possible to alienate readers who have differing views and to lose sales as a result. However, just because an author gives their character a political viewpoint it doesn’t mean that the author shares that viewpoint.
For example, if I were to write a novel about Germany during World War II then I might well create a character who was an SS fficer. To make that character more believable I would have to make him say or do things in keeping with his political views. I would have to make him a Nazi. Does that make me a Nazi sympathiser? Of course it doesn’t. The same would apply if I created a communist, conservative, liberal or socialist character, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist or a Jew. Just because I put words into their mouths it doesn’t mean that I believe in those words.
I was reminded of this when I received an e-mail though my website from someone who had read my book The Deputy Prime Minister. The writer accused me of being very biased against the current government. I replied, asking which particular bits of the book he thought were biased. He replied with some examples which I don’t think displayed any particular political bias but of course beauty, or lack of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder so I conceded the point. I then pointed out to him that while he had read the book in 2014 I actually started writing it in 2009, when we had a
totally different government. If he believed I was being biased then it wasn’t towards this government, it was towards the previous one. I didn’t get a reply to that e-mail.
Just for the record, the title of Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t in use between 2007 and 2010 and my villain of the piece,
Timothy Elgin, bears not the slightest resemblance to the previous office holder John Prescott, now Lord Prescott, or to the current one, Nick Clegg.
My reason for writing the novel was my anger at the MPs expenses scandal which the Daily Telegraph had recently broken and was the big news story for several weeks. It set me thinking about the number of politicians that seem to retire considerably richer than they were when they were first elected. It can’t be because they are well paid, as they continually bleat about how poorly paid they are; the justification used by many of them for their dodgy expenses claims. So how do they do it?
Well, we all know that they have the ability to ‘flip’ their first and second homes so as to claim the costs of maintaining the
second home on parliamentary expenses. Even ignoring the big abuses like moats and duck islands it means they don’t have to pay out much from their own pocket. Need a new kitchen in your first home? Flip it, call it your second home and the tax payer will stump up for your Carrera marble worktops.
Of course the ability to charge rent for using property owned by friends or relatives leaves the system wide open to abuse. David Laws I’m talking about you, but there are others. The biggie, of course, is the ability to sell the second home at a profit and not pay any Capital Gains Tax on the deal. It’s hypocritical from those MPs who accuse others of tax avoidance, it may also be unethical (depending on your code of ethics) but of course it isn’t illegal. So if it isn’t illegal nothing can be done about it unless Parliament changes its own rules. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
But there are other ways of getting rich. The use of privileged information, for example. If I stand in a pub in Newmarket and just happen to overhear a local horse trainer bragging about his new horse it would be perfectly legitimate for me to put a bet on that horse the next time it ran. The trainer has placed the information in the public domain by talking
about it in public. If, however, I was an MP and I overheard a conversation in the House of Commons Bar about who was going to be awarded a lucrative government contract, would it be legal for me to use that information to buy shares in the lucky company? I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain it’s unethical. I’m also pretty sure it has been done though for legal reasons I can’t name names. It’s not just overheard conversations, of course. There’s access to documents, direct involvement in conversations about contracts or changes to the law that will benefit businesses and other ‘insider’ information all of which is privileged and can’t be used for private purposes, such as the buying or selling shares or property. But if it’s done in the wife’s name or done through nominees or off-shore accounts, who’s to know? The system is wide open to abuse and therefore its highly likely that such abuse exists.
Then there’s lobbying. Some of us are old enough to remember the ‘cash for questions’ scandal that exposed the wrong doing of a few MPs back in the 80s and 90s. Well it hasn’t stopped, it has merely evolved. Nowadays MP A will still get paid for getting the question asked, but he just won’t ask it himself. He’ll get MP B to ask it for him. The deal is done behind
closed doors so there are no witnesses and MP B appears to be unconnected to the lobby group, so no scandal. At some point in the future MP A will return the favour.
The same applies to access to Parliament and senior government or party figures. MP A will be paid by the lobby group (as a consultant – useful word), but will ask MP B to host a party in the House of Commons, or maybe a private dinner party, where interested parties will be able to meet and lobby politicians. Again the favour is returned at a future date and everyone appears to have clean hands.
I’m sure there are other ways that politicians, at all levels of government, abuse their positions. Of course some behave ethically and I’m sure we all trust our favourite MPs (if we have any). But I question the motives of many. Perhaps I’m just too cynical for my own good. But with the evidence available I have grounds for that cynicism.
MPs are selected not because they are honest or trustworthy, but because they agree with the political views of the selection committee. More and more candidates are ‘parachuted’ into a constituency by central office, so the local selection committee has very little say on the matter and even less chance to make a character assessment of the candidate. No wonder rogues and scoundrels are able to get selected and elected. Candidates can pose as being happily married when in fact they’re having affairs. In other words they can lie to the electorate. They can pose as straight when they’re gay. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but they’re telling a lie to make themselves more electable. If they can lie about those sorts of things they can lie about anything and probably do.
I hear the word ‘integrity’ being used about politicians, usually by other politicians. I heard it being used about David
Laws after he was caught paying rent to his gay partner at public expense. His friends and colleagues rallied around to tell us all how much integrity poor David had. Obviously some people have no idea what ‘integrity’ means. As a reminder, the OED describes it as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Can someone tell me how, exactly, that fits with improperly claiming rent at public expense? Or, for that matter, all the other expense claims that had to be repaid or recovered. And please don’t get me started on Chris Huhne, Jonathon Aitken, Denis McShane and the rest of the political jailbirds.
Of course, we’re not content with letting them lie to us once. we let them back in to have another go. Yes I do mean you Peter Mandelson. His‘punishment’ for lying to us twice? A sinecure in Brussels with the EU with accompanying fat-cat salary and expenses. Who says crime doesn’t pay!
Of course the party leader always backs the rogues, which makes matters even worse. It demeans the leader, it demeans their party and it calls their judgement into question. OK, innocent until proven guilty. I accept that age old principle, but
why not ask the accused to stand down until their innocence or guilt is fully established? If innocent then they can be reinstated at a later date. But no, that won’t happen. Why not? Well the politician that stands accused risks being frozen out by a more talented replacement, so there’s no way they will stand down unless forced to do so. And
the leader won’t force them to stand down because they may know where the political bodies are buried and may decide to start writing their memoirs before the next election.
Anyway, In my novel The Deputy Prime Minster I take this premise of unethical behaviour and lying and exaggerated it into full blown corruption of massive proportions. I’d like to believe it doesn’t happen, but history suggests to me that it does. The book is being serialised on Wattpad at http://www.wattpad.com/user/authorbob but if you don’t want to
take 20 odd weeks to read it you can find out how to buy it by clicking on the “Books” tab on this website. Please feel free to e-mail me to tell me if you think it can’t happen. Personally I think it already has.