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We need windows as well as doors

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Mark Easton | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009

"Westminster cannot operate like some gentlemen's club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves."
  --Gordon Brown

Without effective scrutiny, institutions rot.

In the City of London and the city of Westminster, the two grand neighbours that retain power in our capital, the imperious pillars buttressing our systems of finance and politics have crumbled before our eyes.

As they toppled, the curtain was torn away and, as in the Wizard of Oz, we saw that the "great and the good" were really no better than the rest of us.

In some ways, worse. Shielded from the harsh disinfectant of publicity, disease and infection had spread like swine flu.

Amid the gloom, too many politicians and bankers had become blind to the greed and corruption. Now pallid bodies stumble into the light, mumbling apologies with heads bowed.

But where was the Grub Street gang when it mattered? Where was I? Journalists have some questions of their own to answer, I suspect.

With some honourable exceptions, the Parliament press lobby, of which I was briefly a card-carrying member a decade ago, was too close to see what was happening. The rest of the pack was too far away.

The scandals of sleazy spin doctors and dishonourable members which have so shocked the wider populace were woven so artfully into the fabric of the Palace that those who walked its corridors never noticed.

A coachman aboard a horse drawn carriage rides with the Queen on her way to give the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of ParliamentThe gilded traditions which gave authority and mystery to our institutions were tinsel that distracted eyes from the decay. A dash of ermine, an ounce of history and a golden coach possess almost magical qualities.

The Speaker, in his black and gold robe with lace frills and jabot, is the "Presiding Officer" of the House of Commons, the man or woman with a hand on the tiller of our democracy. He or she chairs the body that appoints staff, determines their salaries, and supervises the administration of the House. The Speaker shapes the debates that decide the law of our land.

And yet, outside the Westminster village and before this week, how many would even have heard of Michael Martin? His power, his strengths and weaknesses are all but invisible to the public who are not given the chance to interrogate him - even at the ballot box. To this day, those who might conceivably ask the tricky questions - lobby journalists or MPs - either cannot or dare not.

1694, the founding of the Bank of England at the Royal Exchange in London by George HarcourtIt has been a similar story in the Square Mile. With again a few notable exceptions, no-one was publicly challenging the ways of the financial world - taking crazy risks with other people's money while trousering vast sums. To do so would be to risk ridicule - and who wants to look like a fool?

I remember being initiated into the press lobby at Westminster and being quite shocked by all the etiquette and procedures. To ask the question "why?" was to show yourself up as naive and unworldly.

The pomp and grandeur, protocol and tradition that frame our financial and political affairs were designed to inspire respect and trust in institutions. But now the respect and trust have been so trashed, the trappings of power appear gaudy and cheap.

The spell has been broken.

Can we re-lay the foundations of our financial and political institutions for the 21st Century? Can we rebuild the trust and respect, brick by brick? As we try, perhaps we should remember that windows are as important as doors.

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  • 1. At 6:24pm on 19 May 2009, Chris Q wrote:

    Mark,

    It is refreshing to see a Journalist recognise your own profession is coming out of this very badly indeed.

    Some are going around saying how Journalism has revealed this situation. It might be more honest to say - "how did we act so complicitously for so long and never make any noise?".

    Politics and finance being so unstable and undermined is very frightening to the people of the country. I actually think that - as ever - things in Westminster are being reacted to out of proportion, too late and badly. Nothing changes - it never does.

    The same short term and "not me, guv" reflexes are being seen in every news bulletin.

    Personally - I think the media have a lot of questions to be asked and to answer. However, I think that they will be the last to properly declare expenses and leave the bar. And why should they - standards only apply in public life, after all.

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  • 2. At 6:39pm on 19 May 2009, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    Mark

    Nice Post, congratulations for recognising the eneptitude of the Press along with the M.P's and Bankers.

    Windows (Transparency) would be a good start however I believe we are now well past that stage. Root and Branch reform of our democracy is needed to make it Democratic.

    Firstly we need an end to the first past the post electoral system, where people who actually bother to go and vote are disenfrancised if they don't vote for the winning candidate.

    We need to move towards a system of more direct democracy, where are representatives set the agenda and we the public get to vote on every bill that goes before parliment. In order to make this safe and secure it should be linked to the I.D card scheme.

