We rather like a rogue. Think Dell Boy, Alan Clark or even Flashman; those of us who are saddled with a conscience, or even the simple fear of retribution, are somewhat envious of those who are unburdened by morality or any belief that the rules might apply to them too.
Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, ought to be classified under rogue. The best efforts of his official photographer have not managed to soften the impression that he would sell his grandmother for a toffee apple. You can practically see the horns threatening to burst through his gleaming scalp. Most impressively, at a time where energy cartel profiteering has seen prices rise to the point where hundreds of thousands will enter energy poverty this winter – to the point where people in his own constituency will die because they cannot afford to keep themselves warm – Nadhim Zahawi has claimed more in Parliamentary expenses for heating his £1 million second home than any other MP. Wow! Venal, amoral, brass-necked; how roguish can you get?
You would have thought. But something about Zahawi prevents his elevation to roguishness and condemns him perpetually to the status of something you might find under a flat rock. I think it comes down to his niggardliness. Because whilst we sometimes love a rogue, we always hate a tightwad: and Zahawi is as money-grubbing as they come. The Independent reports that Zahawi claimed 31p on his expenses for paperclips, 53p on a hole punch, 63p for ballpoint pens and 89p for a stapler.
He was unable to conceal his grasping nature when he first sought to defend his outrageous expenses claim. It would have cost the millionaire politician less than £6,000 to shut the story down. instead, he spent almost 1,000 words arguing in his local newspaper, The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, that everybody had got the figures wrong.
Then we found just how deep his fat fingers were buried in the cookie jar. Zahawi wasn’t just heating his million pound home at the taxpayer’s expense, but also his horse riding school stables and a yard manager’s mobile home.
Suddenly, Zahawi was oozing contrition. He was “mortified by this mistake” and “apologised unreservedly for it”. But of course, his phony remorse sat unconvincingly alongside his previous bellicose defence of his greed. Worst of all, it came across as a vulgar attempt at bargaining with the electorate. If he gives back the money he has claimed illegally, then will we forget that which he has claimed immorally?
To make such a begrudging, mean-spirited and crudely drawn offer to the people who had voted for him, Zahawi must believe that his majority is safe: safe enough for him to not to have to bother to conceal the disdain in which he holds them. Certainly, he will not be displaced by a Labour candidate. But he had better keep an eye on his right flank. It would only take a slightly less swivel-eyed UKIP candidate than most, one who isn’t tainted with sleaze and who is demonstrably in touch with the kind of voter who is struggling to warm their home, for Nadhim Zahawi to find himself having to pay his own fuel bills in 2015.