Charging for the Manure and the Moat
Though it’s only just been gathering attention on this side of the pond, Britain has been buffeted by a widening scandal. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports:
Britain has been convulsed by a series of escalating revelations about the expenses claimed by members of Parliament.
A week or so ago, the Telegraph newspaper got its hands on some of the juiciest secrets in Britain — the dubious expenses claimed over the last few years by British politicians. The scale of the cupidity is astonishing. The evidence suggests that members of all parties — Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, even, most impressively, representatives of Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party whose members for years actually refused to take their seats because they didn’t recognize Westminster’s writ — have been bilking the system for all they’re worth.
The scandal threatens to be as corrosive as anything seen in Britain in decades — this is not just about a party abusing power; it threatens to undermine the public’s remaining faith in the probity, not just of politicians, but of Parliament itself.
And the estimable John Burns writes in today’s New York Times:
Much of the public anger has been driven by the notion that lawmakers have been exploiting the expense rules to obtain luxuries beyond the pockets of many Britons; Mr. Malik, for instance, entered a claim for a $3,200 flat-screen television, and protested in the name of “natural justice” when House of Commons officials reimbursed him for only one-third of the cost.
Class differences have also played a role in the public reaction. In what has amounted to a caricature of what many thought to be a bygone Britain, wealthy Conservatives have put in claims for shipments of horse manure, a new chandelier, repair of piping under a tennis court and, in the case of Douglas Hogg, a viscount who served in the last Conservative government, the cleaning of slime from a moat at his country home.
But the unkindest cut came from a commentator on the BBC who suggested that part of the problem was the accession of a new class to the Halls of Parliament, “the chattering classes: journalists and academics!”