    For example the Government spend the week Debating the legislation that is to be put before the Country. The BBC and other News agency's are given the responsibilty of reporting the planned legislation through-out the week. The Final documents are then posted on line and should be drawn up in plain English not Legalese. The Voter then takes His or Her I>D card with them to a voting booth with an ID card reader which checks the biometic data and allows the person to vote. these can be setup in local shopping centres, Community Centres & Village Halls etc.

    Not only would this improve our Democracy it would improve our sense of community. Community centres and the like will once again become the centre of our communities a place to discuss and debate our lives.

    Whilst were in reform mode i will ask the Question no-one else has yet.


    I also suggest that we ask the question, Is it time for the position of Speaker to become directly elected by the Public?

    I suggest that all candidates will not be able to be members of any political Party. The Speaker will be elected for a 2 year term. A speaker will be able to stay in office for a Maximum of 4 two year terms.

    We will then be able to directly hold the Speaker of the Day to account for his/her actions. A truly impartial Speaker will be able to be elected.

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  • 3. At 7:21pm on 19 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    Very appropriate prose Mr Easton, "..the gilded traditions which gave authority and mystery to our institutions were tinsel that distracted the eyes from decay.."

    From the time of the 1911 Parliament Act not a lot has changed in the Commons and PM Blair's incomplete reform of the Lords left much to do. However, what it all comes down to is that for many decades nobody really minded about the 'mother of Parliaments' sticking to its traditions.
    You are totally correct that situation would have continued if it were not for the present 650 Members being caught out utterly failing to stick by those customs, precedents and practises, and even more importantly, their total undermining of the twin tenets of integrity and credibility the electorate placed in MPs.

    How ironic it will be if Tony Blair's one really lasting contribution to the history of the United Kingdom is the passing of a Freedom of Information Act that finally launches the Constitutional debate and reform of Parliament that its members should have undertaken many years ago!

    I'm sure most Citizens were unaware or could care less if for some absurd reason a person has to put on a top-hat to raise a point of order from the back-benches so long as under the hat there isn't a few hundred quid of the tax-payers money stuffed from an Expenses Claim!
    As we have regrettably reached the point where hardly a UK Citizen could be found who would not think it was a 50 - 50 bet on whether the money was there the Parliament of the top-hat and all its pretension must go.

    We have reached the point where the Westminster Parliament's traditions are discredited and its members so unethical that the misquoted words of the Honourable Leo Amery in April 1940 should not have been used to scapegoat and point the finger at the Speaker's Chair, but, to show the exit door to all 650 MPs.

    The 650 MPs will hope the British Citizens lose interest as quickly as they usually do: They may be unlucky this time around for there's no 'celebrity big brother' or 'international sporting championship' on the horizon and Parliament's summer recess is several weeks off. Of course, it still needs a lot of work by people such as Newspaper Reporters, you Mr Easton and Mr Robinson, to push the UK body-politic with more revelations: Most especially in the case of BBC and Independent Television for once following up and reflecting the UK Citizens' concerns and interests in this whole matter. This service for and on behalf of the British Public is something Television News in general has lamentably failed to do over the last 2 or so decades. It would be a very good thing for the British if as a part of the Constitutional Reform the Television News and Newspapers were to start to take a more responsible, productive and considered interest in these British Isles' Political and Public Affairs. A useful starter would be to step back from the coverage of the 'cult of celebrity' and other such trivia as worthy of Frontpage or Lead Items of news! There really is a need for the UK Media to understand "..the trappings of power appear gaudy and cheap.." are not only to be found in Westminster.

    In a sense Mr Easton your BBC and the rest of Television must take some responsibility for the careless venality of those 650 MPs and for why it has taken so long for the "..spellto be broken..": Afterall, if we compare the 'tinsel' and 'tattle' that now passes for a lot of News and Documentary (e.g. the Docusoap!?) on the BBC compared to 1979 programme scheduling and content the loss of genuinely informative broadcasts on TV and to a lesser extent Radio is truly alarming.

    If 12 months from now the BBC News along with the rest of the Media still includes 'Jordan and Pete Episode 299' then we can unfortunately conclude the "..windows.." still have that glossy appearance confirming all that glitters is all that is thought the UK Public need and deserve.

