Have MPs Learned from the Expenses Scandal?

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.

6 thoughts on “Have MPs Learned from the Expenses Scandal?”

  1. There were, and still (probably) are politicians who milked the expenses system. Most have learnt, some may have just learnt to be better at hiding their bogus claims. Until the system changes radically that will be inevitable.

    It turns out that my MP (Emily Thornberry, Lab) spends near the top on stationary and postage costs (though very low on things like a second home, being a Londoner). However she replies to a “very low” number of messages sent to her using writetothem. Seems a little odd.

    I see the political system not as broken, but as pretty Heath Robinson. Glancing at it from the outside it appears to work, but if you delve just a little a myriad of confusing little things appear. MPs themselves can do little about this, they tend to just tinker at the edges, make it a little more complicated, and then move on. After a few parliaments something hidden back in the system will rear its head.

    And then you have “major reforms” take schools, or even the recent changes to PAYE. They seem sensible at first, then later on you find that this big experiment hasn't exactly worked like you expect (tends to be the case with experiments, especially ones with people involved).

    So, things do need a pretty big overhaul, but doing so is a big gamble which may cause more harm than good. What can you do?

    Henz – http://aroomwithmyviews.blogspot.com/

  2. I'd argue if things need a big overhaul, then provided you've planned everything properly (*cough* not PAYE *cough*) an experiment is no bad thing. There's always a risk attached to any overhaul that it might not work, but assuming everyone's done their homework properly it should be worth it overall.

    The problem is the more complicated the initial system, the more difficult it is to plan any changes. This is where I'd agree with you – that the political system is very complicated. For the most part, I think the political system does work, it's just that there are parts of it that are in dire need of attention (expenses, exceptions for Parliament, the relationship between the media and the political parties etc.). The question then becomes how you target those areas, which is much trickier.

  3. The current political system is approaching meltdown.

    Forget the expenses scandal most people expect their politicians to be corrupt!

    A few more important questions would be.

    Can we trust a parties manifesto? :- No they all lie
    Can we trust what they say or write? :- No they all lie
    Can we trust an Oath that they personally sign and pledge to? It does not look like it!

    If we cannot believe a word a politician writes, Says or pledges then what is the point of democracy!
    The public are becoming disinfranchised, The public are becoming angry not at the cuts or the difficult decisions but because of the fact that there is no trust, no honour, and no integrity in those who's greed for power excuses everything.

    1. Hi from Tim,
      What I contrast is the politicians easygoing approach to their own standards of integrity, as against the exacting laws and impossible standards that the rest of us have to keep. Overly rigorous and counter-productive Health and Safety laws, Multiple CRB checks before you can begin to do your job. Setting the bar higher and higher for ordinary people to get accreditation to start businesses and become self employed.
      All this tightening of the screws on the populace whilst feathering their own nests at our expense!
      It is a pertinent thing that some MP's are in prison, not enough of them in my opinion. And so to AV.
      I believe that this is a self justifying election process and not aiding democracy in any way. the result of an AV election (I believe in PR however) would be that all MP's could claim that they were elected by over 50% of their constituents. A subtle twist because the truth is that the current levels of voting represent the low regard we have for our law-makers.

    2. 41 weeks ago sk84goal was saying that the system is in meltdown, but most of the other blogs in this site seem to disagree. Well, now we can all look back with hindsight at the recent riots; it seems to me that sk84's point of view is proved, the meltdown has continued with scenes of massive civil disorder! The rioters seemed to have abandoned a sense of right and wrong, but they are all living in a society where the privileged are utterly amoral; and those who follow the rules are strangled by ever-increasing regulations. The powerful and corrupt have made every normal goal – like buying a home, getting a job, affording a life, – harder and harder to acheive, while their own nests are ever more comfortably feathered. So the rioters looked at other goals, other ways of getting what they want. It's not nice, and it just makes things worse not better, but I doubt if this is the last time we see civil disorder under the present morally bankrupt system.

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