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Greatest Political Crisis in my Lifetime

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Parliament's moral authority has slumped to its "lowest ebb in living memory", former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has said. Lord Carey told the News of the World that recent leaked reports about MPs' expenses had shaken trust in politics. He said the revelations had exposed the "clawing greed" at the heart of Westminster's "culture of abuse". Lord Carey questioned whether public trust in politicians could ever be restored following the exposure of "systematic abuse" of the expense system. He said many MPs had come to see their allowances as a "right rather than a privilege", and contrasted the spectacle of ministers "cringingly" justifying their expenses while their constituents suffered as a result of the recession.

"It is not just the clawing greed of painstaking claims for such minor items as tampons, barbecue sets and bathrobes, but also the egregious way some have transferred allowances from one second property to another - enabling them to refurbish homes at public expense, then sell them for profit," Lord Carey added. "Coming at a time of financial crisis and political betrayal of the Gurkhas, this threatens to be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back."

The expenses system was corrupted under the leadership of Tony Blair. He showed fellow MPs the way when he used the House of Commons expenses system to help build a multi-million pounds property portfolio. Leaked documents show that he remortgaged his constituency home for £296,000 - nearly 10 times what he paid for it - just before buying a house in Connaught Square, for £3.65 million.

It should be pointed out that if it was not for Norman Baker's campaign since January 2005 to force disclosure of the details of MPs' expenses under the Freedom of Information Act, this current political scandal would not have been exposed. It is said he is the most hated man in Parliament. It was of course Baker who published "The Strange Death of David Kelly" in 2007.

I imagine Baker is as popular in the House of Commons as Frank Serpico was in the New York Police Department. Hopefully it will force the country to reconsider our system of government.

It is clear that MPs do need second homes in London if they represent an area some distance from the capital. The best solution to this is provide accommodation for them. What about Wormwood Scrubs? This is ideally situated in the London Borough of Hammersmith. The present inmates could be distributed amongst our other prisons. An alternative solution is a prison ship moored in the Thames opposite the House of Commons.

The current political crisis in Britain concerning corruption in parliament is the greatest in my lifetime. It definitely compares to the 1929 crisis that resulted in the forming of a National Government. This enabled the ruling elite to retain control of the political system and it took a world war ten years later for the fortunes of the left to revive.

The media is reporting that the anger felt by the British people towards Parliament is greater than anytime anyone can remember. I would claim that the mood is close to being revolutionary. This mood will grow even stronger when the most important disclosure will be made – the payment politicians receive for second, third and in some cases fourth jobs. This will include details of how much those 28 former New Labour ministers have are paid for the corporate jobs that they do on the back of their Whitehall connections. The payoff for the companies is that these former ministers then help bid for government contracts. The Conservative Party will not get away from this aspect of this scandal as their MPs are already working for these companies and will therefore deliver when they expect to win the next election.

The problem is that at the moment people have no positive way to express their political anger at the ruling establishment. Our best hope is that some new anti-corruption political party, will put up candidates in the General Election. Given the current situation, I would expect this party to propose policies based on creating an equal society. If that happens, maybe we will have a successful non-violent political revolution.

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This type of rorting is not restricted to the UK; examples are being revealed in Australian state and federal politics. The big question is: how do we stop it?

I think a parliamentary hostel in the capital, such as you suggested, is a great idea. They maintain their home in their electorate. They have offices in government buildings to conduct business. Logically, they only need basic sleeping facilities whilst parliament is in session. Why not buy a reasonable hotel, and use it for accommodation?

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Yes, and there are other ways too. AFAIK one of the first almost always home because of distance parliamentarian was a member in sweden who set up in a room a complete IT connection where she could participate in all necessaries and minimise greatly her attendance in the physical aprliament. So there are models like that in place too. ( Though the idea of an old prison ship moored on the Thames does have a certain appeal.)

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A very funny account by Simon Hoggart of the latest stage of our political crisis:


It was gruesome, horrible, pathetic and miserable. You had to watch it through your fingers, with teeth clenched and stomach knotted. It wasn't even tragic, if tragedy is the story of a great man brought down by his own weakness. Michael Martin is a weak man about to be destroyed by his own weakness.

The Speaker resembled a boxer totally outfought, tottering numbly around the ring, barely aware of what was happening, staggering into his opponent's fists, somehow upright, but swaying. He is a dead man reeling. In any humane venue, the referee would have stopped the fight. But he is the referee! And he's not stopping anything!

Looking at the piteous sight, you feel you ought to be sorry for him. But it is hard to feel sorry for anyone who has blundered into his situation and shows no sign that he needs to blunder straight back out. He didn't even mention the possibility of resignation. Instead, he intends to hold a top-level meeting. A meeting! If this man were tackling the Great Fire of London he would announce a commission on fire prevention measures, to report by the autumn. He simply doesn't get it.

One MP after another stood up and told him to resign. To his credit, he did call them – though of course if he had not the subsequent row would have blown him away like a dandelion seed in a hurricane.

He did apologise, sort of. "To the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry." It was, as everyone kept saying, a historic day in parliament. Or at least a hysteric day.

Two MPs who have signed the motion calling on Martin to resign, Gordon Prentice and Douglas Carswell, duly called on him to resign. They demanded a vote on their motion. The Speaker took refuge in procedure. "It is not a substantive motion," he said. "Oh yes it is!" shouted Prentice.

Carswell, who it must be said, does have the air of a prune-faced puritan, said that the house should be allowed to choose a speaker "with the moral authority to clean up Westminster". This breathtakingly rude remark drew a gasp of outrage from some Labour members, but as gasps of outrage go, it was feeble and lacklustre.

David Winnick, an aged Labour sage, asked the Speaker – pleaded with him – to give some indication of when he would retire.

But Michael Martin was no more going to do that than drop his trousers and tango on the table of the house. "You know that is not a subject for today," he said. But it was, precisely and exactly, the only subject for the day.

David Heath, for the Lib Dems, got loud support when he said that the very people "who got us into this position by resisting reform [who can he have meant?] cannot possibly be the people to lead us out of it!"

The blows kept coming, thundering down on to Martin's unwigged head. Perhaps the worst came from Sir Patrick Cormack, up there with Sir Peter Tapsell as grandest of Tory grandees. "The condition of the House is now very like the condition of the country during the Norway debate!" he said, drawing real – wurrgh – croaking and rasping gasps. The Norway debate of 1940 led to Chamberlain's replacement by Churchill, and there is not an MP who would fail to see the significance.

And from Sir Patrick!

"In the name of God, go!" was the phrase he was echoing. He might as well have pulled the black cap on to his head.

The row about procedure continued, with the wretched Speaker frantically consulting the clerks in front of him about whether he was obliged to summon up his own tumbril.

The worst news came near the end, when the only real support came from Bob Spink, a Tory turned Ukip, and largely detested by all sides. It was like a beleaguered banker getting heartfelt support from Sir Fred Goodwin. The end must be very near.

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