The on-going expenses row surrounding British Members of Parliament is beginning to draw the institutions of Parliament and Government into disrepute, in my humble opinion. It started with the husband of the Home Secretary claiming on her expenses account (as an MP) for some adult movies that he watched while she was away. Ms Smith has declared she will shortly stand down as Home Secretary.
We now have a daily offering of who claimed for what should not have been claimed for, followed by apologies which are as profuse as they are insincere, and in some instances repayment of money. This morning, a Cabinet meeting was held at no 10 Downing Street, and the Ministers of State were almost openly mocked, ridiculed and jeered by the assembled press pack. The sniggering of the journalists was audible on BBC News.
The Prime Minister has announced an independent audit into every MP's expenses accounts. Methinks we now need the Hubble Space Telescope to locate the horse that bolted from its stables weeks ago, against which Mr Brown is now trying to close the doors. I don't blame the poor horse. Its stables were so filthy that it would require the diversion of a river to clean them out.
Do not take this as directed purely against the Labour Party, which is currently in government. Quite a few Conservative MPs have been caught with their pants down, most notably the Totnes MP Sir Anthony Steen (fine knight of the realm), who billed Parliament for tree surgery on five hundred trees around his stately home. When this was brought to light, and an outcry ensued, he blustered that people were just jealous of his big house. Several MPs have been claiming for things they shouldn't have claimed for, and others claimed for expenses they were not incurring (like for mortgages that had already been paid off). They all said they were acting within the rules, rules that they themselves have drawn up, implemented and administered.
We now have the elevating spectacle of several dozen MPs stating that they will not contest the next General Election, which is due no later than June 2010. Still doesn't wash, in the eyes of the many. Upon standing down, an MP gets a full year's salary (about £64k) plus resettlement grant (about £40k).
There have been repeated calls for an immediate general election, and a motion will be tabled in Parliament next week to that effect. The Labour Party can expect a trouncing at the European and Local Elections on Thursday, so they will probably try to hang on for dear life, hoping the storm will blow over. It won't.
Several MPs when confronted with serious allegations regarding their expenses started off by saying they would contest the next election - but when confronted with their electorate quickly changed their minds. The Conservative Leader, David Cameron, was also calling for an early General Election on Thursday. I don't think he should be so eager either, bearing in mind what happened amongst his ranks.
An election is required, in my opinion, and the sooner the better. However unfair to the majority of honourable Honourable Members, faith in politics has plummeted to an all time low, with one poll quoting a percentage of 52% of people who think politicians are all crooks.
A wholesale clean out, along the lines of the Augean Stables, is required. Bearing in mind the man at the helm has proven himself incapable of acting in good time, we can't wait for the current administration to get its act together. Whichever political colour it will turn out to be, a new government will have to take over soon, and forcefully implement some very sweeping changes.