Sometimes a news story comes along that makes you do a double take. Usually it involves Justin Bieber or Kanye West or small furry animals and human orifices. But occasionally that story comes from the political world – and even more occasionally doesn't involve Ukip. In fact this one involved not one, but two double takes.
On Tuesday a Labour amendment to the Housing Bill ensuring that landlords provide accommodation "fit for human habitation" was voted down by 312 votes to 219 with almost the whole of the Conservative party voting against it. First double take.
It then emerged that at least 72 MPs who voted against it were landlords themselves earning more than £10,000 a year from income derived from property. Second double take – of cartoon-esque proportions.
Among the list of landlord MPs who voted against the law were Tory property magnates and landowners such as Richard Drax, Richard Benyon and David Tredinnick. Jacob Rees-Mogg was also on the list, as was – like an ironic cherry on the top – our very own prime minister, David Cameron.
Nothing highlights more effectively how this country is becoming a two-tiered system ruled by an out-of-touch elite with little or no understanding or compassion for the problems faced by the rest of us. What other result should we expect from a bunch of politicians, almost all of whom are homeowners and over a quarter of whom are themselves landlords (39% in the case of the Tories)?
Even worse, why do we have a system that allows them to get away with it? If this were a vote in a local council, these landlord politicians would have been forced to abstain from voting due to a very obvious conflict of interest. And rightly so. How, after all, can a landlord be expected to vote impartially on an issue directly affecting his or her own means of income? It would be like... I don't know... asking MPs to vote on raising their own pay or something...
Anyway, why is one set of guidelines on conflict of interests good enough for our local legislative processes but not our national ones? Surely such measures are even more important at the national level? Shouldn't all MP landlords have been forced to abstain from the vote? And if not, shouldn't they at least have taken the decision themselves? Seeing as at least 39% of Tory MPs are landlords, if they'd abstained, they would probably have lost the vote... Ah, right, now I see...
What's worse, because the register of members' interests only forces MPs to declare income derived from property of over £10,000 per annum, who knows how many more landlord MPs voted against the amendment that aren't even on the list? And just to add another delicious cherry of irony next to the David Cameron one – because these incomes would be under £10,000 a year they would come from the lowest-tiered properties, the very ones most likely to be unfit for human habitation and therefore requiring a law to make them so! What a beautifully circular cherry of an irony that is.
We shouldn't let them get away with this. There should be a redrafting of the rules governing conflict of interests in the legislative process. Isn't that why we have a register of members' interests in the first place - to prevent this kind of thing? Not just so that we can have a look at it once in a while and say, "Oh look, there they go again, voting for what directly affects their own financial interests, how interesting."
But it should go even further than a change of regulations. As a friend of mine who's an ex-councillor observed, if this sort of thing happened at local government level, those involved would be forced to resign. So why not the same thing for our national government? I wouldn't expect all 72 to resign of course, maybe just the worst hypocrites like Richard Drax, who owns several thousand acres of land in Dorset or David Tredinnick, who earned £22,000 last year as the part-time director of a property firm.
Hell, I'd settle for the resignation of just one of these out-of-touch hypocrites. David Cameron – what do you say?