Denis Macshane, corruption and the hubris of the British political class

By J L Samboma

Former Labour minister Denis MacshaneThe resignation of British politician Denis Macshane from the House of Commons, and his expulsion from the Labour party after being found guilty of corruption, may not rank as high on the scale of tragic ironies as the story of Oedipus Rex, but it sure brings that ancient tale to mind.

Scripted by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex is about a man who slays a traveller he does not know is his father and then goes on to inherit the latter’s throne and wife – who just happens to be his own mother.  One of the many tragic ironies of the tale is that Oedipus then vows to find and punish the man who killed the king – none other than he himself!

Butcher of Bagdad

Fast forward to present-day Blighty and the honourable Denis Macshane, one-time BBC journalist and former Europe Minister under the even-more-honourable Tony Bliar, the infamous Butcher of Baghdad. He was forced to resign his seat in Parliament a few days ago after an investigation by a House committee found him guilty of “the gravest breach of the expenses system.” In plain English, that means corruption.

According to the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, Mr Macshane defrauded the taxpayer by fiddling his expenses – submitting fictitious invoices made out by a ghost company whose directors were his personal friends and whose bank accounts he personally controlled.

“The bills were signed with a ‘nom de plume’ purporting to come from a general manager who did not in fact exist,” the committee report said.

Bliar, Butcher of BaghdadMacshane claimed thousands of pounds for “consultation services,” jetsetting all over Europe and entertaining and impressing his contacts.  He also claimed almost £6,000 for computers, in one instance submitting one invoice for computer equipment twice.  He even gifted one of these laptops to an intern as a going-away present after her work experience ended.

While the House committee reckons he may have corruptly extracted from the taxpayer something “in the order of £7,500,” they admit it is impossible to know exactly how much he claimed “outside the rules.”


Upright, right-thinking, idealistic whistleblower


Now let’s rewind to 11 March 2010.  That was the day the Irish Independent newspaper carried an item titled “Aid to Sierra Leone ‘siphoned-off.’”  The piece reported that a British MP had told the House of Commons that UK taxpayer funds intended for development projects in the West African country were “ending up in ministers’ pockets.”

And yes, Romans, countrymen and lovers, that upright, right-thinking, idealistic whistleblower was none other than the Right Honourable Denis Macshane.  His contribution  to the House was of some interest to yours truly, and not just because he was talking about the politrixians in my country.  Here’s a taster of what our hero had to say from his high moral perch:

“I request that the National Audit Office looks specifically at how [British aid] in Sierra Leone is spent, because an honourable member and other friends have just come back from there with the most alarming stories of diversion of … aid into the pockets of ministers down there, and we really need to get Sierra Leone under full transparent audit.” Honourable words, from an honourable man.

Corruption is criminal behaviour

It may or may not surprise you to learn that his lyrical whistleblowing took place not before these crimes (yes, folks, corruption is criminal behaviour!) were committed by Mr Macshane, but at the very least a year after he had corruptly enriched himself on taxpayer funds.  In a word, he was being hypocritical on a grand scale.

Had he sensed the Commons buzzards circling his threadbare tent when he started singing his anti-corruption tune?  Was it some sort of exercise in psychological displacement, to convince himself that he was still a good guy fighting for both the “helpless native” and the British taxpayer he was defrauding?  Alas, am afraid we will have to leave that to reasonable conjecture, for only the Commons watchdog, Mr Macshane himself or his therapist, if he has one, can provide conclusive answers to those questions.

Again, it may or may not surprise that the same Commons committee which passed a guilty verdict on Macshane could proclaim that he made “no personal gain” from his fraud and duplicity.  This begs the question of why he did what he did if he knew he would derive no personal gain from it. I certainly did not benefit from it – and neither did you, patient reader!  Then who did?  Pray tell, sanctimonous watchdog!  Yes, when politicians from some Third World backwater rip-off their people, they do it for personal gain, but not so the enlightened politicians of the exalted West, who so very obviously have whiter-than-white motives.

In fact, here in the West they don’t even call it corruption; it is called anything but.  It is either “fraudulent expenses claims,” “duplicitous behaviour,” “expenses fiddling” and all manner of sematic acrobatics that can leave your head spinning faster than Linda Blair's in horror flick The Exorcist. One poli-trixian even blamed Macshane’s – wait for it! – “lapse of judgement” on his “foolishness.” Serously, you just could not make this up!


“Caring Conservatives” leave tax loopholes wide open

The word “corruption” might never have existed, as far as these people are concerned.  That is, of course, when the thieving is done by their political classmates.  No, they don’t “do” corruption; only politicians and officials in the “former colonies” are corrupt. When these self-same corrupt Western politicians sell off former state firms to their friends in the private sector – and then proceed to get lucrative directorships or consultancies in them on leaving office, it is not corruption.

When Labour under Blair awards fat IT contracts to up-to-no-good companies who then donate millions to party funds, it is not corruption.  And when these same donors are gifted with knighthoods and seats in the House of Lords, it is not corruption.  It is all “legal.” Ditto, when the so-called “caring Conservatives” turn a blind eye to tax evaders and leave tax loopholes wide open, and then turn around and solicit party donations from these tax dodgers. 

But when the capitalist economic cycle hits rock-bottom and recession bites, they proceed to cut public spending, stealth-tax the less-well-off and garnish their wages and welfare benefits - even as as the banksters award themselves fantabulous "bonuses" and their other rich, taxed-lite class-mates get even richer.

It makes you want to do more than throw your hands up in the air and scream, "Liberation."  As the saying goes, they’re all at it.  

"Breacher of House Rules" not "corrupt"Which is why Macshane can write, keyboard-in-cheek, that,  “I have received so many messages supporting me from Labour and Tory MPs as well as members of the public but I love the House of Commons and I hope by resigning I can serve by showing that MPs must take responsibility for their mistakes and accept the consequences of being in breach of the House rules.”


The tip of the Iceberg of Corruption

To which I say: Yes, Mr Macshane, we hear you loud and clear. You don’t do corruption. It was all a “mistake.” You only “breached House rules.” Only poli-trixians in Sierra Leone and other places in Africa and the Third World are corrupt. But, in the final analysis, we all know what you did and what you are. Despite the semantic fig leaves you and your ilk use to cover your nakedness!

This, indeed, is the tragic tale of a so-called progressive politician brought low by his bourgeois and self-serving proclivities; the irony of an anti-corruption crusader who was himself corrupt to his rotten core; and an instructive case in point of supposed servants of the people whose sole raison d'etre is to service their baser instincts.  As I write this, the police have begun to take an interest in our hero.  He may yet have to benefit from further taxpayer funding – only this time it may be on a metal bunk bed, with a perhaps romantically-inclined inmate at Her Britannic Majesty’s pleasure.

But the story does not end here.  Mr Macshane’s is not an isolated case. A total of four Labour MPs and two Tory members of the House of Lords have now served jail sentences for corruption…oops…I meant for “breaching House rules.”   It is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption that is the Westminster village; the cant, hypocrisy and hubris of the British political class in glorious microcosm.