Tendring Topics……..on line
When I learned that Prime Minister David Cameron was giving his full support to Ms Maria Miller in her defence of her job as Culture Minister, despite clamour from the press and some MPs for her resignation, I wondered if it might be the kiss of death. She wouldn’t be the first to have been forced into resignation within days of the Prime Minister offering similar support. Her case had been considered by the independent Commissioner appointed to investigate alleged fraudulent claims for expenses by some MPs. He had ruled that there was no evidence of deliberate fraud but that she should apologise to the House of Commons and pay back £46,000 that she had been paid to her but to which she hadn’t been entitled. He also commented that she had been less than co-operative during the course of the investigation.
It was though, not the commissioner but the Parliamentary Standards Committee consisting of fellow-MPs, who made the final decision. They agreed that Mrs Miller should make a public apology but they reduced the amount she would have to repay from £46.000 to just over £5,000! Isn’t it the members of that committee rather than Ms Miller who should have been considering resignation!
It was this remarkable reduction in the sum that Ms. Miller had to pay back, plus her very half-hearted and perfunctory apology to the House of Commons, that caused the outcry – not least from members of her own Conservative Party – and ultimately led to her resignation from her Cabinet post.
My interest in the case is that it draws attention, once again, to the very different standard of behaviour expected of MPs of all political persuasions, and that of other professional servants of the public in central and local government, and the very different code of discipline that rules their behaviour. I know very little about the Civil Service but I do know that local government employees who had been revealed to have fiddled expenses or claimed allowances to which they were not entitled, to the extent of thousands of pounds, would be lucky if their penalty was only the loss of their job – more likely they would be prosecuted, face a possible prison sentence, the loss of their pension entitlement and the probability that they would never work again in a responsible job. They would certainly never have been given the soft option of returning the money they had fraudulently obtained and making an apology. How nice it must be to be able to do as Mr Cameron suggested, and ‘draw a line under the past’. No doubt every arrested burglar, confidence trickster and rapist would like the same! Why shouldn’t erring MPs be treated exactly the same as erring civil servants and local government officials?
How about genuine mistakes and misunderstandings? For goodness sake! MPs make the laws that we have to obey. We can surely expect them to understand their own rules – and to know the difference between right and wrong! How strange that ‘mistakes and misunderstandings’ are always in one direction. Has there ever been a case of an MP accidentally or mistakenly paying a substantial un-owed sum of money back to the government?
A Not-Unhappy Ending
Those who have been concerned about Ms. Miller’s financial situation now that she is no longer a Minister of the Crown will be relieved to know that I have just heard on the tv news that as a former member of the Cabinet she’ll get a £70,000 golden handshake on her departure
Suffering from Depression? Or just depressed?
Almost every week we get new, and often conflicting ‘health advice’ or ‘health warnings’ from this, that or the other ‘expert’, on the front pages of the popular press. Any alcohol intake is harmful. A glass of red wine every day will guard against heart disease and will halt the progress of macular degeneration of the retina of the eye. All smoking is harmful and inadvertently inhaling some-one else’s second-hand smoke is no less dangerous. The whole nation is suffering from obesity as a result of eating too much and exercising too little. Eat too little and you’ll become anorexic. Over-exercise could give you a stroke or a heart attack. Try to eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables every day. Eat more fruit or vegetables every day – seven is better than five and vegetables are better than fruit!
The latest health scare – though it claims to be stating a fact rather than issuing a warning – is that most elderly people are suffering from depression and that the NHS ought to do something about it. Well, I am 92 and, God willing, I shall be 93 in about six weeks time. I just don’t believe that many of my contemporaries are suffering from clinical depression. Depression is a serious and very unpleasant mental illness. Some years ago I was acquainted with someone with what we then called manic-depression (now I believe bi-polar disorder is the pc expression). When that person was in her depressive phase she was quite incapable of doing anything at all but sit and weep, totally convinced – whatever her actual circumstances at the time – that all the world was against her and that she faced a future of total misery. Very unpleasant as it undoubtedly is - clinical depression is a definite medical condition that can be treated.