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  • 4. At 8:07pm on 19 May 2009, kaybraes wrote:

    Sadly Westminster demonstrates a culture that appears to have developed over the past ten years in politics at all levels from county to country; unaccountability. It seems that since Labour came to power with an unassailable majority, politicians have been free to behave in a fashion more suited to the standards of Soviet Russia than to what we used to call democracy.Tony Blair and his minions started the rot by using their huge majority to ride roughshod over tradition and to give more and more power to unelected government servants at all levels.We now have a situation where the employees of government at national and local level make decisions which affect taxpayers , without recourse to elected representatives or uncurbed by elected representatives. Politics in this country is now rotten to the core , filled with career seeking individuals who appear to have no moral principle, and certainly no respect for the constituents who they are supposed to represent. The party line is now considered more important than the actual needs of the populace. Parliament itself fails dismally to demonstrate any semblence of the parliament the people of Britain aspire to, certainly not what Cromwell envisaged when he beheaded a king and forcefully removed the snouts of the members of parliament of the seventeenth century from the Westminster trough. Now once more we have a head of government acting in the fashion of an absolute ruler, albeit incompetently , but contrary to the needs and wishes of the British people.

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  • 5. At 9:30pm on 19 May 2009, alexandercurzon wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 10:03pm on 19 May 2009, John Ellis wrote:

    No great Revelaion(s) there then.

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  • 7. At 11:29pm on 19 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    A very good and refreshingly honest piece.

    While we are at it, perhaps you could have a word about leaks - authorised or otherwise. I had an e-mail telling me Martin was going some time before he formally announced it. One of these day, someone is going to leak something totally false for the sheer sadistic pleasure of seeing the media with egg all over their collective face - and serve them damn well right!

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  • 8. At 00:26am on 20 May 2009, TheEnglishman wrote:

    The speaker resigning is also rotten, not because he is innocent and should remain, nor even that he is a scapegoat for the rest of them, but because it is, yet again spin and deception.
    a) He isn't going immediately - he has almost 4 weeks left to take the heat off MPs
    b) with a recess coming up, MPS are hoping that is enough to tide them over, and the fickle British Electorate will move on to new things
    c) then they can hope to reach the summer recess and they will have survived, between July and October some other disaster will overtake Gt Britain Plc and they will be safe until the next election and come the next election in 12 months we will swap one rotten lot for another.
    The pressure on Parliament and the speaker should now be increased, Parliament needs to be dissolved and if we elect a hotch-potch of minority MPs and independents, so what? We have to rebuild a country, and the sooner we start , the better, we must remove the majority of them, including the 3 party leaders, as this lot are the very people who got us here, but they found time to line their pockets and put themselves above the laws we were told to obey!

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  • 9. At 05:57am on 20 May 2009, Joan Olivares wrote:

    Mark you're just too funny! "I am the great and powerful Oz ...the great and uhhhhhhhhhhh pow ....er.. Oz" as Toto pulls back the curtain. Thanks for the comic relief. You made my day!

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  • 10. At 06:47am on 20 May 2009, Joan Olivares wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 08:19am on 20 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    "..a very British revolution.." according to Newspapers!

    Beg to differ: Speaker Martin's resignation is better characterised as one tiny movement of the UK body-politic towards recognising Parliament as an institution is utterly undone and its Members a disreputable stain on the Nation.

    I have just watched Conservative Alan Duncan MP, Deputy Leader of the House, performance on Sky News, and heard Radio 4 Today's Reports (including "..2pm in Parliament.. melancholy ring about them.." plus ridiculous hyperbole which James Noughty accused others of, "..set this place on fire..") on the, "..Speaker's resignation..", ".. proposed widespread changes.." and finally the "..health of Parliament.." proposals.

    Some encouraging noises from MPs on all sides, but, the proof is indeed in the detail and nothing I have heard/seen appeared to indicate the total overhaul that the British Citizens require.

    Anne Widdicombe's claim, "..we have to show we are honourable Members.."
    was just so much stuff and nonsense as she promptly went on to claim "..there are literally hundreds of good MPs.."!?
    Truly astonishing smugness and duplicity!
    All 650 MPs knew perfectly well that the MP Expenses Claim system was being misappropriated at best and criminally misused at worst: Every one of those 650 MP are guilty of allowing exploitation of Public Monies and every one of them, as a starter for any changes/improvements, should have to stand up in Parliament and in turn APOLOGISE to the public at large.

    I get the feeling there are many MPs who just do not get it: Apparently, Noughty reported, one Cabinet Minister said he doubted Parliament, "..was ready to cope with the new world where 'deference' no longer existed.."!?

