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The superior virtue of the oppressed

It’s no coincidence the MPs found guilty of fiddling are all Labour, writes Peter Oborne.

The book can at last be closed on The Daily Telegraph investigation into the MPs’ expenses scandal. More than 300 Members of Parliament have paid back wrongly claimed expenses. Several of the worst offenders have stood down from Parliament. Now that the former minister Denis MacShane has at last pleaded guilty to fraud, no further prosecutions are planned, and all criminal investigation is reported to have ceased.

But one puzzling question remains. Why is it that only Labour MPs have been found guilty of expenses fraud as a result of the Telegraph revelations?

His argument that there is “only one chance in 64 that Labour’s score of 6/6 was a coincidence” should be saved as an Awful Example for the probability chapter in a GCSE mathematics textbook, with calculation of the precise odds that he has let the Tories off far too lightly left as an exercise for the student.

This part of his explanation, however, is accurate:

It is especially perplexing because the party in general strongly feels itself to be the embodiment of decency and morality. Indeed Labour has always insisted that the Conservatives are the party of venality, greed and selfishness. How baffling it is, then, that only Labour MPs have been sent to jail as a result of the Telegraph revelations.

Paradoxically, I believe that it is Labour’s belief in its own higher morality – what Bertrand Russell called the “superior virtue of the oppressed” – that has led to its downfall.

Many Labour people cannot believe that anything done by the oppressed classes or their champions can ever really be wrong, not when there are Bullingdon-educated toffs who were in the Eton club out there for comparison. The jailed MPs and their supporters know in their hearts that their very sentences are part of the oppression. They take comfort as the prison gates clang behind them from the thought that when they hear that sound they join the company of heroes.

Stanley Kurtz described a similar persecution envy burning in the breasts of greens and climate change activists in The Wannabe Oppressed:

What do America’s college students want? They want to be oppressed. More precisely, a surprising number of students at America’s finest colleges and universities wish to appear as victims — to themselves, as well as to others — without the discomfort of actually experiencing victimization. Here is where global warming comes in. The secret appeal of campus climate activism lies in its ability to turn otherwise happy, healthy, and prosperous young people into an oppressed class, at least in their own imaginings. Climate activists say to the world, “I’ll save you.” Yet deep down they’re thinking, “Oppress me.”

And deeper yet, “Oppress me a little bit so that I can resist you with visible heroism safe in the knowledge that you will not actually hurt me.”

17 comments to The superior virtue of the oppressed

  • llamas

    Repeat after me – you can only make simple probability statements like that if you assume a random universe of events. I take leave to presume that a group of people defined by non-random parameters cannot be assumed to behave in an entirely random fashion.

    Let’s face it, they’re all corrupt in one way or another – if not for money, then for power, lust, greed, whatever. If the same population were to be investigated for (say) marital infidelity or abuse of the Demon Rum, I dare say that an entirely different and non-random distribution of effect would be found. Maybe Liberal Democrats like to dress in women’s clothing, while Tories drink too much.

    We all know what they are – now we’re just finding out what their individual prices are.



  • Clovis Sangrail

    Mathematicians tell us that the statistical probability against a coin coming up heads six times in a row is 64-1. In other words there is only one chance in 64 that Labour’s score of 6/6 was a coincidence.

    The breathtaking ignorance of what these calculations are about is extremely painful. We might start with the 64-1. It’s actually 1 in 64 or 63-1 against. But that is a mere bagatelle compared to the rest. Are there only two parties? Are they equally represented?

    Having said that, Natalie’s faith in the standard of GCSE probability questions and teaching is touching. I regret that similar errors are perpetrated frequently.

    Tradition had it that Tory scandals were about sex and Labour scandals about money but I think llamas has the right of it.

  • Paul Marks

    Remember how odd the “mindset” of a Labour MP tends to be.

    All MPs are a bit odd (sorry to friends of mine who are MPs) – after all only an odd person goes up to thousands of strangers and says “vote for me”.

    But Labour M.Ps. have an extra layer of oddness.

    Remember that up till quite recently even “moderate” Labour party thinkers held that investment income evil – they really did (see Antony Flew works – quoting them saying how investment was evil, over and over again).

    Yet they (like most people) depended on income from investment – for pensions and so on.

    Think what sort of “double think” that means.

    The same with inherited wealth – all those wealthy North London Labour party property owners (such as Ed Miliband) who own most basic beliefs hold that they themselves are evil.

    Or money without manual labour?

    The very existence of a Labour M.P. contradicts their own basic beliefs.

    I remember when I first viewed a Labour party membership card – with the infamous “Clause Four” written upon it.

    “But this means you want to steal the corner shop” said schoolboy Paul.

