Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Hundreds of possible story combinations by the simple device of going one of two different ways at the end of every chapter?

Except they weren’t really. They were written so you would always go along one route, with minimal variations, to save time. Who would send Trixie Belden home for cocoa, rather than deeper into the cave?

You would think that the British parliamentary expenses scandal operated on the same principle. Faced with the choice of releasing, in full, expenses records that the UK Daily Telegraph has already had access to, or redacting them with black marker, and then releasing them to a public ready to put Big Ben to the torch with, you would think there was only one obvious choice. Wouldn’t you?

You would think that, faced with the choice of either delaying the release of a report on parliamentary salaries, or releasing one saying MPs were underpaid by £10,000 a year, you would delay the report. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you?

You would. You are not a British MP. Two hundred and thirty three MPs from all parties have now repaid about half a million in dodgy expenses, a shameful record that would elsewhere have prompted well — something like what is happening in Teheran at the moment.

The sclerotic nature of British politics and society puts paid to that, and also the fact that the corruption is so evenly spread. Though this scandal initially benefitted the Tories, it has long ceased to. Though they are still leading Labour by a considerable margin in the polls, their claim to be creating a ‘new politics’ has been severely tarnished. The Lib Dems who have always portrayed themselves as being the honest alternative to the big two have also been damaged.

If the UK political system were changing now, for this forthcoming election, minor parties would reap the gain — simply because, having no MPs, they have had no opportunity to claim their storage unit as their first home, have their meerkat sanctuary redecorated etc etc.

In a proportional system election, the Greens would take Labour votes, UKIP from the Tories and the British National Party from both.

The major parties are relying on the stasis of a firstpastthepost system to get through this — eventually they hope that people will knuckle under and vote one way or t’other so the wrong lizard won’t get in.

But they may find that the redacted documents have pushed even the British beyond a point of no return. The Guardian is using crowd sourcing to get all 75,000 released documents examined for interesting stuff — a task that would hitherto have taken a bunch of journos weeks to get through.

And I suspect that events in places like Teheran are now feeding back into the West, which spends most of its time lecturing about probity. If a thousand people, for example, occupied the chamber or foyers of the House of Commons, demanding the release of uncensored documents, and a freeze on MPs pay, one could say with complete confidence that they were acting with total legitimacy on behalf of overwhelming majority opinion, against a political class that now defines its interests as against the people in toto.

I won’t actually be surprised if something like that happens.

Now that would be an adventure.

Or, they will just go home and have cocoa.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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