Cookie jar

Over the last few months an entertaining but depressing scandal has been erupting in British politics.  It turns out that, in spite of the British sense of fair play, our politicians are just as corrupt and disappointing as everyone else’s.

Members of Parliament are entitled to claim expenses from the taxpayer for maintaining second homes, based on their need to be both in London and remain connected with the constituency they are representing.  It all sounds so reasonable, but their abuses have been revealed as egregious and epidemic.

An early gaffe ended with the resignation of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.  Her husband had downloaded pay per view porn which ended up on her claims for TV and Internet service.  Happy Husbands and Willing Wives no more.

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Then everyone else’s claims were investigated and disclosed.  They range from a duckhouse

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to a Chocolate Santa.

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Although having one’s moat cleaned for $2,000 trumped all.

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There are multiple examples of MPs claiming mortgage payments on homes where the mortgage was paid off and renting homes from family members, which is expressly forbidden.  Oh, and there are many husband and wife MPs who have so charmingly abused together.  Alan and Ann Keen have been dubbed Mr. & Mrs. Expenses–see this delightful story in The Washington Post of squatters taking over their apparently vacant second home in protest, to everyone’s delight.

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Sir Nicholas Winterton and Lady Winterton, MPs in neighboring constituencies in Cheshire (where Stella has lived and voted against them) finally paid off their mortgage only to put the house in trust for their children, to avoid capital gains tax.  Fair enough, but then they claimed for rent paid to their children.  Against the rules.   They have both announced retirement at the next election, but at ages 71 and 68 respectively, they’re probably ready for a relaxing sunset period with a taxpayer pension of $30,000 per year.  Not huge in U.S. standards, but that’s seen as a pretty large sum by most Brits.

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(Yes, Britain is ruled by white married straight people.)

Citizens of any country would be outraged, but Britain is locked into a centuries-old class system which involves deep resentment of anyone with more status and money than you.  And there simply isn’t the scale of wealth and entrepreneurship found in the U.S.  We are suspicious of rich people because they can only have made money off the backs of others.  In the spring, Prime Minister Brown increased the top rate of income tax to 50% on those earning more than £150,000 ($241,000.) with popular support.  A British Joe the Plumber would be advocating for more taxes, not protesting them.

The conservative Daily Telegraph has spearheaded exposure of the scandal.  Their website offers infinite detail, but I urge you to spend a few minutes on the delightful slideshow of MP’s best quotes about the scandal…including Gordon Brown’s rather bathetic quote about his parents.

So, how would we fare?  It seems that no politician in the world can withstand the temptations of sex and money.  Is it the power of power?  Or the power of peer behavior?  Or martyred entitlement?  Or just the human condition?  Can no one keep their hand out of the cookie jar?

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3 responses to “Cookie jar”

  1. Dave says:

    Thanks for the discussion and the pics. I’d seen lots of headlines about this on the British news sites I visit, but I couldn’t bring myself to dive into the coverage. I love that the scandal is fueled by class warfare. Down with the Wintertons!

  2. My favorite quote: “Perhaps we need not more people looking round more corners but the same people looking round more corners more thoroughly to avoid the small things detracting from the big things the Prime Minister is getting right.”

    Erm, right.

  3. swells says:

    I’m a little bit in love with the duck house, I gotta say.