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Do Conservatives ever change their spots?

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Image credits: Financial Times photos
Image credits: Financial Times photos

You thought politicians would learn what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do, or at least pay someone reliable to consider these things for them. In the wake of recent Tory slip-ups, Online Features Editor Imogen Watson examines the latest round of their problems.

With Boris Johnson speaking out of turn and Exeter alumnus and government minister Andrew Lansley MP being called out for poor expenses claims on dozens of seemingly unnecessary hotel stays, it has arguably been a bad couple of days for the Conservative Party.

To begin, everybody’s favourite London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has been at it again, suggesting last week that we ought not to spend too much time or too many resources on promoting equality within our society. Whilst apparently 16 per cent of “our species” have an IQ of less than 85, approximately two per cent has one over 130, and, during a speech about the benefits of inequality (which fosters “the spirit of envy”), it was the implied message of the Mayor of the Big Smoke that the state ought to use more of our resources for this latter group. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whilst praising Johnson for being “a funny guy”, Chancellor George Osborne and the Prime Minister alike have distanced themselves from the Conservative Mayor, who is considered to be very high-ranking and a well-known member of their own party.  Experts have expressed that correlations between high IQs and educational attainment are existent but slight and probabilistic.

In the meantime, Exeter University’s own Andrew Lansley MP (who recently visited the Streatham Campus and an interview with whom you can read here) has been found to be using the taxpayer’s money to pay for stays in London hotels, despite owning properties both in London itself – a mile from Parliament – and near the village of Royston in his not-too-distant constituency of South Cambridgeshire. MPs are able to claim for a second home where appropriate for working either in London or in their constituency; yet Lansley has racked up a bill of £5950 since April 2012, although his million-pound flat is just in Pimlico. Although a family member is apparently living there (so Lansley can’t).

Granted, one must remember not to act in the moral high ground too much, as the number of employees stealing from their place of work is also on the increase, and at least this time we are not witnessing receipts for duck houses and the cleaning of moats. With Parliament having brought in the apparently Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in the wake of the previous expenses scandal, it is questionable how such claims made it through the scrutiny, but it also does rather beg the question – do politicians ever change?

Politicians’ PR managers must have constant nightmares and demand constant pay rises, but there is a bigger debate at the heart of such comments and such actions. The political world is already a game for the elite, but politicians seem to be going out of their way to make it worse by annoying the public just a little bit more every time they open their mouths.

Image credits: NHS Confederation
Image credits: NHS Confederation

After the last expenses scandal, trust in politicians as a whole dipped to an all-time low of 2.3 from its high of 3.5… out of a possible ten. If politicians are so aware of how much the public does not approve of their job performance, their natural reaction ought to be to be on high alert, ready to publicise something positive that they do, ready to avoid such gaffes. Clearly, however, they are not. For the Leader of the House of Commons to set such a poor example, we really should be shocked but instead I found myself sighing disapprovingly and rolling my eyes. What a great state of affairs. Not all politicians are awful, but the ones that are mar the others.

As for the Conservative Party more specifically, its reputation as “the Nasty Party”, rife with scandal and sleaze, is what made it lose the election of 1997 so badly. Boris Johnson may be in contention for the leader of the Party when David Cameron should choose to step down, but his humorous ways and amusing bumbling persona on the international Olympic stage will do him no good if he does not refrain from poor errors of judgement in public affairs that are inherently personal and offensive to large swathes of the population. It is this kind of error that sidelined the Tories for thirteen years, and it will do so again if left unchecked.

Imogen Watson, Online Features Editor

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