You may not have noticed, but England's political system is collapsing right about now under the weight of cinematic scandal. The latest news is that a pair of diabolical billionaire identical twins have succeeded in censoring the blog of a hysterical Minister of Parliament whose political views they oppose.
Nadine Dorries is an MP from Bedfordshire, about 55 miles north of London. Last week, she wrote a post on her blog suggesting that the Barclay Brothers, who own the London Daily Telegraph, have deliberately engineered the expenses scandal currently engulfing the nation's Parliament for their own political gain. Lawyers for the Daily Telegraph succeeded in getting Dorries' ISP to shut down her blog under England's strict libel laws. The blog has since re-emerged with the offending post purged. Imagine Rupert Murdoch successfully shutting down Maxine Waters' blog and you get the idea.
Backfill: British MPs are entitled to seek reimbursement for expenses—up to $38,000 per year at current exchange rates—related to maintaining a second home near Parliament. About two-and-a-half weeks ago, the Daily Telegraph got a hold of a hard disk containing itemized lists of those expenses for all MPs, and began dribbling them out each day. The results were shocking: One MP expensed $2,600 for a "duck moat," dozens had used it for extravagant redecorations, people were expensing their grocery bills while Parliament wasn't even in session, buying flat-screen TVs, and two MPs sought reimbursement for interest on mortgage payments for second homes that they had already sold. Moreover, many were "flipping" homes by designating one home as their second residence, which was eligible for reimbursement, gussying it up with redecorations, and then designating their other home as the second residence and repeating the process all over again, all on the public dollar. It was a shitstorm. So far 13 MPs—including House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin—have either resigned, been suspended, or announced they won't seek re-election. The Archbishop of Canterbury warned that "the continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy."
The Daily Telegraph's decision to drip out individual MPs expenses day-by-day, extending the scandal and increasing newspaper sales, has added to the sense of crisis. And some, including Dorries, have questioned the motives of the Barclay brothers, identical twins David and Frederick. The reclusive real estate billionaires, who recently expanded into the newspaper business, live in a castle on a private island (pictured) near the British isle of Sark, where they built hotels and restaurants. But they have threatened to pull up stakes after their preferred candidates lost local elections late last year.
The Telegraph hasn't said whether or not it paid for the hard disk, but other newspapers claim that it had been shopped around London since March for a price ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. A former British special forces operative has come forward as the middleman who brokered the disk to the Telegraph by an unnamed "businessman" who had inadvertently come across a copy.
Last week, Dorries chose to defend herself and her disgraced colleagues and attack the Telegraph, writing in the London Independent that the Telegraph's practice of dripping out a few disclosures each day, leaving every MP to dread a call from the paper as they waited for their name to come up, was "a form of torture and may have serious consequences. No can deny the right to expose this, but any decent human being can question pushing individuals to the brink of despair."
On her blog, she wrote on her blog that the atmosphere in Parliament was "unbearable. People are constantly checking to see if others are ok. Everyone fears a suicide. If someone isn't seen, offices are called and checked." The move was politically unpopular: Her own Conservative Party disavowed her, and Conservative sources called her "wacky."
But it was Dorries' theory about the Telegraph's motives that led the Barclays to shut down her blog. Last Thursday, she accused the twins of launching "a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament" because they are skeptics of the European Union. The scandal has hurt the Labor and Conservative parties, she wrote, leaving England's smaller anti-EU parties unscathed: "Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP." What's more, she wrote, "the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction."
The post those quotes were taken from has been removed from Dorries' blog, but they can be found here. It seems rather tepid stuff, presented as rumor, but the Barclays apparently don't mess around. This blog devoted to covering the European Union claims that a libel suit isn't far behind.
Wouldn't it be much more fun if our own political system were this exciting, instead of having to write about people making fun of the Supreme Court nominee's name?
[Photo of Barclay's castle by Greg Marshall via Flickr.]