Once again the row over politicians expense claims has kicked off in Britain, with the Westminster Parliament still mired in sleaze and echoing to the sound of whining MPs. It seems that our elected representatives still don't get it. At all!
They have been told by an independent investigator that they should not have been able to claim unlimited amounts for items such as cleaning and gardening, and they should pay back any amount above a certain limit set retrospectively by that investigator. They have also been told to justify some of the items on their claim forms. It is likely that, in the future, the mortgages and designation of second homes will come under further scrutiny, with far larger sums due to be repaid. Furthermore, criminal investigations are under way against a number of parliamentarians.
The MPs have reacted with outrage, and some are publicly denying the right of the investigator to judge them retrospectively, as the claims fell within the rules when made. There may be some justification for that position, if there was no question over the integrity of those rules, and the MPs interpretation of them. However, that is not the case, and the simple fact is that, no matter how the rules were interpreted by the Fees Office and the MPs, the accepted business practice is that only those expenses that directly and wholly relate to the conduct of that business can be claimed. MPs have claimed for food, cleaning, gardening, home improvements etc. Only the expenses that arise directly from running their offices and from representing their constituents should ever have been legitimately claimed, no matter what the rules were. Yet, the MPs still don't see this. They think they are entitled.
In turn, the public are disgusted by the MPs, and fed up with their antics. They point out that had they behaved as the MPs have, then they would have been disciplined, or dismissed, or possibly prosecuted. They resent that MPs are still spending so much time on this, when they should be devoting themselves to improving the economy and saving their constituents jobs. They feel that MPs are setting a poor example when so many services and employees face cutbacks, and wish they would admit their faults, pay back the over-claimed money, and then get on with their jobs, until such time as they face the verdict of their electorate in the coming year.
They find it absurd that MPs have the right to decide these things for themselves, anyway. The perception is widespread, if not unanimous, that the vast majority are in Westminster to line their own pockets and further their own interests, instead of representing the people who sent them there. There is also the perception that many represent the lobbyists and vested interests over their constituents. Politicians reputation is at an all-time low!
This matters for a number of reasons. Firstly, the continued devaluation of the reputation of our political system calls into question the very legitimacy and relevance of that system. The longer that continues, the further participation rates in the electoral process will drop, and that undermines the foundations of a liberal, parliamentary democracy, leaving the door open to extremists and anti-democratic tendencies.
Secondly, the individuals concerned seem unable to discern the moral basis for rules and law-making. This calls into question their integrity, and their ability to make laws in a just, wise and impartial manner. This undermines the legitimacy of the laws passed by such a legislature. It should not have to be explained to those seeking election to high office what the moral requirements of serving the public interest, and safeguarding the public resources, are.
The recent scandal of the Attorney General's housekeeper reinforces the view that those in power have no regard for the laws they, themselves, pass, and seem not to think that they apply to them. Even when caught breaking the law, they seem to have no shame or sense of responsibility. How can they then expect that of those for whom they make those laws?
Thirdly, our political leaders, like it or not, do set an example to the rest of society. How are we to instill the correct values into the younger generation, if our leaders seem to have their eyes firmly on the main chance, and not on serving the common good? How can we hope to shame the financiers and bankers into acting lawfully and morally, if those leading the call are seen to be just as corrupt and grasping? We can not expect our politicians to be whiter than white at all times, but we should expect far higher standards than those they seem to wish to adhere to.
It is not what the rules allow, or what can be got away with, that our parliamentarians should regard as acceptable, but what is obviously right and proper. If there is any doubt, then simply don't do it! Our parliamentarians should be suitably remunerated for the job they do, which is undoubtedly stressful and demanding, if done properly and full-time. I would prefer them to be linked to a multiple of average earnings; that would motivate them to govern towards an equitable and prosperous society, instead of in favour of the corporations and rich individuals who fund their parties. They should be able to claim legitimate expenses arising from running their offices and the necessity to live in two places, but they should not profit in any way from those arrangements. Any gains should revert to the taxpayer, and not be pocketed by the MPs, and they should not be able to claim anything which is considered a normal living expense for the rest of the population. And the regulation and oversight of the whole system should be taken our of MPs hands once and for all.
As a footnote, I can't help but wonder how different our Westminster Parliament and the political system might be if run by Quakers, according to Quaker testimonies and methods. It might take a little longer to get to decisions than the current system (then again, maybe not!), and it would certainly not be perfect (we are only human), but it would have far greater integrity, and would govern with a commitment to equality, fairness, compassion and justice, which, I hope, would leave the current system far, far behind. Just a pipe dream, but, hey, no harm in dreaming.....
3 days ago