Help Yourself

Sue McClusky, Presenter, Radio 4's 'This Hour' Programme: At a time of extreme austerity, when politicians are constantly reminding us of the need to tighten our belts, it might seem strange for anyone to advocate a raise in salary for Members of Parliament. And yet the outspoken Treasury Secretary Sir Anthony B'Lend is suggesting just that. His comments have caused an outcry amongst the public and the media, although reaction from his colleagues has, perhaps understandably, been somewhat subdued. Well I'm delighted to say that Sir Anthony has agreed to answer some of our questions, and joins us here in the studio today. Sir Anthony, a pay rise for MPs - a controversial move, surely?

The Right Honourable Sir Anthony B'Lend: I would prefer the term 'forward thinking', but I do have to acknowledge that it has caused a bit of a fuss.

McClusky: Not surprising, I would have thought, given the timing. The jobless figures continue to rise, we're still reporting negative growth and there are few signs of those 'green shoots' of recovery that we're all waiting for. Is a pay increase appropriate?

B'Lend: Entirely appropriate, Sue, largely because of those factors you just mentioned. Politicians of every hue are under a great deal of pressure at the moment. I can tell you from personal experience that the situation is very bleak. Whenever I visit my constituency I'm exposed to increasing levels of deprivation and squalor. It's very upsetting. I think a pay rise, therefore, reflects the stresses of the job.

McClusky: Wouldn't your constituents - the ones living in increased squalor and deprivation - wouldn't they find it difficult to have sympathy with that point of view, don't you think?

B'Lend: I dare say they would, but then we've all got our problems, haven't we? Anyway, the stress is just the beginning of the matter. People see their elected leaders being driven about in flash cars from one freebie junket to another, but they fail to appreciate that we're feeling the pinch as well. You see, hitherto we have been able to supplement our income through press bribes, tax avoidance and by hammering our expenses. But of course, many of these avenues are now closed off to us. It's left us in a very difficult position. You tell this to ordinary people and they really don't understand the responsibilities we have. They don't have big houses to maintain, race horses to stable or corporate mobsters to pay off, so how can they possibly understand what it's like when money gets tight?

McClusky: I think many people would argue that they are acutely aware of what it's like to experience poverty.

B'Lend: Balderdash! Bless you, Sue - I don't mean to be rude but that's nonsense. If you have very little to start with, then you've really got nothing to lose, have you? But anyway, these factors aside, there is another very good reason why we should get a pay rise. You see, it's a well known fact that if you pay someone an obscene amount money you remove the temptation for corruption. Why would anyone want to steal anything if you simply hand it to them on a plate, eh?

McClusky: It's a familiar argument. At first glance, however, it might seem to have two major problems.

B'Lend: Oh I don't think so.

McClusky: The first being that it suggests that our political system and the judgement of the electorate are essentially flawed. 'Buying off' politicians doesn't address these flaws, it merely wallpapers over the cracks.

B'Lend: And what's wrong with wallpaper? I like wallpaper. Wallpaper is good.

McClusky: The second problem is - and I think this really is the clincher as far as this theory goes - paying politicians more money doesn't appear to work, does it?

B'Lend: Ah, well now you prove my point. It's because we're not paying them enough. I'm afraid the current rates of remuneration seriously underestimate just how much it takes to keep a politician on the straight and narrow. Consider my position - I work at the treasury, and I am constantly surrounded by hard cash.

McClusky: Really?

B'Lend: Oh yes. The building is piled high with bank notes and there are wheelbarrows of loose change being trundled up and down corridors all day - you really can't move for the stuff. I've even got a gold brick propping up my desk. Is it any wonder that I'm constantly filling my pockets?

McClusky: That's appalling.

B'Lend: Well exactly. It seriously weighs me down and it spoils the cut of my jacket, but what can you do?

McClusky: Perhaps you should exercise some self-control? After all, should we not be able to trust the people who hold positions of responsibility?

B'Lend: Well, I daresay you should, but while crooks like me keep getting elected this kind of thing is going to keep happening. I'm only human, after all - so obviously I'm going to keep helping myself.

McClusky: Do you not feel any remorse?

B'Lend: Oodles of it. Of course I do. But I'm a victim to my own avaricious desires, you see. People see me waddling out of my office, stuffed to the gills with moolah, and they say to themselves 'Well he's doing alright for himself'. They don't realise the agony of my situation. I'm an addict. I need help.

McClusky: And that help would be primarily of a financial nature?

B'Lend: Exactly! Substantially financial. It's really the only thing that can save me from myself at this point.

McClusky: Well thank you for speaking to us, Sir Anthony. I'm not sure you've managed to persuade anyone with your argument, but I'm certain that this debate is set to run and run.

B'Lend: Thank you, Sue. It's been a pleasure being here.

McClusky: And if you can just put the microphone back and empty your pockets on the way out, that would be just lovely... Well, coming up after the news headlines, we'll be speaking to Marcus Bream of the National Institute for Piscine Studies...

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