Feature

Britain: Members of Parliament abuse expense accounts

The British are enraged by the expenses claimed by members of Parliament, details of which were leaked to the <em>Daily Telegraph</em> by a whistleblower.

The “nest-feathering greed” of British members of Parliament makes for astonishing reading, said Fiona McIntosh in the Daily Mirror. In the week since the Daily Telegraph newspaper first published leaked documents of MPs’ official expense claims, we’ve learned that “MPs haven’t just been milking the system. They’ve been bleeding it dry.” MPs from constituencies outside London are allowed to claim expenses for a second home so they have somewhere to stay while attending parliamentary sessions. So they’ve been making us, the taxpayers, pay for every little thing that goes into that home, from the $1.40 bathtub plug to the $10,000 chandelier. No expense is too trivial to claim, not even a Kit Kat bar. Worst of all, many MPs “have openly run property rackets, refurbishing their second homes at taxpayers’ expense, then reselling them at a vast profit.” One minister claimed three different properties as her “second home” in the same year, so she could get work done on each of them at taxpayers’ expense. “While most of us will be lucky to afford a summer holiday this year, one MP is looking forward to relaxing in the hot tub he’s installed in his garden—at your expense.”

Gordon Brown and his government just don’t get it, said Peter McKay in the Daily Mail. When the scandal first broke, the House of Commons was outraged—not at the abuse of expense accounts, but at the leak. It actually insisted on opening a police investigation to find the whistle-blower. Then, when public outcries rose to a roar, MPs began whining that they hadn’t actually broken any laws, that the expenses system allowed their claims. But they are the ones who devised this loophole-ridden system, which they then exploited. “If the rest of us cheat the government, we risk a prison term.” Why isn’t anyone suggesting a police investigation of these criminals? No wonder Brown “is now the most unpopular prime minister since polls began.”

Amazingly, the MPs’ defense is that they don’t get paid enough, said Fraser Nelson in the News of the World. They say that successive governments have kept their salaries artificially low for political reasons and then encouraged them to submit their routine bills as expenses. Sorry, but we don’t buy it. A member of Parliament makes $95,000 a year, almost three times the average British salary, and also gets “a massive pension” and, with Parliament in session only half the year, 21 weeks of vacation. “Let me spell it out. This salary is for buying things!” Yet the MPs say they will only stop padding their expense claims if we pay them more. What incredible gall, said Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail. “It’s as if an employee caught with his hand in the till were to ask the boss he was robbing for a raise, on the grounds that he had only tried to steal from him because he was so poor.”

The real tragedy, said Andrew Grice in The Independent, is that this scandal has destroyed British faith in the political system. Voters are now so angry that, come next election, many may turn to fringe parties, such as the quasi-fascist British National Party. That would be a terrible mistake. Waste in MP expenses makes for flashy headlines, but in budgetary terms, it is “very small beer.” It certainly does not justify these hysterical calls to throw every elected official out of office. “The public’s skepticism is now downright cynicism. Never mind the politicians; it’s not healthy for the people.”

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