Is Parliament Broken?

Politicians have never been held in such low esteem in the United Kingdom for generations, and little wonder.

If an expenses scandal had to blow up, it would have been far better for our political masters if it had done so during a time of relatively high employment and prosperity. As it is, the way in which so many of those we have elected to Parliament have stuck their noses into the trough has gone down particularly badly with an electorate mired in the early stages of a severe recession. It is very difficult to find sympathy for a member of Parliament who has claimed thousands, or even tens of thousands of pounds under the most slender of justifications when many of his or her constituents have been made redundant, have seen their standard of living for dramatically, are facing or have already faced the loss of their homes, and are severely worried about the future. The repercussions at the next election cannot really be calculated because it is extremely likely that the individual expense claims of every sitting member will be examining minutely; and there appears to be very few of them who are whiter than white.

Then again, can we really blame them? Having been elevated to the status Of Members of Parliament they have been faced with an expenses system which appears to have been under exceedingly lax control and they will no doubt have heard of the outrageous claims that other members have put forward and seen accepted so in a way one can understand to a degree the temptation to say 'if he or she can get away with it why can't I?'.

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Alternatively it is reasonable to point out that one of the stipulations given to all expense claimants at Westminster is that they must be satisfied themselves that their claims are reasonable and justifiable. How justifiable many of them have been can be judged from the huge sums that certain politicians have 'voluntarily' returned to the public purse; and it is completely unclear yet whether or not some, or indeed many, parliamentarians may yet face criminal prosecution; the so-called court of public opinion is certainly calling for that.

What will the end result of all this be? David Cameron has certainly rescued a great deal of his own credibility by taking a very firm stand against those people in his own party who have claimed excessively, while Gordon Brown has, as usual, dithered over this. Nevertheless, in the mind of the public the whole political arena has now been tarnished and it is not inconceivable that fringe parties such as the BNP may reap a huge reward as a consequence. This would have very interesting long-term implications since all of the broadcasting media, the press, the BBC, and most political commentators tend to brand them as merely a bunch of mindless thugs with very dangerous policies. If the BNP managed to get any members at all into Parliament, or even the European Parliament, they will be entitled to both funding and a platform within the media with which to air their views and policies. Looking at the current mood of the British electorate there is at present no way of predicting how far a swing towards such (currently) fringe parties will go; politics may never be the same again in Britain.

Copyright Peter Davies 2009.

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