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Locusts, caterpillars, and horse leeches

Justin Rowlatt | 19:25 UK time, Monday, 22 March 2010

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"Locusts, caterpillars, and horse leeches," that's how one writer described MPs caught fiddling their housing allowances back in the mid 17th Century.

Another described them as an "excoriating rabble of pestiferous vermin".

You don't express yourselves quite as colourfully, but your sentiments about the current expenses scandal are much the same.

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to tell us how this scandal - and all those others (non dom billionaire donors, cash for honours, Chilcot etc...) are affecting how you feel about politics and politicians.

It's part of a project Newsnight is calling Pop-Up Politics.

It's an all expense-spared, austerity approach to reporting the coming election.

The idea is that, just like the temporary shops that pop-up in the vacant lots on our recession blasted high streets, Newsnight will pop-up in your community to discuss the issues that matter to you.

We received hundreds of replies but one e-mail in particular caught our eye (and not just because it contained no profanity).

It was one of a number from Livingston, in West Lothian and was from Maureen Kerr who says she's lost faith in most of our politicians.

Maureen used to be a Labour supporter but is now backing the SNP and in recent weeks has been out knocking doors and handing out leaflets on their behalf.

"It is astonishing how big a percentage didn't want to vote at all because they think everyone is the same," she told me as I wheeled her golf bag around the local golf course.

She says eight out of 10 people she spoke to on the stump said they don't plan to vote.

"They are angry," says Maureen. "They feel they are being taken for granted," she says and worries at the damage this haemorrhaging of trust is doing to the political system.

So how can trust be rebuilt?

To try and get some answers we set up our own pop-up shop right in the heart of The Centre - Livingston's vast new shopping mall.

We rounded up 20 or 30 shoppers to take part in an impromptu debate. No fancy props for us, just a maker pen and pile of cardboard boxes.

There was a lot of talk about how the public has become disillusioned with our leaders. Then one woman said she thought that the problem was more complicated that that:

"We're not stupid," she said. "We know what is coming. We've seen what has happened to finances worldwide. So they don't trust the electorate.

"If they told us what's going to happen I think we could accept it because we understand there isn't the money around that there used to be."

It's an interesting perspective - the problem is as much about politicians not trusting us as us not trusting them.

Do you agree?

And, while we're at it, tell us where the pop-up politics team should go next.

We'll be covering the budget on Wednesday.

So, have you been affected by the recession? Do you believe that the politicians aren't being straight about how to get the country back on track? Or do you think people just don't understand the challenges they face?

Whatever you believe, tell us where we should pop up and why and who knows, we might come and watch the Budget with you.


  • Comment number 1.

    You write about 'ethics' but really you write about money, greed and unbridled selfishness.

    I have been advocating a National Maximum Wage for quite a time. Even the Church of England is suggesting that one of the criteria it will apply ion assessing investments is the differential between the bosses and the lowers pay of a company ( 75 times which I actually think is to bid a differential, no boss can possible be actually 'worth' more in six months that a lifetime of one of his workers! )

    All politicians are doing, just like Tony Blair, is to maximise their earning potential like any footballer or golfer so what is so wrong? Isn't it rather off that many of the bosses of banks profess deep religious conviction - see Goldman's "doing the work of God!" They are of course clinically insane and we have let them be , like Bernie Madoff become insanely powerful mainly through construction the systems of regulation that prevent others competing with them. If we want, or see that we need to change society we need radical actions such as my National Maximum Wage. Everything else in reducing inequality will fail and is indeed designed to fail!

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry Justin, I know you are a fan of these things, but the first thing we can do is get rid of the huge overhead that the global warmers are putting on the country.
    Did you know for example that Carbon credits cost the NHS 1.3 million pounds?
    How many beds would that pay for?
    Worse still did you know the governments push for renewables has doubled the price of electricity, the life blood of our IT driven economy?

    And for what, did you know that contrary to popular belief sea levels are dropping!? If you don't believe me look at the Topex/Poseidon Satellite data.
    Did you also know that during the last warm period Maleria was nearly wiped out? This is why the Roman Empire prospered during these years.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was horrified, but not surprised to hear about how some of our elected MPs stole, tax dodged and flipped “to save a buck”.
    There is a common argument that politicians are not in touch with society today. I strongly believe this is true, and feel it has been proven by the expenses scandal.

    Even now I can’t understand some of the more reasonable claims.
    Why do they get a food allowance? Isn’t that what their salary is for? Second home allowance, why are the taxpayers continually buying MPs homes in London? Shouldn’t these houses be owned by the constituency so that we don’t keep paying their mortgage fees forever?

    I would also like to ask (if anyone knows) what is the average number of houses owned by an MP is? And does this affect their judgment in deciding taxation?

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    At risk of being modded for being 'off topic', but might a new, or at least additional handle not be in order, all things considered.

    Unethical (other) Men (and Women)?

  • Comment number 6.

    Political strategy has been the alienation of the public, this provides for a manageable number of voters that the parties can count on and mostly know how they will vote. With candidates that just represent some party line, and party lines do not address the concerns of the people, so why should people care. The main reason to care is that through the process of alienation the bankers and their handmaidens took control so if you don't want your money stolen again you may wish to look for candidates that represent controlling the banks and looking out for the interest of the citizens and not big business and banking. Labour and Tory are no different in these matters....there is no left or right..only banking and big business...don't get fooled again.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sorry Justin, I know you are a fan of these things, but the first thing we can do is get rid of the huge overhead that the global warmers are putting on the country.


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