Software manufacturer Satosoft have 1 released an iPhone application on the iTunes app store that lets you check your MP’s expenses, ring their constituency office, and send caustic emails. Its orientation is fairly clear, both from the description: “Satosoft give you the power to exercise your democratic right to ask one or all MP’s (sic) about their claims”, and from their first top ten: “Top Ten Highwaymen”.
The thing is, though, all the information that they include is freely available to the public, without the polemic, either on all kinds of free websites, or from another (free) iPhone application.
The typical price of an iPhone application is 59p. Some applications which fulfil major professional tasks, such as sound pressure level meters, or contain acres of information, such as a whole library of books, come in at £2 or so.
This one comes in at a wapping £3.49. Seriously, that’s a lot of money for an iPhone application, especially one which does no more than give you information you can have for free, for example, on www.theyworkforyou.com.
That is a fairly major level of irony. Satosoft, if they really do sell a reasonable number of these apps (defined by the 3 billion downloads that iPhone applications have had so far), will make far more money than the average MP has claimed in expenses.
Heather Brooke, who led the campaign for their disclosure, has yet to make those kind of profits from her work.
But even Satosoft’s prospective profits are trivial compared to the £millions that the Daily Telegraph has reportedly made from increased advertising revenues from its exclusive coverage of the debacle.
Something has changed in British politics, and dedicated campaigners like Heather Brooke, who essentially worked for nothing, deserve praise. But the moral position of Satosoft and the Daily Telegraph seems altogether more dubious. As I have said before, the majority of MPs did not ‘cheat’ on their expenses, although the post-hoc review has most of them paying back money merely on the basis that a single examiner decided on an arbitrary level for how expenses should be set, rail-roading every kind of process which would be applied in any kind of business. A proportion of MPs have made enormous profits exploiting the system. A small number of MPs — it appears — may have broken the law and actually acted fraudulently.
We need the clearest possible separation between those who acted uprightly and those who did not. Attempts to tar everyone with the same brush are unseemly. When they are linked to the hope of enormous profits, we are left with a distinct sense of the pot and the kettle.