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Labour backbenchers fury blowtorched Motability misdeeds

Labour MP John Mann (pictured) described Motability’s behaviour as ‘grotesque’, when speaking in the House of Commons

True moral rage is rare in today’s Parliament but we had some of it yesterday from two Labour backbenchers. 

Their fury – about betting machines and about a Mail exposé of disability scheme Motability – was shaming in two ways.

First, it blowtorched the misdeeds being debated. Second, it showed up so much else in today’s politics, where the Blob’s confected convulsions have led to a devaluation of anger.

As the Mail reported this week, Motability Operations is sitting on a cash reserve of £2.4billion – yes, BILLION! – and is paying its boss £1.7million a year.

This private firm takes a slice of disabled people’s benefits in exchange for cars. To most civilian eyes this is a charitable monopoly or a quango. Yet its boss is on £1.7million a year.

Yesterday John Mann (Lab, Bassetlaw) brought the matter to the Commons chamber. He secured an urgent question. There was not much time available (Speaker Bercow hands out urgent questions like a pederast dispensing fruit gums) but Mr Mann used it well.

‘Grotesque’ was his word for Motability’s behaviour. He spoke of ‘excessive profits’ and he demanded that Whitehall review the scheme, particularly the money paid to executives.

Mr Mann simmered. He was rendered almost incoherent by his disgust. Some Establishment types write off Mr Mann as a quixotic show-off.

What they mean is ‘he isn’t one of us’. Good for him.

He vibrates with scorn for the Centrist pocket-fillers of our politics and he is as happy taking a swipe at the Left as the Right.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (pictured) asked Mr Mann to help her correct the Motability scandal

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (pictured) asked Mr Mann to help her correct the Motability scandal

Last week, at PMQs, he pointed out that every year for a decade the London borough of Islington has received more Arts Council funding than all the northern and Midland ex-coalfield communities combined. 

That statistic illustrates the System’s contempt for those it patronisingly calls ‘ordinary people’.

Yet the Starmers and Benns and Thornberrys and Bradshaws are still surprised that working-class voters support Brexit.

Responding to Mr Mann yesterday, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, did not do the usual ministerial thing of defending the status quo. Instead she agreed with him and asked him to help her correct the scandal.

This was a grown-up response from a leading Right-winger. It is hard to imagine many of Miss McVey’s Centrist predecessors taking such a bipartisan line.

Labour MP Stephen Timms (pictured)  described fixed-odds betting machines as 'vile' 

Labour MP Stephen Timms (pictured)  described fixed-odds betting machines as ‘vile’ 

Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) suspected disabled people had been ripped off by Motability. Frank Field (Lab, Birkenhead) wanted Mr Mann to become a temporary member of his select committee and join an urgent inquiry.

Liz McInnes (Lab, Heywood & Middleton) struggled to control her upset at Motability’s record. Miss McVey told her she was right to be emotional.

She praised the ‘tenacity of certain MPs and the freedom of our Press’ which had exposed the scandal.

Earlier, at Culture Questions, we had a similar display when Stephen Timms (Lab, East Ham) attacked fixed-odds betting machines. These are devices which in seconds can relieve gamblers of hundreds of pounds.

Churchgoer Mr Timms is normally the most quiet of gents. This is what he had to say: ‘Vile machines are cynically clustered by shameless and irresponsible conglomerates in the poorest communities, where they destroy hard-working families.

‘They are a magnet for crime and they launder the proceeds of crime. Tawdry and soulless high street outlets drive decent shops away and repel family shoppers. Will the Government now call time on this racket?’

The rarity of Mr Timms’s vehemence gave his words value. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock nodded apparent agreement.

New Labour and the Coalition Government never tapped into this sort of anger. They regarded such certitude as slightly vulgar. Centrists prefer the sophistications of business-savvy compromise.

They want to drive that sort of morality out of politics and replace it with Twittersphere neck-clutching about gender identity and so forth.

The battle in politics at present is not really between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. To a surprising degree they are on the same side. The enemy is the amoral Centre.