very reason for my outrage. I do not hate privilege, but I don’t like those who give it to their children and then criticise its very existence. Scores of Labour politicians send their broods to expensive private schools. This hypocrisy, twinned with the very unusual affluence into which they were born, is the cause for vitriol. The impact of the ‘mansion tax’ (recently proposed by Labour to save some populist support) on Ed’s own team is interesting to consider. His brother David (who also has copious Member’s Interests) is in this camp whereas Ed is just below its bounds.
I will not echo the slander and inaccuracy of Owen Jones, when he suggested that the cabinet would be handing themselves a huge cheque in a recent tax cut, but I don’t quite get the discrepancy in accounting between the supposed revenue this would provide and the tax lost by re-introducing the 10p rate, which he has also proposed.
While hypocrisy in politics is nothing new, this is one on an industrial scale. Labour are happy to re-ignite the old class war slogans when the country begins to suffer, but do not face up to their own backgrounds. It is a disgrace to an open democracy, and should not be unchallenged.