    Frankly, if only now this Minister has woken up to this aspect of UK society that every Teacher in a classroom, Nurse in a Casualty dept, Bank Cashier at a till, Bus Driver, Policeman etc. could have told them 20 years ago I really am troubled about what can be expected of these totally insular and insulated 650 MP?

    Root and branch Reform of Parliament would be a 'Revolution'. Nothing else will do. Anything else is a cover-up by MPs offering a sop to the Citizens; if that's it, all these troubles will occur again and very soon.

    Reform of 'MPs Expenses' and a new 'Speaker' is hardly a 'revolution'!?

    This morning the cry was, "..Parliament must be accountable to the public.." according to several distinguished contributors across the Media.

    Sadly, no signs at all the present 647 MP led by PM Brown, Cameron and Clegg have any intention of making that a reality. According to all 3 leaders their answer is to sit around a table with the 'resigned' Speaker and cobble together a few back-room changes of method and then just hours later dispute exactly what they had agreed!

    Transparency: Any publishing of details/minutes of the discussions? No!
    Accountable: Any suggestion of seeking Public approval for the changes by a General Election or even a Referendum? No!
    Responsive: Any hint the views of the Public will collected as part of the input to change? Absolutely, NO!

    I am just hearing Noughty claim the Speaker's 35 second resignation statement, "..shook Parliament..": Beg to differ!
    Within seconds he was interviewing a Alan Duncan, Conservative as Sky News had earlier and as on TV his response to it all was, "..obviously I want one Party to replace the other in power..".
    Any answer that hinted at involving the the UK Citizens' other than by a General Election where the yaboo of Party Politics reigns supreme? No!

    On all Media the MPs are all squabbling over whether the new Speaker should be interim or long-stay and which Party they should come from! Any consideration of how to include the UK Citizens' views on who should be Speaker? No!

    As I said, the 650 simply do not get it and frankly most of them still do not care about UK Public Opinion.

    'Reform of Parliament': What 'Reform'?




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  • 12. At 08:24am on 20 May 2009, LippyLippo wrote:

    You seem to be giving yourself and the rest of the media carte blanche to poke and pry into people's affairs. 'We're just exposing the truth' will be the cry as respectable facades are torn down and those people behind them are exposed as... just that. People. Imperfect, self-serving, pompous, unkind. Capable of deception, lying, cheating. Quelle surprise. The monarchy have had this kind of microscope turned on them for the last couple of decades, and as a result, any respect we might have had for them has all but evaporated. The failings of the church have been so exposed that organised religion might as well call it a day. Tony Benn referred to the media as a 'disinfectant'. Quite right. But he should understand that disinfectants kill good and bad bacteria without distinguishing between the two. The media, in exposing the humanity behind the institutions, risks tearing down any respect that comes from ignorance. Sometimes the 'truth' does more harm than good, although to say so in today's media age is the biggest no-no.

    The hypocrisy of it all is that the media does not present the 'truth'. It simply prepares a sensationalised version of the truth that focusses disproportionately on the controversial and the bad, whilst ignoring the everyday and the more prosaic. 'MP WORKS EXTRA HOURS FOR CONSTITUENT!!' 'MP CLAIMS ARE WITHIN GUIDELINES!!'. When was the last time something good was reported on? Bad news sells. The trouble is, that means this is all we ever get to see.

    Do we need a microscopic examination of everything? Think about HDTV that shows up an actor's every line and crease. Does this aid our enjoyment of a film more than the slight analogue fuzziness that carried with it an assumed illusion of perfection providing we didn't look to closely! The more we know the less we respect. Religion has traded on this ever since its inception. You could argue that this will lead to the appointment of people who are genuinely worthy of respect under even the closest scrutiny. If that's the case, you will be waiting a very long time. Such people are few and far between if they exist at all.

    If you're going to tear down the facade, please consider what you will replace it with. A little ignorance is a good thing, however '1984' this may sound. Kids today know all their rights and are more media-savvy than any other generation. They are also the unhappiest, the least trusting, the most cynical and, paradoxically, the least politically-engaged.

    My point is that this 'window', as you call it, will not be as transparent as it seems. Anyone looking through it will see a distorted and unclear picture of what lies behind, tinted by the need to wring a sensationalist or 'interesting' angle out of the story. If we mistake this warped vision for reality it will be to the detriment of us all.

