A Sea Change?

19 05 2009
Just one example of the cynicism that has engulfed British politics over the past few weeks

Just one example of the cynicism that has engulfed British politics over the past few weeks

The latest victim of the expenses scandal engulfing British Politics this week is Speaker Michael Martin, who is to resign after criticising MPs for leaking details of their expenses to newspapers. Martin, who has served as Speaker for 9 years, is the first speaker in 300 years to be forced from office. It follows the implosion of British politics as the expenses system used by MPs has proven to be abused by the majority of members of Parliament,as revealed by the Daily Telegraph.

This is a depressing time to be British, frankly. With turnout decreasing, and overall confidence in politicians and the British political system at an all-time low, there are fears that extremist parties are looking to do well at the upcoming EU and local elections. In the North West, polls show one MEP seat possible in contention for the BNP, but a recent Yougov poll shows the BNP only on 7%.  This could put them in contention on second ballots if the Greens and Major Parties fail to pick up votes. Yet the BNP will only be elected if two things occur; 1) a drop in turnout; and 2) a significant amount of people choose the BNP as their ‘protest’ vote.

Yet I don’t think the BNP will gain a seat in the European Parliament. Why? Simply because I believe that the electorate is energised for the first time in a long time, and I believe in the sophistication of the British people. This whole mess has happened because politicians have completely disregarded and underestimated the ability of the British Electorate to work things out. Anybody who saw Margaret Beckett’s sanctimonious performence on Question Time this week will be painfully aware of how genuinely cut off from the real world they seem to be. But the silmulteneously patronising assumption that  either the British people won’t vote if they’re not shepherded into voting Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, or that to launch a protest vote, they’ll automatically jump to the BNP, is too condescending for words.

As is the claim that there is something faulty with the ‘system’. The idea that somehow MPs sleepwalked into a system where they accidentally felt compelled to redecorate their homes with taxpayers’ money is ridiculous. They knew exactly what they were doing. The system that corrupted them is one far older than the Parliamentary Expenses System – it is the fundamental human attraction to Power. Being able to claim expenses was a financial vestige of power for MPs, and as we know too well, power corrupts.

This could be, bizarely, one of the best things to happen to British Democracy in a long time. In recent years, the British Electorate has been less and less engaged in elections and the political process generally, but this latest scandal appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The public is energised more than ever before. Although Michael Martin may be the person suffering today, it is important he does not become a scapegoat. In order to repair the damaged British political system, it is time to trust the British people again by asking them to take responsibility and take part in the system that angers them so. It is time, in short, for a general election.

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