Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gene Hunt vs Derek Conway

Tory MP Derek Conway has had the whip removed after paying his son £40k of taxpayers money, yet 'no record' had been found of said son doing any work for him. Inquiries are still pending, but this is the latest in a long line of dodgy financial stories coming out of Westminster. A few months ago it seemed that the North-East was the epicentre of financial scandal (the 'dead' canoeist who's life insurance bankrolled his wife's flat in Panama, a Labour financer who had donated via a proxy etc.). That epicentre has moved down to London.

Meanwhile, several million people are cancelling all engagements for Thursday 7th Feb, as Gene Hunt returns to our screens, in Ashes to Ashes, the sequel the magnificent Life on Mars. What has this got to do with Derek Conway? Bear with me.

The core plot to Life on Mars, and Ashes to Ashes, is a police officer who ends up 'back in time' - in Life on Mars it turned out to be (we think!) just Sam Tyler's vivid dreams whilst in a coma. The challenge for Ashes to Ashes will be to lay a different trail of clues for how Alex Drake got to be in 1981. For both of them, catapulted into Gene Hunts sexist, brutal, no-nonsense world from the form-filling, psychological profiling noughties, the challenge is a) how to get back home and b) how to maintain their integrity and values in a world which works in a completely different way to what they're used to.

The classic story of Ulysses and the Sirens tells of how Ulysses had himself bound to the mast of his ship, so that the Sirens call wouldn't tempt him to his death. It's a great parable about temptation, and how we need to master it. Ulysses needs not only the willpower - to decide in advance (not the heat of the moment) that he will not be drawn off course - but also the help of his crew, who tie him up and refuse to let him go even when the Sirens cry is yanking his soul out of his body.

In some ways it's easier for Sam Tyler (Life on Mars) and Alex Drake (Ashes to Ashes) to maintain integrity. They know they are in an alien world, and that they don't belong there. But every MP in Westminster is part of the club, and unless you've decided in advance what your standards are, and found other people to help you keep them, it's easy to lose your integrity, and let standards drop. It's the same in the playground, the workplace, even a church.

It's back to whether we are thermostats or thermometers: do we 'set the temperature' and influence the world around us, or do we merely reflect the environment we are in? There does seem to be a Westminster culture that has forgotten that MP's expenses are taxpayers money, and that honesty is a non-negotiable, not something that can be traded in for, say, the deputy leadership of the Labour party.

And if you ring me next Thursday between 9-10pm and get the answerphone, it's because I'm somewhere in 1981 with Gene Hunt. 'Lets fire up the Quattro.'

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