In more than 10 years of writing about British politics, writes Hal Colebatch in The Australian (8/5), “ I have never encountered anything remotely approaching the present public fury at the revelations of wholesale cheating on expenses by members of parliament.”

Hal Colebatch addressed the last ACM national conference on the role of the States  in a politicians' republic. His comments on the British situation, and the relevance of the EU, offer a refreshing interpretation of the decline in the standing of the political class.

In "Crooked Houses of Power" he says that in a sense, all of this this was predictable. ”The government has seemed bent on destroying Britain's public culture and values. At the start of his prime ministership, Tony Blair claimed proudly that Britain was no longer ‘living in the world of a hundred years ago, when guys wore bowler hats and umbrellas, all marching down Whitehall’.


”Yet it was those guys with bowler hats and umbrellas who had given the British public service a reputation for incorruptibility, or at least for corruption being rare and exceptional … William Gladstone was one PM who would not use government stamps for his private letters. Winston Churchill, despite his long political career, the enormous sales of his books and his unparalleled network of high-level contacts, was never enormously wealthy. He was only able to live at Chartwell after the war because a group of friends bought it for his use.”

 “Blair also claimed ‘I am a modern man. I am part of the rock 'n' roll generation. The Beatles, colour television: that's the generation I came from.’  Such words implied, if they did not specifically state, a rejection of the standards and values of the past. If there were once things that it was felt a gentleman, or lady, did not do, such as lie, cheat and steal even when the rules allowed it, Stockport College in Greater Manchester, in deference to political correctness, made the use of the words lady and gentleman a sacking offence for staff or students."

"The government condoned this, or at least did not put a stop to it. The treatment of the Gurkhas until Joanna Lumley's campaign was another signal that the government or the policy-making elite had simply ceased to care about honour as a public value.”
 

“The type of literature, theatre and art the establishment condoned and often subsidised could be seen as tending towards a valueless conception of life. As for the Church of England, the guardian of British morality, columnist Melanie Phillips has written: ‘For years, the church has spinelessly gone along with this wider non-judgmental culture of self-gratification which has turned morality on its head and undermined the cultural foundations of this nation.’"

…and the EU…

 

“There is also an argument that the rot started for parliament when the John Major Conservative government began handing British sovereign power over to Europe, and the Blair government continued to downgrade parliament, handing more and more powers to the EU, to qangos, judges and "kitchen cabinets" of ministerial cronies, advisers and spin doctors."

 

" It was not, according to this argument, power that corrupted Westminster but lack of power: there was less and less worthwhile for MPs to do, or to attract or retain people with an ethic or tradition of public duty.”