Radio review: MPs’ Expenses: The legacy of a scandal, and When Parents Split

17 May 2019

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LAST month, Parliament was suspended temporarily because of a leaky roof. In its eagerness to harvest the crop of symbolic metaphors which this occurrence offered, few thought to question the actual reasons why the fabric of the Palace of Westminster is falling apart. According to Professor Matthew Flinders, you can blame it on the scandal that devastated our democracy ten years ago.

In MPs’ Expenses: The legacy of a scandal (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Professor Flinders argued that the legislature’s hesitation about improving its own working environment was the result of the fragile relationship that it now had with the public. Nobody trusted them to spend taxpayers’ money honestly and selflessly; and so eventually your priceless historic buildings sprung a leak.

David Blunkett said that the expenses scandal cost the Labour government at least 25 seats in the 2010 General Election, and enabled the austerity agenda to steal the limelight. At the same time, some wise old heads decided to focus on more remunerative employment opportunities outside Parliament.

The derision of the public was principally focused on those MPs who apparently lived lives disconnected from those of their constituents. But, as the Labour MP Gloria De Piero complained, without proper allowances, we will never get “normal” people entering Parliament. On what constitutes “normality” she was vague, and one might with equal vagueness demand that we be represented in this extraordinary job by extraordinary people. What is clear is that the self-imposed sackcloth that has resulted from the scandal is neither comfortable nor becoming.

You know it’s going to be a difficult listen when a documentary opens with the sound of rain and plangent chords on the piano. When Parents Split (Radio 4, Sunday) could have ditched the soundtrack of canned misery without compromising the despairing, sometimes shocking tone of this documentary.

When parents divorce and one recruits the children in his or her case against the other, then potentially irreparable damage is done to the child’s long-term ability to form trusting relationships. While divorce-rates in this country are falling, the number of estranged parents going to court over the children is rising. In many of these cases, the child is asked directly which parent he or she would prefer to live with. And, in some, the child has been subject to intense pressure.

The advice of the Family Court Advisory Service CAFCASS nowadays is that social workers should be alert to the possibility that such pressure will be exerted, although it seems remarkable that this phenomenon has not been acknowledged before. You would certainly be suspicious if, as reported here, a child said that she was being poisoned by her mother because she made her eat broccoli.

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