Sunday, 31 May 2009

Soapbox rant

Today I thought I’d blog about a current hot potato in the world of politics.

You may or may not know but here in Britain there a political scandal going on. And in fact it has led to the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Just to put in perspective how significant this scandal is – the last time a speaker was forced out of office in this way.... was in 1695. Another interesting fact is that Question Time – a weekly political panel show – drew in a record number of viewers after the scandal first emerged. Before that the record for most Question Time viewers was the show where the Iraq War was announced.

If you don’t know what I am talking about.... here is my rundown of the EXPENSES SCANDAL.

Very quickly, if you don’t know, during a general election we vote for a local representative who sits in the House of Commons aka Parliament aka our government. This representative is called an MP or Member of Parliament.

These MPs have allowances and expenses. They can claim back money on expenses incurred during their MP duties. They could also claim money for a second home in London so they could carry out their duties.

As it turns out some MPs have not been treating these expenses very seriously. The full expenses list was due to be published in July after a High Court ruling. But the Daily Telegraph managed to get hold of the list early and began publishing the expenses claims at the beginning of May.

Scandal begins.

For the past few weeks we have had revelation after revelation after revelation. One of the main abuses is something that is called ‘flipping’. This is where MPs change which of their residencies is their second home meaning that they can claim money on both properties.

Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, claimed for 3 different London homes in one year including £5000 for furniture. One of these flats she sold and told Customs and Revenues that this second home was in fact her main residence. In doing this she didn’t have to pay the capital gains tax of over £13,000.

Now she has agreed to pay back the money as have many MPs. The person paying back the most is Labour MP Phil Hope who calimed £47,000 over 4 years for furnishings for his second home despite the fact that his London flat was so small it wouldn’t have fit the furniture.

Labour MP Margaret Moran claimed over £22,000 to treat dry rot in her second home. Interestingly this second home was 100 miles from her constituency and a 2 hour drive from Parliament.

There have been other expenses revelations as well. MPs could claim £400 a month without receipts for food. And of course my favourite revelation that Jacqui Smith claimed for porn films on her expenses that her husband had bought and watched.

Now some these claims have been classed as mistakes and the problems rectified. However the big revelations about home flipping and the like have been justified by MPs that it is ‘in the rules’.

And herein lies my problem. In fact I have so many problems with this statement I hardly know where to begin.

There are two main reasons why the ‘it’s in the rules’ justification is so wrong.

Firstly, if the government passed a law tomorrow that said you can kill whoever like as long as you say sorry... I wouldn’t actually do it. And I would hope most people wouldn’t. But it would be within the rules to do so! This brings me to my second reason why this is wrong; it is unethical. I wouldn’t kill someone even if I could just because it is morally wrong! Just because you can claim £30,00 to fix up your garden and built a duck house doesn’t mean it is right.

In fact this is the thing that I am most disgusted about. I don’t care about the money. We are one of the world’s richest countries – I think we’ll survive. I just can’t believe that so many MPs would be so unethical as to abuse the system in this way. I couldn’t sleep at night! I just can’t understand how these people felt what they were doing was right despite what the rules might say.

It will be interesting to see if anyone is prosecuted. After all some of the worst offences are tantamount to fraud!

This scandal couldn’t have come at a worse time. European elections are on June 4th. Again, if you don’t know, very quickly the UK is a member of the European Union and as such we have representatives from our county who sit on the European Parliament. There is a cabinet reshuffle due after the elections so it will be very interesting to see who stays and who goes.

As for me I WILL be voting (and voting Green!). I think about 70% of our laws come from European laws passed in Brussels so to me not voting in the European Elections would just be stupid. Plus I want to know that I have done my part to STOP the UK Independence Party and the British National Party getting in. UKIP want us to break off from the EU which would probably be the stupidest decision in modern history. And the BNP idolises Hitler and thinks the Rodney King beating was justified – he was, after all, black.

Ok I have come down of my soapbox now. I just had to get that rant out.


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