Britain’s MP expenses scandal has exposed a bipartisan culture of greed in the parliament, and as each new day brings news of more political scalps, it’s as yet impossible to tell how far the effects of the scandal will reach. What is sure is that constitutional reform will follow.
It’s not over yet, but if you’ve missed some of the details, here’s the schadenfreude-worthy story to date:
- In 2004 and again in 2005, American journalist Heather Brooke lodges requests for the details of British legislators’ expense claims. Her submissions are blocked on both occasions.
- In 2008, Michael Martin, Speaker in the House of Commons, appeals to the British High Court to prevent the publication of expense claim details after the information ombudsman ordered their release. His appeal is rejected, and details of around two million receipts are planned to be published on July 1.
- May 8, 2009. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph obtains details of the receipts and publishes material from them. (The extent of the expense scandal is clearly seen in The Times’ list of the ten weirdest claims, which include Kit Kats and a glitter toilet seat.)
- The first week of the expenses scandal claims casualties on all sides of British politics. Labour MP Elliot Morley is suspended from the Labour parliamentary party after claiming £16,800 on mortgage repayments after the loan had been repaid, while former Tory agriculture minister Douglas Hogg stands down, after it is revealed his expense claims include £2200 for moat-cleaning. “I’m resigning says Tory in Moat Row” is the Daily Express‘s Only in England headline.
- On May 19, Michael Martin resigns as Speaker of the House of Commons after almost nine years in the job, the first Speaker to be ousted from Parliament in over 300 years. A new speaker is to be elected on 22 June. Martin says he stepped down “in order that unity can be maintained” in the House.
- On the same day, PM Gordon Brown vows to clean up the “gentlemen’s club“, announcing the creation of an independent body to monitor MPs’ expenses.
- On 20 May, the House of Lords votes to suspend two peers after it is revealed they agreed to alter legislation for money.
- More political careers come to an end as the scandal continues into its second week. Conservative MP Anthony Steen stands down after claiming more than £80,000 over four years for work at his £1m Devon mansion.
Political observers throughout Britain have welcomed the Speaker’s resignation. Nick Robinson at the BBC reflects on Martin’s untenable position: “when the Commons was exposed as indulging in old-style Spanish practices, the shop steward simply had to go.”
The Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne meanwhile calls for the parliamentary purging to continue – naming, specifically, high-profile politicians Chancellor Alistair Darling, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnel.
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Stephen Glover, writing in The Independent, commends The Daily Telegraph for its “journalistic triumph of courage and skill” in exposing the expenses scandal, when many British media outlets maintained their distance from the issue until public opinion pushed it into the headlines.
In the wake of scandals that have besieged both British parliament and the banking sector, exposing a near universal absence of ethics, Madeline Bunting at The Guardian points to a culture of entitlement that is compromising the integrity of public institutions while the paper’s cartoonist Patrick Blower turns Big Ben into the public teat…
The Sun, in campaign mode, is petitioning Gordon Brown for a general election so that Parliament can start over. The Independent agrees, despite Gordon Brown’s belief that it would bring “chaos”, arguing that a fresh start is the best way to produce a new sense of order. It just might not do much good for the PM’s career prospects.