Recently I wrote on this site
“In the age of the internet (government is) now discovering that the cameras which point at the public can also capture them. When people ask the old question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who will watch the watchers themselves – we now have a new answer. The watched can watch the watchers”
MPs should be used in the Commons to the automatic submission of every fine sentiment they express to the humbug tests. MPs listening – or researchers watching – immediately ask has he or she lived up to that requirement in what they have said and done personally? If a Labour MP waxes lyrical about the duty of the better off to pay more tax for social purposes – as they often do – people are bound to ask if they have been paying CGT when they sell their second homes. If a Conservative says you can cut public spending without damaging services, he or she might now expect a question on whether they have managed to do that with their own small part of the public budgets.
It is this characteristic which has made the expenses files such compelling reading for the public.At a time when people feel especially oppressed by heavy taxation, heavy regulation, prying government and the damage being done to their own job prospects and finances by the recession, they suddenly have access to material showing some MPs spending their money on expensive rocking chairs and duck houses. They learn that cabinet members have used public money to seek tax advice on their allowances, and at the same time some have sold homes without having to pay CGT. The anger reflects the excessive and excessively costly government imposed on the public, and the feeling that some MPs see themslves as above the rules.
In the age of the internet those who govern have to learn that they too are on camera. If they wish to impose ever more rules and requirements on the rest of us, they need to be especially careful about obeying them themselves. If they favour higher taxes from the better off, they have to understand they are amongst the better off and need to show us they are paying them willingly.
Let me spare my Labour and Lib Dem critics the trouble of applying the humbug test to me on these matters. I did pay CGT on the home I sold. I have cut my total expenses every year since 2005-6. I give the figures beneath.
Total costs 2005-6 £116,162
2006-7 £105,928 minus 8.8%
2007-8 £105,917 minus 0.02%
2008-9 £91,000 minus 14.1% (provisional Fees office figure)
2005-2009 minus 21.67% (provisional figure) In 2007-8 this was around £40,000 below the average
I intend to cut further this year, as the public deficit is so large.