It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bastard with a lawfirm!

Well, someone had to shut them up. MPs, I mean. The sound of their whining complaints about getting letters telling them to pay back expenses was distressing dogs for miles round Parliament. But the manner in which they were eventually shut up last week was, not to put too fine a point on it, evil.

They were shut up by a ‘super-injunction’, a kind of ultimate gagging order which demands that not only do you not talk about some forbidden subject, but you’re also forbidden to talk about the fact you’re forbidden. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with their expenses.

The super-injunction was intended to stop members of the public hearing from MPs, though. Just not about themselves. It was filed by a law firm called Carter-Ruck against the Guardian (and all other media in the country), preventing them from reporting on (or reporting on the fact they were not allowed to report on) a question in parliament about how an oil company had dumped oil waste on the Ivory Coast, causing untold health hazards to the poor people living there. Oil traders Trafigura and Carter-Ruck effectively tried to silence Parliament on an issue of human rights. And for a short while they got away with it.

This obviously reaffirms the fact that you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that global capitalism kills ordinary people and tries to control our politics and media (you don’t need ‘Illuminati’ when you have old-fashioned greed), but it also reaffirms that parliament is important.

Which flies a little in the face of much of the news last week. Now don’t get me wrong. I think the MPs who were vociferously complaining last week are in need of a jolly good hiding. Possibly a public hiding. Cries of ‘getting this letter made me feel like a criminal’ will get nothing but a deeply ironic ‘boo-hoo, diddums’ from me until those same MPs do something about racially-profiled stop-and-searches taken out on ordinary, non-criminal citizens every day. Objections that ‘the relevant authorities okayed it, so I am not going to pay it back’ will find me and others metaphorically spitting on them unless those MPs change the system where over-paid tax-credits to poor families have to be paid back regardless of whether ‘relevant authorities’ made the mistake.

Some MPs clearly need to grow up and realise that they are citizens in a democracy, not special little princesses. But despite what many newspapers have said, they are not fat-cats either. Yes, they earn more than enough to be able to pay for their own bloody gardening as far as I’m concerned. But they are not bankers and they are not Royal Mail bosses (similarly-whiney in the face of their own immensely undeserved privilege and wealth though they may be.)

That said, the job they do is special. Because it’s in our name. And when it comes to doing that job, gags on what the press may report are just plain wrong because they threaten our ability as citizens to make informed decisions about what our government should do, threatening the very core of democracy itself.

Of course, if a minority of MPs keep moaning unreasonably and the media keep reporting the story as if they were a majority, then the general public is likely to become so disenchanted with politics that soon people like Carter-Ruck and Trafigura may not even need injunctions, super or otherwise.

This first appeared in the Baptist Times in October 2009,under a different title.


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