THE most frequently asked question in these Covid times by those who don’t inhabit the media and political bubble is this one: “What planet do these people live on?”

It became clear early in lockdown that the Conservative Party in particular had contrived to produce its own rule book on appropriate conduct for the pandemic. Dominic Cummings even took it a stage further by helpfully providing a new eye test for visually challenged people. Unable to source a decent optician? Not to worry. Just jump in your car and drive in any direction for 30-odd miles and see how you get on.

Handy hint: if you’re involved in a collision with another vehicle or some unlucky pedestrians we would suggest returning to your home on foot and booking an eye test.

Later, as it emerged that UK Cabinet ministers were using Covid as a massive silent auction for the enrichment of their families and friends, we began to realise what chiefly motivates those who climb on board the Tory gravy train. Yet, as the extent of Tory Cabinet ministers’ avarice was unveiled, the worst aspect of it remained curiously unexplored.

It was certainly bad enough that ministers of state were selling off contracts for PPE equipment to those who might be willing to donate money to the Tory cause. But when you knowingly gift such contracts to firms with no proven or peer-reviewed expertise in manufacturing protective equipment aren’t you deliberately and knowingly jeopardising the health of frontline health workers?

There is a suite of criminal charges available in this territory. This wasn’t merely greed and corruption; this was taking us into the realm of psychotic behaviour. Last week’s attempt by Westminster Conservatives to alter the processes of Parliament by making corruption a privileged status demonstrated that many people who belong to this party do inhabit a different planet. It’s one where common decency is regarded as a weakness to which the little people are prone.

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In the wake of the Owen Paterson sleaze scandal it’s since emerged that an entire class of Tory politicians sincerely believe that the Representation of the People Act exists primarily as a vehicle to exploit money-making opportunities.

Perhaps I’m being naive here. But I’d always assumed that, in spite of my implacable opposition to the Tory worldview about how society should be arranged, their politicians were sincere in seeking to perform a public service to the nation. At the very least they were helping to ensure that legislation governing the daily lives of Britain’s population was robustly tested and scrutinised prior to entering the statute book.

This though has been exposed as a chimera. Dozens of Tory politicians have simply used their status as MPs as a way of increasing their marketability to private enterprises. There’s a simple test to be applied here. Do you think any of those firms who paid Owen Paterson a large consultancy fee would have done so if he hadn’t been a Member of Parliament? Here’s a second question.

The National: Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. Seated behind him (third right), is Andrea Leadsom, whose amendment to overhaul the policing of MPs' conduct was carried, but will not now be enacted

As hundreds of firms similarly pay large quantums to assorted Tory MPs do you think the concept of one person, one vote remains intact? Following the Reform Act of 1832, several corrupt practices dating back several hundreds of years were removed. Among these were “rotten boroughs” such as Old Sarum which, though it had but a handful of voters, sent a member to parliament.

Rich landowners could own several of these and use them to protect their interests in the highest court in the land. Some of these places which barely existed beyond some hovels and a few unfarmed fields had the privilege of returning two MPs. For several decades after the Reform Act, working-class people continued to be locked out of Parliament, even when suffrage was gradually and incrementally extended to include a greater proportion of the population.

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IT wasn’t until the Labour Party began campaigning for MPs to be paid that Parliament began to bear a resemblance to the social mix of the UK. From 1918, men and women who, until then simply could not afford to serve as unpaid MPs, began to make their presences felt at Westminster. It was the first official acknowledgement that this was a full-time job.

Those Victorian practices might as well have belonged to a different planet as well as another age. The revelations this month, though, that many Tory MPs view Parliament in the same way as their 19th century forebears is astounding. Yes, I know it really shouldn’t be – perfidious Tories and all that – but the scale of this still took your breath away. The revelation that 14 of the last 15 Conservative Party treasurers had been offered seats in the House of Lords in return for donations of £3 million-plus took us back to the pre-1832 age of rotten boroughs.

That a large number of Tory MPs think a salary of £80k and almost the same again in expenses and privileges is not sufficient to meet their living needs might not of itself be indicative of an alien planet. But, to the overwhelming majority of the UK’s citizens it makes them seem like an alien species.

Another grubby little chisel that’s gone almost unacknowledged in this is the widespread practice of MPs using public money to provide large incomes for family members without any due process or public scrutiny. We are asked to take it on trust that Jemima on her gap year before entering Oxford really is the best person for the task of administering constituency business.

One question would suffice to remedy that one. The next time we engage with our local representative ask them who’s sorting out all the constituency mail and deciding their priority. Does that person have the experience and qualifications necessary for such a key, public-sector job?

Boris Johnson felt he could protect Owen Paterson’s position simply because, having escaped any censure for his lies about Brexit and his contempt for Westminster’s legislative powers, he probably felt he was untouchable.

This week’s polls, though, suggest that the corruption and greed which has been stitched into the fabric of the Westminster Tories is beginning to seep out like the contents of a blocked sewer.

In the next independence referendum many voters who remain cuspy in their thoughts about the Union will vote according to what’s written on their hearts when decision-day arrives.

The SNP and the wider Yes movement must leave voters in no doubt whatsoever that the UK for many years has been run as a mafia enterprise.

Thus Britain’s voters exist in a simulated reality of democracy where everything they felt was real and immutable about Parliament is a lie.