    Yes they have changed the wording (no more take over “the means of production, distribution and exchange” – instead there is a bit of Tony Blair waffle) – but the same weird (and it is weird) thinking remains.

    A party dominated by well off people with inherited property – who hate the basis of their own existence.

    A bit like “Daleks” who have suspect (no – who KNOW) they have human cells in their own bodies (hidden away behind their shells).

    They are always having to fight the urge to exterminate themselves.

  • I think it is very important to nail this idea that socialists are in some way “moral”. They are the ones who believe in violence. We (libertarians) do not.

  • CaptDMO

    “We (libertarians) do not.”
    Well, STARTING it anyway.
    Nothing is “off the table” when faced with clear and present tyranny.
    (Insert Sam Adams quote here)
    Disclosure: (US)Constitutional libertarian(lower case L).

  • Patrick writes:

    I think it is very important to nail this idea that socialists are in some way “moral”. They are the ones who believe in violence. We (libertarians) do not.

    This is presumably on the basis that taxation is a violent extraction of money from the unwilling.

    But surely the violence is being overstated, or being viewed as less legitimate than it actually usually is. There must be some government (well, at least for the classical liberal and minarchist sub-groupings of libertarianism). Government must be funded; almost by definition, taxation is this process. The compulsion to pay taxes is violence against those who chose not to comply, so some violence on this will (given human nature) be necessary.

    However, one interpretation is that the violence is to restore the property to its rightful owner (which libertarians do allow): the law having stated the the tax money is the property of the government, both before and after it is handed over (or taken).

    The problems with socialism can be viewed (largely) as those of extent: extent of the taxation itself and extent of the purposes to which the taxation is put. And going over the top on things can obviously be immoral, depending on the extent and on the circumstances – when not going over the top can be the converse: moral. There can also be boundaries of appropriateness and of legality where there is no boundary of morality.

    It is not a simple issue of categorisation. Such arguments are a form of equivocation, commonly used by those at the extremes of political position, both to the left and to the right (and otherwise extreme too).

    Back to Natalie’s main posting, an example of this is that those MPs found guilty (mostly IIRC of false accounting) could be interpreted as taking the extreme position that, as they (together) have the right to decide taxation and government spending, they (individually) have the right to account for it any way they like.

    Best regards

  • If it is a choice between ideological purity and civilisation I will choose civilisation. However, we know that civilisation can exist at a much lower level of government violence than is currently the case.

    I seem to remember Brian Micklethwait making this point many moons ago: arguing about the niceness of libertarianism i.e. its antipathy to violence is a much effective tactic than arguing for its ability to produce washing machines. Certainly, no leftie I have ever encountered likes being reminded of the nastiness at the root of his “niceness”.

  • Tedd


    Accepting for the moment the argument that some taxation is necessary because some government is necessary, we’re still left with the problem of the part of government that is not necessary. Your argument (as stated) does not justify the coercion used to extract funds to pay for that. And, by any reasonable measure, that is the overwhelming majority of all government spending in a typical country, today.


    Along those lines, I have finally gotten around to reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Wish I’d done it years ago.

  • Mr Ed

    The original piece is drivel, a feeble attempt to show clear water between two gangs of thieves, which party did the MP who claimed for a duckhouse belong to? Clue: it was led by well-known cigar smoker at a key point in history.

    Anyone who joins the Labour Party has, as his first avowed intent, to be a pilferer.

    Anyone who supports the current Conservative Party has, as his first avowed intent, to apologise for not pilfering as much as his darkest fantasies would wish, but going on to so so anyway.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Nigel Sedgwick
    November 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm
    There must be some government (well, at least for the classical liberal and minarchist sub-groupings of libertarianism). Government must be funded; almost by definition, taxation is this process.

    Years ago I worked out a scheme whereby government accrued an investment fund over time by taxation, then stopped taxing and used the income from the fund to pay for all its operations, with surplus income being paid out to the public. I won’t describe the arabesques I built in to keep the legislature from looting the fund, but I do believe non-taxing government is possible.

  • veryretired

    Taxes are a symptom of the larger disease. If there was no ideological drive to have the state control more and more of the routine tasks and activities of the polity, there would be no need for the massive resources that state cadres insist must be collected or some disaster of mythical proportions will immediately follow.

    Establish a flat rate tax, as a fee for services rendered, and limit those services to the constitutional parameters that have been so grossly violated over the decades of progressive collectivism, then elect those political managers who can do what they’ve been elected to accomplish within those limits, and fire those who cannot.

    We have allowed power seeking pols to invent endless new, and constantly expanding, tasks for the state to perform, and then we are surprised and indignant when these same pols and their followers become arrogant, corrupt, and incapable of either performing the tasks they claim are so critical or remaining within the budgets they themselves have pretended to establish.

