Thursday, 14 May 2009

In defence of Stephen Fry

I would like to defend Stephen Fry for dismissing MPs' expenses row.

The major issues are what elections should be decided on. Perhaps he overstated the case, but he is neither a politician nor a journalist. He did not seek a platform to express his views. He was interrupted and responded off the top of his head.

I have no complaints with investigating sleaze – what does bother me is that the story eclipses all others. The intense focus on expenses is particularly myopic parochialism. Other stories are overlooked – but who cares about oppression in Burma, or that innocent people were killed in Afghanistan, or that the people protested about it.

For an interesting “let’s get MPs’ expenses in perspective” post see Between the Hammer and the Anvil.


  1. Kit

    We do care about Burma and Aghanistan. It's just that there's a hierarchy to our cares and, frankly, MPs claiming for mortgages that don't exist should be right at the top. I couldn't care less for the bathplugs and blue movies claims but property speculation (4 flips in two years) and non existent mortgages?

    I'm dismayed that Stephen didn't feel the same. I really thought he was much more in touch with grass roots Britain that it appears he is.

  2. I do think that it is an important story. If it was it was largely ignored it would be unjust. I am glad that it is in the news and that good bloggers are blogging about it. It is the intense focus that I complain of rather than the concern itself. It bothers me that the media is only able to focus on one story at a time. I don't think that it is unfair to say that it is in the news because of its ease to convey as much as its significance.

    If you feel that Fry overstated his case, bear in mind that at the time of Fry's comment relatively trivial expenses issues dominated the press - it was just the first wave of Labour expenses. I'm not sure if I agree with your hierarchy of care, I would much rather vote for Menzies Campbell - - for example, who will not come out of the expenses scandal well, than an MP whose voting record I found disagreeable but had done nothing wrong expenses-wise.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Your anonymity is making me curious as to who the 'we' that you refer to are. We the people, the bloggers, the media?

    Thanks again

  3. Kit

    I agree that one would forgive an MP nearly anything if they had meaningfully attacked the constituency’s reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic problems, its ability to deliver a new hip on time, its preschool childcare for working parents and the like. My concern is that many people will find it very hard to reconcile a hands-on MP with a ‘no-mortgage-but-claiming-for-one’ one.

    My clumsy ‘hierarchy of care’ metaphor was trying to speak to Stephen’s statement that we are currently fighting wars and, so, this expenses thing shouldn’t matter so much in the grand scheme. And to your Burma comment. Bringing the deaths of young soldiers, or the unacceptably inhumane treatment of some, into the argument is very unfair as it makes us feel uncomfortable about protesting at (some of) our MP’s ridiculous behaviour. In terms of a hierarchy, the stuff on our doorstep goes to the top of our list. And for most people it should: they don’t have the time to do something about everything that’s wrong on the planet.

    Your point about the timing of the Fry vox-pop is a good one and noted. He probably wouldn’t give the same copy today.

    I used the plural ‘we’ to answer your ‘who cares?’. I’m a lone poster and speak only for myself.

    I don’t really understand your ‘ease to convey’ statement. My bad. Do you mean it’s a story that is emotive and easily bought into by readers, or that it was a doddle to analyse, type and print? If the former, I agree. But does that matter?

    I sincerely appreciate your reply, thanks.

    All the best.

  4. You are right about what I mean by 'ease to convey'; you do not have to be interested in politics to understand that politicians have gone against the spirit of the rules. The press love unambiguity. Complicated stories seldom dominate the media like simple ones.

    It is important because stories that are more complicated are overlooked - or buried in the middle of the paper. We are the electorate; the media should inform us about all important events rather than just the easily understood.

    Although not entirely related, I thought that the Adam Curtis film (linked below) might be of some interest.

    I'd also like to add that some of the scandals aren't new. Check out the below link at 5:38

    Anyway, thanks again for commenting

    PS. I concede that I might have been a tad melodramatic in my mentioning of stories that the press are less inclined to cover - do not let me deter you protesting injustice in whatever form it takes.

  5. Good links, thanks. Think I'll follow your blog for a while! Do you have a bio anywhere?

  6. That’s excellent!

    I don’t have a bio as I haven’t written one. I’m not really sure what to say about myself – I’m a freelance nobody (to steal an expression from No Sleep ‘till Brooklands’ bio).

    I’m working part time as a parliamentary select committees reporter and part time at a university at the moment. I’ve studied media, politics and philosophy. I decided to blog to encourage myself to keep up to date & to provide a forum to discuss issues.

    I’m still finding my voice as a blogger – the blog is just over a month old. I’ve tended to blog on things that interest me that other bloggers that I read haven’t covered or have different opinion. By and large, I try not to tackle straw men unless I think that it is necessary.

    I’m glad you liked the links – thanks again for commenting.