Showing posts with label Expenses Scandal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expenses Scandal. Show all posts

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

SCANDAL: The Expenses Crisis and UK Politics

Having been largely absent from the blog for a little while, I sort of feel guilty about neglecting my hoards of readers (well... stream. Trickle.l... Well... Christine, mainly. Sorry Christine...) so thought I'd try to make it up to you with thoughts on a few different issues.

First, obviously, I couldn't possibly ignore the current tidal wave sweeping British politics - the scandal over MP's expenses. For my American readers, basically what has happened here is that widespread abuse has been discovered in which a large number of MPs from all three major parties have been claiming taxpayer money for a range of absurd items (yes, as you may have heard, one Conservative MP claimed money for the cleaning of his moat), some have been caught claiming money for mortages long since repaid, and others have been caught out doing up one property at the taxpayer expense and switching to claim the other as their scond residence and refurbishing that on our dime as well.

Today the Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, was forced to resign after weeks of controversy stemming from his apparent failure to in any way control the expenses management before the scandal broke (it falls under his purview) or to competently cope with it once it did.

But the Speaker is, frankly, the least of our problems here. The sentiment in the country is volatile - there has already been a lot of discontent here with a Labour government that generally feels past its sell-by date. This was already massively compounded with anger over the economic situation (and Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer for near two decades under Tony Blair, so he can't escape responsibility). Now all this has been compounded by a strain of understandable populist outrage.

What bothers me most here is how sorely I have personally been made to look a fool. After all, I have been standing up for the integrity of politicians with cab drivers and coffee-house servers for years. Whenever (as happens frequently) there is grumbling about politicians who are supposedly only doing it for the money or for their egos, I have pointed out tirelessly that:

1) Most politicians could easily make more money in business.
2) The reason they don't do that is because most politicians I know are genuinely invested with a sense of desire to do some good for their communities/ constituents/ country.
3) Yes, politicians do have massive egos, but so do most successful people. And anyway...
4) Political life can be the most ego crushing thing in the world - because part of your job is to get attacked by the public every time you speak, and quite often you fail in the most spectacular fashion (losing and election, a ministerial post, etc.) in front of everyone you have ever met.

A lot of this is still true - and although a lot of MPs appear to be guilty of nasty shenanigans, many are not - but it's not an argument that suits the public mood right now.

Nor is it especially one I feel like making. Sometimes anger is appropriate. Voters have every right to feel it.

This is a bizarre scandal in that it affects all the political parties, so although it is likely to hurt the government most deeply, it tarnishes the whole system at a exactly the moment when people were already feeling like their politics was unresponsive and unrepresentative.

The fear is that this will lead not just to a loss for Labour, but to a general downturn in voter participation and/or an uptick in the number of people supporting offensive non-mainstream parties like the BNP.

Or perhaps the moment has finally arrived for the Monster Raving Looney Party? Our political system could hardly look much more foolish than it does today.

No, I'll hold out for more and better mainstream political leadership. Might try holding my breath until I turn blue.