    The corrective medicine to bring this feverish nonsense under control will be bitter, and hard for many to swallow, but the body politic lies comatose, and drastic measures are clearly necessary.

    And all those people who keep talking about the need to take the high road can kiss my wrinkled, old butt. This is a knife fight, not a polite debate at teatime over which flowers to plant in the garden this year.

  • Pardone

    Considering Mr. Cameron sponges off the taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of thousands of £s for his enormous expenses, this seems presumptuous. This is a man who talks about austerity while attending a decadent banquet for the elites paid for by the taxpayer. and is so lacking in self-awareness he fails to see the absurdity. and hypocrisy. A man who travels around the world on expensive and pointless diplomatic trips when modern technology makes such globe trotting totally unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer’s money. Why on Earth do we still even have embassies in this age of teleconferencing? Because the Eton schoolboys love their ambassadorial jobs, paid for by the little people.

    And might I add that Tories, who preach “self-reliance”, are among the greediest piggies at the public trough. Note that the “free market” Tories support “Help to Buy”, a stupid and cynical welfare scheme designed to pander to the coddled and narcissistic Baby Boomers (while Cameron spits on the young) and parasitic landlords, have no problem with subsidized rail, and believe the taxpayer should fund pensioners bus passes. Those are not compatible with a free market.

    Tory policy is and always has been Corporate Welfare; witness the vast sums of taxpayer’s money handed out like candy to incompetent (but clearly well-connected) buffoons such as G4S and Atos, or witness how lucrative, taxpayer-screwing contracts are miraculously awarded to companies who, by an amazing coincidence, donate to Tory politicians. The same, of course, applies to Labour politicians. All politicians are in it for themselves; if you want to know what a politician believes in, look at his/her campaign donations and social circles. That tells you everything.

  • Mr Ed


    a stupid and cynical welfare scheme designed to pander to the coddled and narcissistic Baby Boomers

    Indeed, great post, but aren’t all State welfare schemes so?

    And following the money tells you all. Businesses no longer donate to the Conservatives from principle or even fear of Labour, which they did as recently as during Mrs Thatcher’s time, when Labour planned to re-introduce exchange controls on taking office.

  • Rich Rostrom

    There are a number of selection effects at work.

    One is that corrupt politicians who get convicted have to be caught, and the dumber and cheaper grafters are more likely to do something obvious.

    From the vantage point of Chicago Illinois, this is staggeringly obvious. Many of our politicians have been busted in recent years, but most of those have been small fry who were sent up for petty shakedowns or cash bribes. The FBI stung six Chicago aldermen for $150,000 in bribes for city rubble hauling contracts and illegal dumping.

    Meanwhile the city privatized its parking garages and parking meters in billion-$ deals that turned out to be huge giveaways; but none of the city principals have been indicted.

    Another factor is that politicians from the left have been more likely to come from “hungrier” backgrounds. $10,000 in expense padding is a bigger temptation for them then for a millionaire. The latter is more likely to find a non-obvious way to cash in.

  • Tedd


    I agree with your post except for the last paragraph. My experience has been that most people simply can’t conceive of a world with significantly less government than we have today. They look at the myriad of things governments have a hand in and conclude that those things would either not exist at all, or would be severely curtailed, in a society with radically less government. That is not a problem of attitude or motivation, it’s a problem of knowledge and understanding. So this is not a power struggle, it’s a battle for hearts and minds. I might grudgingly agree to limited use of Alinsky-like tactics in such a battle but, in general, I believe taking the high road is the only way to win a battle of hearts and minds. Elsewhere lies Pyrrhic victory.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Tedd, “it’s…a problem of knowledge and understanding…a battle for hearts and minds.”

    Yes, well said. Of course it’s an uphill battle all the way, because the Dims ARE engaged in a power struggle and are not about to let the riffraff in on the truth. Where would their further votes and the suckers for the next scam come from?

    And half, –or, well over half of the Pub Establishment at least– seems to agree with them at heart. You heard what they’ve been throwing at the Tea Party lately? Just like those infamous chimps.

    Not exactly helpful.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Julie – and now the Progressives will be able to do what they want.

    With the end of the Filibuster power (which has existed since the time of George Washington) Comrade Barack will be able to appoint any person he wants (clue – only Comrades need apply) and impose any regulations he can think of.

    Stand by for C02 not just being classed being classed as a “pollutant” (as the EPA has long declared it) but every “emitter” of C02 being regulated to bits.

    Errr – that includes you (as you know).

    Even those of who do not breath very well still breath – which means we emit C02.

    We must die!

    For our own good………

    Let us hope that all EPA officials are like the glorious Mr Beale.

    Steal the money!

    Bunk off for endless unofficial holidays!

    The existence of the West depends on the officials of the EPA (and other departments) following the example of Mr Beale.