If you thought our parliment was out of touch

18 Nov 2011
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United Kingdom

Having worked a few years in the European Parliament, I fear I will never be myself again. The very way I look at things has been dented. I guess that’s what happens when you fall through the looking glass into the Wonderland of Politics.

Some things you get to see are merely absurd. Like that cocktail party in solidarity with the earthquake victims of Haiti. The French three-course lunch that was arranged to discuss the problem with growing obesity among the citizenry. Or why not the drink offering that opened an exhibition about alcohol ignition locks in cars?

Other things are plain damn surreal. And I am firmly convinced that list is topped by the champagne reception against homelessness.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) can put up exhibitions on the premises of Parliament, if they like. Mostly, this is used by corporations and special interests who want to show themselves and their work off in front of the elected.

On the rare occasion, these exhibitions are used for promoting one or the other compassionate issue. In this case, to raise awareness of homelessness. But perhaps it would have been worthwhile to think twice about just how this should have been done…

To begin with, some ten to twenty metal sculptures of homeless people, life-sized, were placed in one of Parliament’s exhibition areas. On the walls, a bunch of posters underscoring the importance of the issue.

Then, the exhibition was opened by a MEP and a spokesperson for some charity. After their respective presentations, a champagne reception with the prerequisite mingling followed.

These images are going to haunt me for the rest of my life. Members of Parliament in expensive suits and dresses, ridiculously expensive hairdos with a whiff of equally expensive eau-de-toilette. In their hands, a firm grip around the champagne and the plate with cocktail canapés. Mingling with the static bronze casts of not-as-rich citizens.

Do note that this wasn’t a fundraiser charity gala. Nothing of substance at all was given to, or done for, the homeless. The entire point of the exercise was to paint a picture of engagement and compassion from a very high altitude.

The scary thing is that the average Member of the European Parliament doesn’t perceive things like this as elitistic, von oben, objectionable, or even strange. This is what life is like in the political bubble.

The closest a normal MEP ever gets to homeless people is when they whoosh past them in the parliamentary black, chauffeur-driven Mercedez-Benzes.

There’s the ruling political class for you. A clique of morally unkempt people – from left to right, from north to south. This is the normal view for the Very Important People, as seen from their ivory towers.

Together with my employer, Pirate MEP Christian Engström, I was looking at this scene unbelievingly – while we were making our way out of Parliament to have a beer or two on our own expense.

Directly outside Parliament, on the Place Luxembourg, we met a completely genuine, Belgian homeless person. For a moment, we considered the possibility of trying to get him into Parliament and bring him to the ongoing champagne reception. But we realized quickly that such a stunt wouldn’t be terribly well received…
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I understand that the Westminster parliament is full of self-serving members who talk a lot but don't do very much for us.

I understand that the EU parliament is full of self-serving members who talk a lot but don't do very much for us.

What I don't understand is why we need both.
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I wonder what could be achieved with all the wasted cash
What, like housing the homeless? Don't forget that wonderful Tody (sorry, Tory)
grandee Sir George Young (now Lord Young of Graffham) who said that, "The homeless are the people you fall over when you come out of the opera" in the 1990s (remember that quotable quote?). But them he voted voted strongly against gay rights, is strongly pro hunting and did a TV advert with Jimmy Saville.