Thursday, 29 August 2013

Government Minister abuses perks - nothing new under the sun

The Secretary of State for War in March of that year wrote a stinging letter to Bonar Law (who as we know was Chancellor) in the following terms;
"Dear Bonar Law,
"I am sorry for going away, but I really could not stand hearing George Curzon talk, and I did not want to enter into incriminations. As a matter of fact he has behaved disgracefully about the car, and it is undoubtedly his own fault that there is any trouble. There was a car placed at the disposal of the Air Board, but when I was Chairman I never once used it. When Curzon came to the Air Board he calmly took it for himself. He talks about it being for general use, but I should doubt a single soul having been in it except himself and his friends. He motors down to Hackwood and uses the car for sending to the Station for his Saturday to Monday parties, and I should like to have asked him whether it is not true on the occasion of his Dance the other night the car came backwards and forwards to London three times. I am sure he would never deny that Lady Curzon invariably uses it, and he himself admitted to me that although he was ill in bed he had sent for the car in order to send a note down to Mrs. Harry Cust. Now this is a scandalous abuse of a Government car and needless to say makes everybody talk. He was to say the least of it incorrect about the car in the beginning. I am going to try and find his letter, but he wrote to me, if I remember rightly, to say that the Prime Minister had authorised him to have a car. It now turns out that he telephoned to the Prime Minister to know whether he could have one and got no answer. He then told me that he meant to keep the Air Board car. I told him that was entirely a matter of agreement between him and the Air Board, but a second car would have to be supplied and it did not make the least difference which it went to, upon which he telephoned to Cowdray, (Cowdray told me this himself) to say that I had agreed, with the Prime Minister’s consent, to his keeping his present car. It is very amusing his saying that his health can only be kept going by being able to go to Trent every Saturday to Monday. He has only had Trent since he married.
"I am going to try to get out for you the amount of petrol that he has consumed in that car since he has had it, and I think it will be surprising. Of course he kept on quoting me, and it is quite true that both in Peace Time as well as in War, there is a car which is supposed to be the Secretary of State's, and I do have the same car, but if that is wanted for any other military duty I should go without, and it probably will be wanted as we have to supply cars for all our Colonial Conference visitors. The real truth is he is just what he says he is not. He is one of the meanest men that I know. He was a tenant of mine at one time and I have good reason for knowing it.
"Yours sincerely,
From this remarkable letter we can make a number of observations;
1. Ministers appeared to have had a remarkable amount of free time when running the Great War if they allow themselves to get distracted by abuse of a public vehicle.
2. Derbyshire politics runs deep.
3. Abuse of a perk was once considered a very serious and thoroughly underhand matter, that needed remedy.
4. Mrs Cust was the sort of person one should definitely socialise with.
5. One should never rent to Lord Curzon. He was a cad of a tenant (sadly we will never know whether he failed to water the petunias or left soap rings in the bath, but whatever it was he was a rotten bounder).
6. That the ‘Two Jags’ Prescott controversy is hardly modern news. With the motor vehicle barely out of its infancy, the equivalent to ‘sending the car round for Mrs Prescott so she doesn’t get her hairstyle tussled when walking a few yards down to conference’ was still going on.
Thus we can console ourselves with this negligible thought; the sins of abusing the privileges of rank have been with our Parliamentarians for a lot longer than Expensesgate. They have not all descended upon Westminster along with the floods of taxes wrenched from latterday pockets.
Except, of course, that Lord Curzon at least had the excuse of having previously been the Viceroy of India. Running the Raj was a job massively reliant on show and pomp. Some politicians today have delusions of grandeur; Curzon had been the ringleader of the whole mental circus in a show where few of our present leaders can compete. The Prime Minister (with a nuclear button), Archbishop of Canterbury (hotline to God) and Speaker of the Commons (astronomically expensive Pugin wallpaper) are noted exceptions.
Even though they are high on the list of precedence in situations involving protocol, there are still those 4973 claimants to the throne who as members of the House of Hanover actually have possible succession rights. This makes for a long hierarchical queue. It would take a manically insane Boris Johnson in a speeding Number 88 double decker an estimated six minutes to obliterate them if they all in a domino tumble fell under its wheels while queuing (of which the chances are, thankfully, somewhat remote).

from "A Fate Worse than Debt" by Lee Rotherham

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As the UK talks of cuts and austerity, this book explores for beginners the true scale of our financial problems, and some of the controversies behind modern spending. Warning: do not read if you suffer from high blood pressure, or lack a sense of humour in a crisis. Among the questions answered are: What is the difference between Deficit and Debt? How much does the United Kingdom Government really owe? Who is Scotland's forgotten debt genius? How big could you build a new Hadrian's Wall from Pound coins paid out of Britain's debt? Why was Britain's first civil war two thousand years ago triggered by debt repayments? How did WW2 US airmen unexpectedly help bail out Britain's war effort? What was the Geddes Axe, and how far did it swing? What can a wombat's posterior warn us of? How big is our creek today and is there a paddle? Launched to coincide with the Coalition Government's "make or break" 2013 Budget, this book puts the country's financial problems firmly under the microscope. It explains what is going on and why in terms the layman can understand - and will find absolutely terrifying. Possibly the most important book about government you will ever read.

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