Those interested in how we are governed have been pretty engaged recently with President Obama’s budget and the pork that is flowing out of Washington, D.C. British taxpayers’ attention is equally engaged with the misuse of their money at the hands of their own government officials. Blogs such as Guido and The Devil’s Kitchen have repeatedly delved into these machinations. Guido has even provided a handy chart of the worst offenders. The Devil’s Kitchen lists a guide to what you receive when you become an MP. A damning piece in the Telegraph on the whole subject of MPs’ expenses has finally pushed the issue into the public consciousness and beyond the politics-obsessed blogosphere.
So great is the furor that the Telegraph has a whole subject header on this on its site. And in an effort to hear any defense the MPs might have, it has set up a “right to reply” booth for the politicos. It also boasts a top ten list of the worst offenders. One tabloid is even running a contest; the winner gets the same “perks” on expenses as his MP. This is similar to the contest in the U.S. where the creator of the best bailout video receives his share of the cost back.
One might wonder why this would be interesting to Americans tired of their politicians sticking their noses in the trough. Well, many British political pundits, bloggers, and even a few MPs are looking favorably at the American system in its efforts to keep politicians honest. While the British system has pretty much eliminated the temptation to take money from lobbyists and special interests for a campaign, it has opened up a whole new can of worms when it comes to expenses. Candidates have a fixed budget, no access to political advertising (the parties get a selected number of “party political broadcasts,” which are five minute documentaries), and not enough power to warrant lobbyist bribes.
They still have access to “pork” of sorts — begging the government (if it’s their party) to do all sorts of wonderful things in their constituency that they can then brag about. However, it’s nowhere near the scale of efforts by people like Sen Robert Byrd. As in the U.S., the abuse of power in the UK is not the domain of only the party in power. All three parties in the UK have their champion expense fiddlers. Things have become so bad that there is now an online petition demanding full transparency when it comes to MPs’ expenses.
Obviously scared by the outcry from the press and public alike, MPs are paying the taxpayers back and the Conservative leader has ordered his shadow cabinet to reimburse the taxpayer. Many, including members of the shadow cabinets, have resigned their position. Some are not seeking re-election next time around. Can you imagine if the tea party movement had this sort of effect on American politicians?
Organizations in the UK want access to information so they write an equivalent to the National Taxpayers’ Union’s (NTU) House expenses report. They produce things like the Bumper Book of Government Waste with reports of MPs’ graft and pork.
As seen in my interview with TPA’s Matthew Elliot, there is more sharing of tactics between taxpayers and anti-government waste organizations across the pond. They are making sure to learn from their mistakes, to keep the pressure on those that govern us, and ensure politicians are not fiddling their expenses. Despite what the politicians might believe, the public can clearly see the link between their rising taxes and the waste that emanates from government centers.
As part of the ever-growing tea party movement, there’s a very real possibility that there will be an increasingly loud call for politicians’ financial behavior to be more heavily scrutinized than it has been in the past.
The sort of abuse of power being demonstrated by the MPs in the UK and many of the members of the House and the Senate in the U.S. could come back to haunt them in 2010 — an election year on both sides of the Atlantic.