Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/807/18483
Editorial of the Socialist
Ending MPs' expenses scandal requires socialist change
To anyone living outside the Westminster bubble it seems incredible that David Cameron actually believed he could save the career of the Tory MP and now ex-cabinet minister Maria Miller by offering her his 'warm support'. In five years his memory of the hot fury of the working class over the expenses scandal had clearly faded. It has now been brought back with a jolt. Even before the current scandal broke an opinion poll at the end of 2013 asked people what they felt about MPs. The biggest number - 47% - answered with one word: angry! Maria Miller sums up why.
At a time when the housing crisis in Britain is becoming overwhelming, with the majority unable to even afford to buy a shoebox and rents sky-rocketing, Miller illegitimately charged the tax-payer £90,000 for her mortgage. She then made over a £1 million profit on selling the house. For this crime she has had to repay a puny £5,800.
The inevitable result was deep-seated anger from the majority of the population, who see that nothing has changed in Westminster since the expenses scandal of 2009. This anger is fed by the contrast between the endless bureaucracy that is faced by the poorest in society compared to the 'anything goes' rules that are applied to MPs. Imagine if a benefit claimant had falsely claimed £9,000 - never mind £90,000 - they would be locked up and the key thrown away!
The Labour leadership's attacks on Maria Miller were muted, only calling for her resignation when she had already gone. No wonder, the party is also in it up to its neck. Labour was in power when the expenses scandal first erupted and has the most convicted expenses criminals in its ranks.
In the short term anger over expenses has resulted in a further increase in support for Ukip, which is now on 20% in opinion polls, as voters look for a stick with which to beat the establishment MPs. In reality, however, Ukip is one more establishment party, led by stockbrokers and millionaires. Ukip's record on expenses is also 'more of the same'. In 2009 Ukip leader Nigel Farage admitted he had claimed over £2 million worth of expenses as an MEP. Ukip MEPs claimed £800,000 in expenses in 2012 alone.
What is urgently needed is a party that really is 'of a different type'. Never has the need for a mass party of the working class been so clear. Like the socialist and Marxist MPs in the Socialist Party's predecessor Militant - Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall - MPs we had elected for such a party would only take the average wage of a worker, instead of the current bloated MPs' salaries.
In next month's local elections the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC, www.tusc.org.uk) will be preparing the ground for such a party by standing candidates across the country in the biggest left-of-Labour challenge in over half a century. TUSC will also be planning a widespread challenge in the general election.
If a mass workers' party existed now it would be able to channel the wave of anger over corrupt MPs and use it to push forward workers' interests. This would include beginning a discussion on how to massively extend the current extremely limited 'parliamentary democracy'.
Socialists and the labour movement fought for and defend the democratic rights that exist. Our forebears made the greatest sacrifices for the right to vote, a free press, trade union rights and representative systems at local and national level which reflect 'the will of the people'. But the present parliament is a million miles away from this ideal.
The press and media are controlled by a handful of rich moguls with the voice of ordinary people drowned out by a cacophony in favour of the 'market', which has utterly failed the majority of the population. Three almost identical parties - the Tories, Liberal Democrats and also Labour - are mired in corruption, and offer absolutely no way forward.
Parliament itself, with fixed five-yearly elections and MPs on bloated salaries and expenses, is completely unrepresentative. The pioneers for democracy in Britain, the Chartists - the first independent workers' party in history - demanded annual parliaments. The election of any representative for five years to an institution like the present parliament is inherently undemocratic. These MPs are not accountable to the constituents who elect them, other than once every five years, and even then their record is never properly put under scrutiny.
Socialists support all democratic rights, including voting for parliament. We would fight along with working people against any attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government as happened in Chile in 1973 and Spain in the 1930s.
But a more representative and accountable system than we have at present is necessary. The House of Lords should be abolished; there should be a single assembly which combines the legislative and executive powers hitherto divided in Britain.
Members should be elected for a maximum of two years with votes at age 16. MPs could then be elected on the basis of democratic local assemblies with the right of recall by their constituents, and should receive the salary of a skilled worker. Democracy like this would lead to greater participation by the mass of the population. A change in the electoral system to proportional representation would also be an improvement.
Compared to the present undemocratic set-up - which rests power in the hands of an elite - the above changes would represent a big step forward. In the absence of a mass workers' party in Britain today, such demands and slogans are probably in advance of what most, even working class, people would support at the present time. But the nausea arising from the revelations of thievery by parliament and parliamentarians is preparing the ground for the adoption of such bold demands in the future.
In the meantime, the salary of MPs must be cut to the level of the average wage. Where expenses are needed, they should be strictly necessary ones only - similar to what some building workers and others are paid as they travel the country in pursuit of their work. Moreover, rather than the MPs checking and auditing their own expenses, why not scrutiny committees made up of workers, the unemployed, those forced onto benefits and small shopkeepers and business people threatened by the present recession?
The MPs' expenses scandal will lead to recognition that a system based on production for profits for the few - the millionaires and billionaires - rather than for social needs of the majority, the millions, inevitably produces the kind of rottenness and corruption that we are witnessing.
We defend all democratic rights - which must also include today the abolition of the vicious anti-trade union laws inherited from Thatcher. But at the same time we aim for a huge extension of democracy, for a democratic socialist state, not the truncated 'elected dictatorship' which parliament is at present.
In The Socialist 16 April 2014:
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