There may, for all I know, be some old people today like that – but I am sure they are a small minority Most of us oldies are depressed from time to time, but that’s not the same thing at all. We are depressed because many of us have plenty to be depressed about. Imagine what it must be like to be old, helpless and housebound, with no family left and few if any friends. You’re living on the state pension and any benefits you can get hold of. You’ve really got nothing to do all day, no purpose in life, and you speak only to occasional tradesmen, perhaps to a welfare worker or a meals-on-wheels deliverer. To be depressed in such a situation is not a condition that can be remedied by anything the NHS can offer. Goodness – anyone who isn’t depressed under those circumstances must surely be suffering from some other mental illness!
I’m glad to be able to say that my circumstances are not a bit like that. I’ve a comfortable if modest home and an adequate income (when you’re in your nineties the opportunities for extravagant living become a little limited!) I have concerned neighbours and reliable friends whom I see regularly. No member of my family lives nearby and some live and work overseas – but I see some of them regularly and all are in touch by phone or email. I would be housebound if it were not for my electric mobility scooter (my ‘iron horse’) on which I visit local friends, do my shopping, and go to church and to our local Quaker Meeting. I receive and answer emails, and I write this blog and try to publish it every week! I think that, for a nonagenarian – I lead a pretty full life.
I know that I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am sincerely grateful - but I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes feel depressed and dispirited. I miss my former physical strength and dexterity. Every movement that I make is now an effort and everything I do takes three times as long as it once did. I can’t climb a step-ladder and stairs are very difficult for me. It takes me a long time to cross a room to answer a phone or to go the front door for a caller. I am clumsy. I accidentally knock things onto the floor and find it increasingly difficult to pick them up again. My short-term memory (particularly for people’s names) is bad and getting worse. I’m truly grateful when people are extra kind and helpful towards me (as most people certainly are) but I resent my frailty that prompts their kindness! In old age it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
I’m often told what a host of happy memories I must have to fall back on. It’s true and, in the past I have enjoyed sharing them with my wife who featured in most of them. Sadly her life came to an end nearly eight years ago – just three months after we had celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary. Now I find that it is the very happiest memories of the past that are most likely to bring tears to my eyes.
I don’t think that very many of us oldies suffer from clinical depression. Most of us would much rather be known as ‘Cheerful Charlies’ rather than ‘Moaning Minnies’. Even those like me though, blessed with steadfast and caring friends and loving relatives, a purpose in life, and all the material things that we really need, are sometimes depressed. This is simply because living through very old age can be a depressing experience. There's no denying it and I really don't see what the NHS - or anyone else - can do about it!
Yesterday (13th April) was Palm Sunday, when Christians remember that Jesus Christ rode on a donkey in triumph into
cheered on by the same crowd that a few days later would be howling for his death. Next weekend comes Good
Friday when we remember his sham trial, torture and cruel execution – followed on
Easter Sunday by his glorious return from death. I sometimes lose patience (another symptom of
old age perhaps!) with those, usually very well-meaning and reasonable people, who say, ‘Of course I’m sure that we should all try to
follow the example and teaching of Jesus, but I really can’t accept all that
supernatural stuff, and as for his
return from the dead – I ask you!’
I prefer ‘miraculous’ to ‘supernatural’. Jesus was brought up in a remote and insignificant part of the
Empire. In early adult life
he preached and healed the sick for no more than about two years. He was then arrested, publicly humiliated and tortured
to death by crucifixion – a word so familiar to us that we may not appreciate what a cruel and agonising method of execution a first-century crucifixion was. Does anyone imagine that this unsuccessful
preacher and healer, judicially murdered in his early thirties, would have featured even as a footnote in the pages of
history, had not a handful of very ordinary down-to-earth people been quite
convinced that he had walked with them, talked with them and shared meals with
them, days after his cruel execution - and were prepared to die for that conviction?
Had there been no Resurrection there would have been no teaching to hear, no example to follow. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!