Sleaze?

Jack Straw submitted claims for council tax he had never paid, luckily discovering his mistake and paying back £1,500 only after the High Court ruled that MP’s expenses had to be published.

Gordon Brown accidentally submitted a £150 plumbing bill twice.

Hazel Blears claimed for three different properties in one year and bought two new TVs and two new beds in 12 months.

Shahid Malik paid way below the market rent for his main home in Dewsbury, while billing the taxpayer thousands for his second home in London.

Andrew MacKay claimed full second home allowance on his London property while his wife, Julie Kirkbridge, claimed the full allowance on another home.

Elliot Morley claimed £16,800 in mortgage payments on his constituency home 20 months after repaying the loan.

And it goes on. And on.

Sleaze?

In other countries they call in corruption.

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Always check your reciepts before submitting

This morning it emerged that the Home secretary, Jacqui Smith, had made an expenses claim for porn films.

The two films, valued at £5 each, were part of a £67  Virgin Media bill submitted last June.

As we know, MPs seem to be able to claim expenses for pretty much anything, but porn is apparently one step too far. Smith’s husband, Richard Timney, took the blame and said in a statement today:

“I am really sorry for any embarrassment I have caused Jacqui. I can fully understand why people might be angry and offended by this. Quite obviously a claim should never have been made for these films, and as you know that money is being paid back.”

My guess is that the house of commons was pretty empty today as MPs were busy rummaging around drawers looking for their expenses claims.

I wonder what the next thing will be?

People power

Just watched a recent episode of Uppdrag Granskning – a popular Swedish investigative journalism programme – on the brilliant SVT Play.

This particular episode was about how Swedish state-owned financial institutions have decided to – in the middle of the finance crisis – increase the bonuses given to directors. This because of the Swedish right-wing government having changed the rules governing bonuses in state-owned companies last summer.

To add to this, the Swedish Finance Minister, Anders Borg, has spent the autumn being very outspoken against the bonus culture in the private banking sector, introducing caps on bonuses and attempting to influence other European leaders to do the same.

During the course of the programme Borg, along with several other politicians and finance directors are seen sweating in front of the cameras as they are forced to eat their own words from last summer.

However, the most interesting thing is not the programme itself. It’s a 3-minute add on, recorded one week later, showing what happened next.

Within, 24 hours, and as a result of the public outcry that ensued, the government had met and decided to change the rules regarding bonuses in state-owned companies.

Time and time again, Uppdrag Granskning manages to change things for the better. In the last couple of months it’s managed to ban cod fishing in Öresund, stopped McDonalds from paying cleaners below the minimum wage and made Sweden’s largest supermarket introduce stringent rules on the sustainability of the Norwegian salmon farms it buys from.

Basically, if a consumer problem is brought up on the programme, it’s almost guaranteed to be set right immediately.

Why does this not happen in Britain?

Heard on the train this morning

A woman is sitting on the train, reading a glossy magazine. Two men get on the train and sit opposite her.

Man 1: ‘Is that an engagement ring?’

Woman, looking up from magazine: ‘Yes.’

Man 1: ‘I’ll give you a grand for it.’

Woman, annoyed: ‘It’s not for sale.’

Man 1: ‘Is he a doctor, your husband?’

Woman: ‘No! He runs his own company.’

Man 2: ‘I went into this shop to buy my girlfriend an engagement ring and asked for the most expensive one they had. But it was a pound shop! Haha!’

Man 1, to me: ‘Mate, can I borrow your newspaper?’

Those Brits again

Recently it’s been impossible to not notice the effects of the recession. 100,000 lost jobs every month, £500billion given to the banks and house prices dropping by 20% and it seems to be getting worse by the day.

The recession is clearly a result of unchecked capitalism and neoliberal market economics. Everyone agrees on this – even people who for years have been upholding the supremacy of the ‘free market’ are advocating that the government support failed banks and industries and introduce tougher regulations.

Since the problems have so clearly been caused by selfish, greedy bankers we should see a clear resurgence of the left. And this is indeed what we are seeing in America, where Obama, probably the most left-wing president for 50 years, is seeing popularity ratings of up to 70%.

Not so in Britain.

Here, the Conservative Party, which has been miles behind Labour over the last 10 years or so and nearly disappeared, now leads Labour by over 10% and looks certain to win the next general election.

People are moving to the RIGHT.

I just don’t get it.

Don’t standup until the bus stops

One of my earliest memories is being taken to museums and exhibitions around Stockholm by my grandmother. These trips would invariably involve a bus journey, something I found incredibly exciting. My favourite thing, of course, was being allowed to press the button.

After pressing the button, I was told to remain seated until the bus had come to a complete stop – a safety precaution that nearly everyone in Sweden takes. My grandmother was particularly firm on this point. You remain seated until the bus stops, then you get up to exit.

Not so in Britain.

The moment the stop is announced everyone gets up, starts walking down the aisle and down the stairs. And of course, nearly fall over once the bus actually stops.

This is one of the golden rules of British society, comparable with ‘you must not look at anyone on the underground’ and ‘if someone bumps into you, or even gets near you, you must say sorry’.

This particular rule – ‘you must get up when the stop is announced’ – applies to all forms of transport, including buses, trains and aeroplanes. It’s particularly obvious on trains, where the last stop is normally announced about 10 minutes before the train actually stops.

Over the years I have become reasonably good at adhering to most rules of British society. This one, however, I just can’t do. My grandmother’s teaching is simply too ingrained in me.

So, every morning, without fail, the following scenario is played out:

I am sitting comfortably reading my newspaper in the outer seat. As we pull away from the stop before mine, I can sense the person sitting next to me starting to twitch uncomfortably. It is clear that he/she is also getting off at my stop.

As we are nearing the stop the twitching gets worse. The person is thinking ‘Is he getting off here? Will I have to say something?’. I can sense fear (it may be important to point out another golden British rule here: ‘you should not talk to someone you don’t know, especially not on public transport’) as the person realises that they might actually have to say ‘excuse me’.

The stop is announced and the person stands up, making it clear that they want to get off. I slowly fold up my newspaper, in the hope that the bus will stop before I have to get up, but I’m not slow enough and so I am forced to stand up and start walking down the aisle.

As the bus comes to an abrupt halt I am forced to hold on for dear life to not be thrown forward.

And my whole body screams: ‘you are doing something naughty!’

I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head:

‘Wait until the bus has stopped before getting up’.

And I think:

‘I’m sorry, it’s not my fault, I’m just in a foreign country’.