How important is the expenses scandal?

So, the tirade on our ministers over their expenses is showing no sign of fading. The story is still managing to capture headlines today, and when a story generates this much attention, it’s always worth asking if it really warrants the headlines and if indeed we should all even care.

Stephen Fry certainly seems to think it has been blown far out of proportion. In an interview with Newsnight (found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8045869.stm) he argues that the whole thing is “not that important”. He says that compared to the important things that politicians get wrong, such as wars where people die, this is insignificant. He calls it a “journalistic made-up frenzy” that we have all lost faith in politics over expenses. He doesn’t seem to think that the story will deter people from voting and emphasises that people should be worrying about the bigger issues, and not about expenses.

Elsewhere, a Labour peer turned on a BBC presenter during an interview yesterday concerning expenses. He seemed to be tired of the harassment MPs receive from presenters and argues that MPs are going around the country “doing a great deal of work…paid £64,000”. He then goes on to ask the presenter how much she is paid and what ensues is a brawl over phone use in an office and how much John Humphrys gets paid, getting no one anywhere particularly useful.

In my view, the answer to how important all of this is, is somewhere in the middle of Stephen Fry’s and Lord Foulkes’, the peer interviewed on the BBC, points of view. Whilst I agree with Fry that there are certainly bigger issues in the world, and indeed perhaps often too much attention is focused on ‘scandal’ in our press these days rather than more important issues such an international wars, I still think that in many ways this is still a significant story, and it is good that it has been brought to the public’s attention.

Lord Foulkes’ argument seems to originate largely from the justification that has been coming out of a lot of MPs; that they have ‘technically’ done nothing wrong, and that, if anything is at fault it is the system itself. However, this would naturally lead to the conclusion that we have a group of people running the country who have been quite happily using a system they are capable of seeing is flawed and in many ways unjust, but are very happy to utilise it nevertheless, and will only perk up about how perhaps things should be changed slightly once the problems within that system come to the public’s attention.

Why did no one within parliament stand up and try to change the system before now? Why has it taken all of these headlines for there to be a change in direction and for MPs to admit that perhaps the system itself is slightly unjust? Is everyone in our government honestly that spineless that they are happy to just carry on using an outdated and unjust expenses system purely so that they don’t upset any of their colleagues?

Like I said, I do agree with Fry that there are bigger issues out there but we can’t just ignore the lack of ethics that are being displayed by our politicians as shown through the expenses fiasco. It’s unrealistic to think that there is no corruption in any government, but it would be nice to think that a system they are all happily utilising was at least fair and reasonable.

On a final note, Lord Foulkes is a bit naive if he thinks the old pay argument is going to get him anywhere. Right now, in front of the public, he is complaining that MPs, many of whom have been claiming expenses on two or three homes, are ‘only’ paid just over £60k, meanwhile a news presenter is paid just over £90k. What a ridiculous comparison. How about all of the nurses or firemen who work tirelessly saving people’s lives for little more than £20k? How about that in comparison to the MP’s sky-high wages? And who is more or less responsible for deciding the public sector wages of workers such as nurses and firemen? Oh yes, the MPs, many of whom charge us for the upkeep of their chandeliers, moats and three homes.

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