Trouble is brewing for British politicians after The Daily Telegraph reported that several members of parliament had abused their expenses system, spending thousands of pounds of public money on questionable claims — including $3,000 to clear a moat surrounding an estate and money for diapers, comics and hair dye.
Conservative opposition leader David Cameron has called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to order an emergency general election to restore the parliament’s authority.
Blogger Alan Hart writes that the implications of the scandal go far beyond individual resignations:
If the scandal submerging the British parliament at Westminster was only about the abuse of expenses by MPs of all parties, the crisis would be manageable by punishment of the offenders and new rules; but the sickness at the heart of what passes for democracy in once but no longer Great Britain needs a much more profound cure.
The problem in Britain, as in America, is that we have the framework for democracy but not the substance. The difference between today and all our yesterdays is that the citizens, the voters, are increasingly aware of this fact.
Blogger Nick Anstead writes that the scandal will lead to reform, exploring flaws in the system:
One of the likely consequences of the whole MPs expenses scandal is that parliament will change – we don’t quite know how yet, but certainly some (of the admittedly more optimistic) commentators are starting to cast this as a great opportunity for reform. Whether panic leads to good changes is a pretty debatable matter.
[…]Part of the problem here, I would argue, are the constitutional arrangements we have in this country. The public don’t trust parliament to police itself or the political classes, because they are all assumed to be in bed with each other. Because authority (and thus patronage) is so centralized in Britain, the success of an individual political career is largely reliant on the leadership of a party, so there is (rightly or wrongly) an assumption that no one has any interest in rocking the boat.
Keith Hill, a member of parliament with the left-wing Labour party, writes of his dismay:
Like the public in general I have been horrified at the evidence of abuse of the parliamentary allowances system. As an MP representing an inner London seat, with my home in Streatham, I knew nothing of the scope for manipulation of the second home arrangement and was amazed to learn of the £400 monthly food allowance. I eat all my meals in the week at the House of Commons and it had never occurred to me that an MP would not pay out of his or her own pocket for them.
I wanted to be an MP because I believed it to be a noble and decent activity and I have always tried to do the right thing. Now, alas, we are all contaminated and I shall retire next year from a tainted institution.
A conservative blogger at “ToryDiary” writes a prescription for the Tory party’s leader, arguing that five steps are necessary for the party to remain strong:
Here are five things that David Cameron should do next:
1. Unethical MPs including Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirbride must cease to be Tory MPs.
2. Introduce a power of recall for MPs between elections.
3. The leadership must stop hiding behind Commons convention and support calls for the Speaker to go.
4. Put together a plan that will substantially reduce the cost of politics.
5. Put forward a bold plan to renew Britain.
Blogger Iain Dale compares the expenses system in Britain to those in other countries, writing that Britain might actually not be so bad off in comparison:
Every now and then, I appear on a BBC World Service programme called WORLD HAVE YOUR SAY. It’s an hour long phone in, with people calling in from all around the world. It has a massive audience. Today they were discussing whether, considering the expenses scandal, Britain is still seen as a beacon of parliamentary democracy. I was on with a Nigerian journalist and a senator from the same country.
I quizzed her about what she, as a Nigerian politician, could claim for. Rent, she said. So far so good. Then she said: “A security guard and a chef.” I felt like saying: “Your name isn’t Barbara Follett by any chance, is it?”
Caller after caller reckoned our expenses scandal is a storm in a teacup and that no one would blink an eye in Trinidad, Malaysia or Nigeria. This really made me think. Perhaps the fact that we get exorcised about this demonstrates that our democracy is actually in very rude health. If we just accepted it as a fact of life, what would that say?