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MPs don't get

EVEN now, our MPs don’t get it. What have they done wrong? It’s all in the rules. What’s an 88p bathplug between friends?

They blame the newspapers. Blame the system. Blame everything except their own penny-pinching avarice.

But the expenses row is about far more than Geoff Hoon’s £1,200 TV. It’s about the broken politics of Westminster.

Let’s start with a stark truth: MPs are as popular as swine flu. We trust them as far as we can throw John Prescott.

To be precise: just 24 per cent of Brits say they trust parliament, one of the lowest figures in Europe on a par with Romania.

And that was BEFORE we found out that they’ve been charging us for everything from Kit Kats to seaside homes.

The public’s reaction can be measured on the Richter scale, not opinion polls. And our indignant MPs must understand why. It’s not just annoyance at being ripped off. It’s disgust with what’s increasingly seen as a self-serving pointless political class.

Think I’m exaggerating? Listen to the cross-party Power Inquiry, set up to examine the low turnout of the last election.

"We were struck by the strength of the contempt felt towards formal politics," it said. Not apathy. Just hatred.

"The main political parties are widely held in contempt," it continued. "They are seen as offering no real choice."

Words like ‘Labour’ and ‘Tory’ have never meant less. Words like ‘Liberal Democrats’ have seldom meant anything.

The problem with opinion polls is that it asks people to choose. In real elections, millions can’t bring themselves to.

When a politician says: "I’ll work for you," voters increasingly think: "Nope. You’re in this for yourself."

That’s why the Billy Connolly approach - "Don’t vote! It only encourages them" – is such a powerful force in Britain.

Our politics means parties end up copying each other, and win power by doing battle in a handful of marginal seats.

We’re one of the few countries in the world where the abstainers outnumber those who voted for the government.

It really is a devastating indictment of our democracy. And these abstainers are like a coiled spring who could vote for anyone.

So far, the loathsome BNP have failed to make inroads. Their racist agenda doesn’t suit Britain, even as a protest vote. Even if the BNP are kept at bay, David Cameron has a problem. Does he try to change the Westminster system, or just ride it?

The problem is across all parties. I’m amazed how many MPs say, in private: "Pay us properly, and we wouldn’t need expenses."

Properly? They’re on £63k a year – almost three times the average UK salary, with a massive pension and 21 weeks holiday.

Let me spell it out. THIS SALARY IS FOR BUYING THINGS. Like plasma screens, Maltesers, pet food, new kitchens, the works.

But there are plenty of MPs who want reform. Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat, has been trying to blow the whistle on this for years.

Ben Wallace has made himself hugely unpopular with his fellow Tory MPs for publishing his expenses online.

He knew this storm was coming. He’d come from the Scottish Parliament, where an expenses row felled the Tory leader.

Now the storm has hit Westminster, the ramifications will be huge. Next month’s elections will just be the start of it.

If I had my way, I’d have the PM directly elected. Anyone could stand, so we could find a British version of Obama.

Instead of relying on the gene pool of fellow politicians, the PM could appoint anyone to the Cabinet.

The MPs would only make and scrutinise laws, so they’d not try and climb a greasy pole. But this reform is way too radical.

The next election won’t just be judgment day for Gordon Brown, but EVERY politician who has abused the system.

All crooked MPs, including Tories and LibDems, risk being swept out, taunted on the campaign trail by their expenses.

So the next election will be a massive transfusion of new blood. But the problem is it’ll be infused into the old Westminster system.

And that — not just the greedy MPs — is what is letting this country down so badly.

FRASER NELSON is also political editor of The Spectator.



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