Back in the early days of this Government when the Fox Hunting Bill was plodding its way through Parliament, an apocryphal story was doing the rounds. Says the hunt saboteur to the huntsman: 'Enjoy this while you can. It'll soon be illegal." Replies the huntsman: "Foolish little man. We do not obey the law, we make it."
I don't know why but this tale popped back in my mind while listening to a Radio 4 news report on the expenses scandal and the fact that MPs are being asked to pay back some of the expenses they claimed, even though these expenses were at the time of claiming legitimate, but it did. An MP who had a startlingly posh voice (think the Colonel's wife in any given British WW2 propaganda film and then some) was complaining bitterly about how unfair it was and how they hadn't actually broken the law and had she mentioned how unfair it was.
It struck me that this was not, for want of a better phrase, not very, well, politic. Indeed, was it not in fact, impolitic? Earlier this year MPs received the worse battering they've had in my lifetime and the details of some of the expenses claimed still have the power to make me step back and blink. Forget moats and duck houses, fun as they are, and consider instead the state of mind that claims for the expense of the wreath for Remembrance Sunday or for a kit-kat given as a thank you present to an (unpaid) researcher. Now you may argue that compared to other countries, our expenses scandal is, frankly, embarrassingly minor. But is this not like an estate agent assuring you that while you will get mugged in this neighbourhood, if you bought over the other side of the park you'd be murdered, possibly even in your bed?
Politicians are paid (and paid well, let us put that canard to roost) to be politic and by making a fuss now and thereby keeping the expenses scandal in the public eye they are not doing what they are paid for. Keep shtum, pay up, nurse your revenge and pray that a terrible thing happens before the election to make us forget the whole business.