Britain’s biggest-ever political scandal began when The Daily Telegraph acquired a disk listing the expense-allowance claims of all “honorable members” (as they used to be called) of Parliament.
Details of what every MP had spent and claimed back from the taxpayer have been released day by day over the last two weeks — and they are far more explosive than the gunpowder Guy Fawkes smuggled into the cellars under Parliament in 1605. In fact, they may cause something of a revolution in the way Parliament is run.
Sometimes, the sums were large, the benefits luxurious. A government minister, one of the richest men in the House of Commons, claimed $150,000 from the taxpayer to finance the mortgage on a “second home.” (He already had seven.) A leading Tory repaired the moat around his stately home on expenses.
Sometimes, the claims were trivial and comically embarrassing: tampons, diapers, the repair of leaky pipes, ice-cube trays ($2.50), hair straighteners ($150) and Scotch eggs ($1.25). Taxpayers unknowingly rented two pornographic movies for the husband of another Cabinet minister. A Tory spokesman on “skills and education” hired an electrician to change his light bulbs. (Cost to the taxpayer? About $225.)
The worst claims bordered on the fraudulent — and some stepped over that border. One MP claimed mortgage-interest payments of about $17,000 on a house that had no mortgage. Another took $55,000 in expenses on a necessary “second home” near Parliament, when his primary home was only a few hundred yards away.
I heard a couple of British MP’s expounding on the BBC that they needed to “take control” of parliament away from the Prime Minister. Which sounds great – until you realize that both of the MP’s happen to be from the Labor party and are likely to be voted out at next election. Which then makes it sound like a desperate attempt to hang on to whatever power they can.
I actually agree with the author of the Post piece, John O’Sullivan: the best way to fix this is with absolute transparency. Make every MP disclose every pound they take. In fact, that should apply to the US Congress and the executive branch as well.
It would be kind of interesting to hear Congress members have to reel off the list of special interest money they took for each vote they cast, wouldn’t it?