The news here in the UK has been dominated for the last two or three weeks by just one story – MPs' expenses. Thanks to a whistleblower, it has been revealed by the media exactly how much our Parliamentary representatives are claiming in expenses, and what for.
Some of the things being claimed by various MPs – and if you haven’t heard any of this before I promise you that I’m not making it up! - include : £119 for a trouser press, £380 for horse manure, £600 to trim the hedge around a helipad, £1645 for a “duck island”, and over £2000 for the cleaning of a moat!! Add to this a number of MPs still claiming the payments for their mortgages some 18 months or more after the mortgages had been paid off, some others using dubious rules on second homes to make large profits when they are sold and avoiding paying tax on those profits, some claiming for work done at a house which is neither in London (ie near Parliament) nor in their constituency, and yet some more using taxpayers money to pay various members of their families for an assortment of jobs – whether or not those jobs were carried out.
The scandal, and for once “scandal” is the right word, has already seen a number of casualties in the House of Commons, the most notable of which was Michael Martin, who is the Speaker of the House. He is the first Speaker to be forced out of office for more than three hundred years. The abuse of the system has not been limited to just one political party, it has crossed all political lines from members of the Labour Government’s Cabinet, to “backbenchers” from Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Sinn Fein and other minor parties.
The uproar across the country has been immense, and is worrying the larger parties as European Parliamentary elections are just a week away, and the mood is very much for some kind of change. Although a number of MPs have said they will stand down at the next General Election, which is due sometime in the next year, they still maintain that they have “done nothing wrong” and that everything was “within the rules”. What they don’t seem to realize is that the point isn’t whether they followed the rules – incidentally rules written by MPs themselves – but that what they have been up to is morally reprehensible, and that whilst they are spending literally thousands of taxpayers money on items such as plasma TVs, imported rugs and custom-made bookcases there are millions of people in the country who no longer have a job and are having to survive on a fraction of these amounts.
The attitude of entitlement is alive and well, and living in Westminster.