So what am I supposed to feel as I survey the steady stream of pathetic poor that passes before the bench? In recent months I have seen half a dozen nursing students prosecuted for failing to declare the bursary paid to them by the NHS, and continuing to claim the benefits they were getting before deciding to take up nursing training. I have seen a young single mother, abandoned by the father of her child, who stole a pair of shoes from Woolworths because she wanted her little boy to "have something nice". She finished up in court, with a criminal record for theft that will do nothing for her CV when she looks for a job in the future. You wouldn't have caught an MP in Woolies (RIP) or Primark would you? John Lewis is the least they would settle for - with our money. People drive tatty and uninsured old bangers because that's the only way to get to the site of the minimum-wage job they were eager to take. Wrong, wrong, and wrong, of course. I dealt with them all according to the law and within the Guidelines, but as I order a £5 per week deduction from benefit or any of the other tools at our disposal, I won't be able to stop myself comparing these offenders with the MPs who stay the right side of the rules that they wrote for themselves but who haven't even got the excuse of poverty for their behaviour.
Defoe has Moll Flanders refer to the wise man's prayer: 'Give me not poverty, lest I steal.' Well our MPs aren't poor, but many of them, while not exactly stealing, are certainly taking money that they should not, on any decent man's view be taking.
As ever, Shakespeare had it spot on:
A dog's obeyed in office.
..........Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it.