Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bringing Parliament into Disrepute?

WHAT a marvellous bunch of upstanding ladies and gentlemen we have in the mother of all parliaments at Westminster! What a fine sense of justice they have! Did prime minister Tony Blair lie to them and the British public, presenting dodgy dossiers to defend his decision to bomb and invade Iraq? No matter.They could forgive and forget as, from right-wing Tory to left-wing Labour, they stood with tears in their eyes to give him a parting ovation.

Did a minister in his government, Tessa Jowell, claim to know nothing about sums which repaid a mortgage on her home, coming from her husband's connections with Sylvio Berlusconi? Well, you couldn't expect her to keep an eye on the family finances and know about what her husbands' friends were up to, could you?

Was the government's roving Middle East envoy, Lord Levy, unavoidably detained during the Lebanon crisis by police interviewing him concerning loans for peerages? Well, these things could happen to anybody...

Did the government stop a fraud investigation into payments made to Saudi royals to secure gigantic contracts for British Aerospace? Just as ten years ago the two main parties collaborated to supress a report from the National Audit Office. Well, it is all very well going on about that, but that's the way you do business out there, and besides, just because the Saudis have some quaint old laws and have sustained some colourful rogues is no reason to stop selling them armaments.

If they had not supported the Taliban, we wouldn't have had a Taliban to fight, nor pretext to invade Afghanistan; and if no one had set up Osama Bin Laden we would not have a bogeyman. You have to think about these things.

It is not just warplanes. We have a firm in Brum with a nice line in shackles, and then there are modern interrogation aids. Britain can make it! If our Transatlantic cousins are jibbing its because they wanted the deals and were having to come up with more. Just think of the jobs we saved, while letting them go everywhere else, not to mention the property prices in Belgravia as taxpayers dosh funneled through our Saudi clients came back to benefit some people here. Just because you shouted "Maggie Out!" does not mean we could break the continuity.

Don't go on about "ethics", you sound like old Robin Cook.

Anyway, MPs have got standards, and a conscience, whatever you say. Only this week a committee of them recommended that Respect MP George Galloway should be suspended from the Commons for 18 days, after the parliamentary standards commissioner said it was likely that the outspoken Respect MP knew a charity appeal by him was partly financed through Saddam Hussein's regime.

Sir Philip Mawer, the commissioner, said he had "no evidence" that Mr Galloway directly and personally received money from Iraq via diverted funds from the UN oil for food programme. But there was "clear evidence" that his Mariam Appeal "did benefit" from money from Iraq through its chairman, Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, who donated £448,000 of the £1.4m raised by the appeal.

"Mr Galloway at best turned a blind eye to what was happening and, on balance, was likely to have known and been complicit in what was going on," Sir Philip said.

Galloway says he will contest the suspension, though considering the amount of time he has spent away from the Commons and for instance in the other, "Big Brother" House, I'm surprised 18 days should bother him. It would mean loss of pay, but also that his constituents would be deprived of their MP.

The Mariam Appeal was set up in 1998 to raise funds for the treatment of Iraqi leukemia patient Mariam Hamza. Later it widened to deal with the issue of sanctions. The incidence of leukemia and of birth defects has soared in Iraq since British and US forces first used depleted uranium weapons there, while sanctions prevented Iraqi hospitals recieving necessary drugs and equipment. But such small matters are not the concern of our parliamentarians.

Galloway say he had never asked any of his three main donors - Mr Zureikat, the King of Saudi Arabia and the emir of the United Arab Emirates - where their money came from. "Once more and yet again I have been cleared of taking a single penny or in any way personally benefiting from the former Iraqi regime through the oil for food programme or any other means."

The standards commissioner condemned George Galloway for concealing the source of funds (just what the political parties' loans schemes were designed to do) and for his treatment of Daily Telegraph correspondent David Blair (Galloway won his libel case against the Tory paper arising from documents it claimed to have found in Baghdad showing he took funds from Iraq.). The report says the MP by refusing to co-operate and calling into question the committee's integrity had "damaged the reputation of the house."

As regular readers of this blog and those who know me will have gathered, I am not a great George Galloway fan. But to suggest that his conduct in this affair has brought the House of Commons into disrepute is not just hypocritical. It shows a totally disproportionate sense of what constitutes a serious offence to moral standards, and a far from justified belief as to what kind of reputation the House nowadays has.

These MPs are out of touch.



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