Sunday, 17 May 2009

House of Common Criminals

For the first time in a long time this week a news story has really got under my skin, not just made me slightly peeved as with some news stories recently, I mean really genuinely made be furious. This is of course the documentation in the Daily Telegraph of the expenses claimed by Members of Parliament. These expenses included, if you didn’t know, paying for a swimming pool, refurbishing and reselling a home and most out-standing of all; paying for maintenance on a moat. You can view the expenses in detail here if you have nothing better to do. 

Inevitably MPs have graciously apologised and the prospective party leaders have demanded that their MPs pay the money claimed for illegitimate reasons. I applaud the party leaders for doing this and indeed can find no real fault with the expenses claims that they themselves made. However I don’t think than a meaningless apology and begrudgingly giving back the money goes far enough; apart from being slightly out of pocket (and let’s face it when you own a country estate complete with a fucking moat that is hardly going to be a issue) the MPs will get away scot-free. No doubt there will be changes to the system so that this appalling mass fraud will be much harder to commit in future and the reputation of MPs will be somewhat worsened from lying, cheating, unprincipled, cold-hearted, manipulative crooks with no integrity, to, well slightly worse lying, cheating, unprincipled, cold-hearted, manipulative crooks with even less integrity.

What the MPs have done essentially amounts to fraud on a massive scale. They have stolen from the taxpayer and abused a system which is legitimately there to allow them to do their jobs; serve the people who elected them. This scandal is a complete abuse of the trust which we put in our politicians to serve the interests of the country as a whole, rather than their own pocket. They are public servants elected by the public (those that can be arsed to vote that it) to govern the country and protect our individual rights, not to milk the system for personal profit. It is a complete betrayal of trust and an affront to the integrity of democracy. MPs have acted with complete disregard for the responsibilities that they assumed when they took office. They have acted more like petty criminals than political leaders and that is why repaying the money with a red-faced apology is not enough.

It is not enough for a petty thief to give back the stolen goods and solemnly swear not to do it again; they should be punished for their crime and that is exactly what should happen to the crooks in parliament. Not only should they be stripped of the responsibility of office, they should be taken to court and be held accountable for their disgraceful acts. They have broken the law and should face the consequences. MPs cannot be allowed to get away with this with little more than a slap on the wrist. MPs are not above the law; anyone who defrauds someone out of thousands of pounds should face the full force of the law, no matter their occupation or their reputation. It is a vital principle of a civilised society that the lawmakers must adhere to the laws they make; to allow MPs to get away with this theft would be to subscribe the fallacy that MPs are above the law. They are not.

Not only should politicians be held accountable, they should be forced to make public any expenses claim they make in the future and any other financial transaction they might make while in office which is even tangentially relevant to their job. The Houses of Parliament are not some gentleman’s club whereby shady, under-the-table dealing can go on unnoticed; they are the place from where the country is governed, not in the interests solely of those governing it, but in the interests of those they serve. MPs represent our interests in the House of Commons, not their own. We should blow open the affairs of parliament for all to see; for it to serve public interests is must be open to public scrutiny, not the private scrutiny of those already in on the act. Politics should not be a shady exchange, carried out behind closed doors by self-serving, shallow, unprincipled crooks intent only on personal gain; it should be an honest dealing, carried out in public by integral, public-minded, unscrupulous people intent only on serving the interests of the public. No doubt they will make mistakes; that is inevitable, but they should have the courage to stand up and admit that they did wrong, rather than hiding behind excuses and smokescreens.

In short politics needs a damn good clear out. I don’t know how it will happen, but I hope that this latest scandal will make this truth apparent and any politician with a shred of integrity left in him will have the courage to stand up and make it happen. I do not expect this to happen by the way, but I would dearly love to be proven wrong.

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