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Press: Oliver Cromwell writes again

20 May 2009

by Martin Wroe

Soaraway: The Sun in unfamiliar territory on Monday

Soaraway: The Sun in unfamiliar territory on Monday

“THE Rt Honourable Spongers” announced The Independent. “Boot them out!” insisted The Mirror. “Bring them to justice” de­manded the Daily Mail.

The Daily Telegraph, source of all the stories, listed “20 Bizarre Claims” that are now part of the legend: Ice Cube Tray (£1.50, John Reid), Horse Manure (70p a bag, David Heathcoat-Amory), Lavatory Seat (£112.52, John Prescott), Moat Cleaning (£2115, Doug­las Hogg), and Hedge-trimming around “Heli­pad” (£609, Michael Spicer).

The creative-accounting scandal engulfing the House of Commons is making the press particularly furious: massaging expenses is an area where they expect to lead the field. The Sun was so cross on Monday that it carried comment pieces by two new writers. In “News in Briefs” on page three, Becky, 25 (in briefs), asked: “Why doesn’t the Prime Minister let us decide if his Government is still fit for purpose?” Her co-columnist, Oliver Cromwell, looking for all the world like a 17th-century Puritan, demanded the dissolution of Parlia­ment itself.

Lacking the comeliness of Becky, he com­pensated with commendable rage. “Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. . .

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God.” Despite his unenlightened view of equine spirituality, he seemed to catch the public mood in con­demning Parliamentarians as “sordid prosti­tutes”, with “immoral principles and wicked practices — intolerably odious to the whole nation. So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!” Give that man a regular column.

The Speaker, at least, took the hint, and announced he was taking his baubles home. But the gluttony, greed, and sloth of MPs was matched sin for sin by the envy, wrath, and lust (for blood) in the press. The wave of public opprobrium allegedly rolling over Westminster has sparked one of those “national debates” that politicians are always inviting us to take part in before they do what they were going to do anyway — albeit that this one was about the morality of public servants. It turns out that when they think they’re not being monitored, they don’t behave much differently from the rest of us; but there is a dawning recognition that we expect our representatives to represent the best of us, not the worst.

THERE WERE virtues among the vices, public servants among the public sinners. Marina Hyde in The Guardian beatified Dr Richard Taylor, independent MP for Wyre Forest, whose expense claims came in at 640 out of the 645 MPs.

Peter Oborne in the Mail thought Vince Cable pure and spotless. “He claimed next to nothing, bought no flats, stole none of your money. If only we could have Saint Vince for PM.”

It’s not the one great scandal, said Matthew Engel in The Financial Times, it’s the “hun­dreds of scandalettes” born in an enclosed institution that has “lost its connection with morality and reality” — as if someone has anaesthetised the body politic, surgically replacing an ethical compass informed by the common good and the notion of public service, with a moral calculator, constantly assessing the chances of getting away with it.

LEADERSHIP is “the activity of mobilising the community to tackle tough problems”, said Ronald Heifetz in the FT Magazine. “Adaptive challenges” are one of his big ideas, where the solution to a problem is not clear-cut, like a patient with heart-disease. “The patient can be restored to operating capacity, but only if he takes responsibility for his health by making appropriate life adjust­ments. Adaptive work re­quires learning, and a change in values, beliefs or behaviour.”

JAYNE ZITO is a different kind of leader, who adapted to an extraordinary chal­lenge. Seventeen years ago her husband of three months was stabbed to death by a schizophrenic dis­charged from hospital and not taking his medicine. The Zito Trust successfully campaigned for improved services to the severely mentally ill.

Since the implementation of the Mental Health Act in 2007, reported The Observer, patients now come under new mental-health controls. Her campaign, said the paper, was largely achieved. “After the legislation, things went pretty quiet at the Trust,” said co-founder Michael Howlett. “And rather than trying to find a reason to exist we decided to call it a day.” Calling it a day: a foolish, profound, and brave act of leadership.

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