I’ve finally listened to the Any Questions debate from Friday (which much like more regular blogging, ended-up slightly lower down on my to-do list than expected). One of the more interesting moments was Ed Miliband’s mention of a loss of faith in politics as a consequence of the expenses scandal.
This seems to be the received wisdom – that the absurd claims on many MPs’ expenses forms somehow damaged the public’s belief in our democracy. Similar claims were made by Tom Watson in relation to allegations of “phone tapping” made against Andy Coulson*.
I can’t help but question the extent of this. If an angry member of the public were to meet an MP and summarise what they felt, which of the following is more likely?
1. “I’ve lost faith in politics. I don’t think our political system is functioning.”
2. “I’ve lost faith in politicians. You’ve abused your position for personal gain.”
The expenses scandal was never about politics or the system. People stopped trusting individual politicians to represent them, because bluntly speaking, they seemed to be in it for themselves.
By all means reform the system, and declare a “new politics” that is “progressive”, but are we all forgetting what was wrong in the first place?
I’m not suggesting we throw out all MPs and start again, or that there is nothing wrong with the system. Nor am I suggesting that all politicians are “in it for themselves”. But it seems all too easy to move from blaming politicians to blaming politics and the system.
* Maybe more on this later when everything’s settled down.