Once again I find myself talking about state hypocrisy. It seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how many outrages, news stories and government fiascos occur, there always seems to be another just around the corner.
This week it is the story of Maria Miller. For those who don’t know, Maria Miller is a Conservative politician who is the MP for Basingstoke, and sits in the cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities. A fairly distinguished position, so much so that she was placed as the 17th most powerful woman in the United Kingdom by a show on BBC Radio 4 in February 2013.
Miller has been under pressure since 2012 because of expenses she was claiming on a second home. These expenses were paid for by the taxpayer and in February of this year, it was revealed that she abused the system and claimed over £90,000 in public money to cover costs on her second home. That very month Miller sold the home for a figure of £1.47 million. Netting her a profit of over £1 million pound.
To make this entire situation even more abhorrent is the fact that Miller was not even using this home at the time. The only people occupying the residence were members of her family. Miller was living an hour away in Basingstoke. Under current regulation MP’s can claim for expenses on a second home if their first home is too far away from London. The idea being that when they travel to London to debate issues in Parliament, they have somewhere to stay. However, when your first and second homes are only an hour apart you have to question whether a second home is even necessary.
Understandably the public have been outraged by all of this. A recent report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards estimated that Miller had over-claimed on expenses by around £45,000. It was recommended that Miller pay back this money that was owed to the public.
This however, did not occur, and in a blatant case of bias and MP’s looking after their own, the recommendation was ignored and Miller was instead ordered to make an apology and pay just £5800. Her apology, in Parliament, lasted approximately thirty seconds.
Instead of appeasing the public and ending the matter, it seems the story has now gone into over-drive. Rumours are spreading throughout various media outlets that Miller is set to lose her job and the press, and public, are still attacking the Government for the decisions that have been made. Whilst some may see Miller losing her job as a form of justice, I do not. Miller will no doubt walk into another position, she has just made over £1 million from the sale of a house, and she has avoided paying back over £40,000 – a fee that would be an annual salary to a lot of people. Real justice would come in the form of equal treatment.
Whilst Ministers who steal £45,000 of public money, need to only pay back a percentage of that and make a brief apology, for everyone else the consequences of such actions would be a whole lot worse. The Prime Minster, David Cameron, has expressed his “full, strong, very warm support” for her, and On the Andrew Marr Show this morning Government minister Iain Duncan Smith said “I know Maria very well… I am enormously fond of her… I have known her always to be a reasonable and honest person”. Smith went on to say that he was “supportive of Maria” and that if we weren’t careful we would end up in a “witch hunt”.
A “witch hunt” is not what anyone is advocating here, as there is no witch to be hunted. If the Government simply accepted that one of their own had done wrong, and that they had to face a form of justice, then the matter would be over. Here we see the hypocrisy. When one of their own do it and the people demand justice, it is called a “witch hunt”, when a member of the public does it, it is called policy.
I understand that everyone is human, and that people make mistakes. I do not want a witch hunt, I do not want over-zealous punishment, what I do want is an equal justice system whereby those at the top receive the same treatment as those at the bottom. There needs to be an end to this elitist hypocrisy, and a one rule for us and one rule for them mentality.
Speaking from my own experience, I had my Job Seekers Allowance halted last year because I failed to apply for a job that the Job Centre recommended. My punishment was not having to pay back a fraction of my benefit and make a thirty second apology. My punishment was having to try and survive ninety days without any income.
I am not alone in facing utterly disproportionate punishments for something I have done. Though MP’s and police are let off the hook incredibly lightly, it seems the rest of us face the full force of the law. A wonderful Tumblr page I recently found provides just a few examples of the disproportionate “crimes” and punishments.
An unemployed 60-year old army veteran was sanctioned for four weeks because he was selling poppies, a claimant had their benefits stopped because they attended a job interview rather than go to the Job Centre appointment, another claimant had their benefits sanctioned because they attended a funeral of a family friend rather than go to the Job Centre, and the list goes on.
This is the tip of the iceberg and these do not represent “witch hunts”, these are every day examples of policy in action. As ever with the state though, policy only applies to those who have no decision in making it.
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