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  • 13. At 09:25am on 20 May 2009, Chris Q wrote:

    ikamaskeip - I hate to defend politicians - but how can you say that all 650 MP's, to quote: "knew perfectly well that the MP Expenses Claim system was being misappropriated at best and criminally misused at worst"

    I am very cynical of politicians and my personal experience of all politicians leaves me disppointed with them as a species.

    However, I would draw back from accusing them all of duplicity in a criminal misuse of expenses. That was the system in place and many - maybe the majority - used it for what it was meant to be. Many abused the rules - maybe technically their claims were not illegal but they used it in a morally questionable way.

    I think over-reaction and hyperbole detract from the serious issues needing addressed - it just leads to a witch hunt and is both counter-productive and injust.

    Wow - how self-righteous I sound!

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  • 14. At 09:34am on 20 May 2009, Elysiumfire wrote:

    "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one..."
    Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809) "Common Sense"

    The quality of any democracy will always be proportionate to the quality of the relationship between the governed and those that govern, or would seek to govern. British democracy has been in decline for many years, because on the one hand, the governed abrogated their responsibility to participate in the democratic process, opening a vacuum that was filled with the self-interest of the few that do participate: and oh, how they have participated self-interestingly! Compounding this further, is how self-interest has sought to consolidate and solidify its position through the downgrading of the people's freedom and liberty via state intrusion.

    Into this mix, we can add the machinations of global business and the consolidating of their interests with those managing the legislatory offices. Case in point, the tides of corporatism and globalisation breaking upon the shores of sovereignty and national identity.
    The zealousness with which Gordon Brown has entered into 'bed-relations' for a federalised European Superstate, and in the process, denying the British people their say on the issue, speaks volumes on the 'intolerability' of his mismanaged administration.

    It is not in the least acceptable for the governed to be lied to, duped, obsfucated against, or to be ignored by those that govern, or by those that would seek to govern. It is not acceptable that those that govern impose rules and regulations to which they exempt themselves, but which the governed must follow like sheep. Like religion, business should equally be kept separate from state, but ruled and regulated by state, lest we arrive at the circumstances being incremenatlly unfolded as we go about our daily struggle to attain a quality of life denied us by economic pressure.

    Britain requires a government that is for the people and their historical legacy. A government that upholds steadfast honour and respectability as virtues in which the confidence and trust of the governed remain a focus of enjoyment and happiness. The British people do not want political union with Europe, but they do want trade and trade agreements. Political union with Europe is a business idea for business interests, but that each country's sovereignty is a obstacle to that idea, hence the continued assault upon each country's sovereign way of life and identity. Britain and the British are for sale, and are being sold for business interests. If the governed do not start to take a keener interest in the issues affecting them, then a corporate totalitarian future will be the cost of their apathy and inaction: both of which are taken as consent to the dilution (and practical extermination) of their sovereignty and nationhood.

    The expenses scandal has opened the door to public revue and criticism, but it is a small interconnecting piece in the whole jigsaw of Britain's declining confidence in its democracy.

    The governed need to understand that they do have a say, not just every four years or so, but everyday, but this needs to be backed up by a free press and media that should act as both the eyes and ears and voice of the people. It is they that should be bringing light to the shadows, it is they that should be uncovering the 'dirty deeds being done cheaply'. I applaud the Telegraph's expose of the expenses scandal. Let this be the start of the media's claim to righting itself as the people's watchdog. Let it be a 'new' beginning in objective and truthful reporting, regain the confidence of the people, and watch them take a greater interest in what is said and done in their name. Any other way, and Britain will fail!

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  • 15. At 11:36am on 20 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    Quijote1303 and #13.

    I admire your optimistic view of the general standard of most of the 650 Members of Parliament plus the Peers of the Realm.

    In view of recent revelations and indeed going back to 'cash for questions' under the last Tory Government I am afraid I cannot share your faith in their probity.
    When we take into consideration the obvious rising tide of Ministers, MPs and Peers being caught with their fingers in the Public Purse through the Premierships' of Major-Blair-Brown it is abundantly clear a limited 'House' cleaning will NOT do.

    My instinct as a former member of the Armed Forces, a former Teacher and now a retired Economics advisor is the level of Fiscal corruption and venality displayed by UK Parliamentarians can ONLY have taken place with the connivance of all concerned. Whether that was the quiet acquiescence of 'can't see - wont see' or the willing participation by pushing at the clearly open-door of the relevant supervisory office administrators in the end the result was Public Monies fraudulently claimed and fraudulently used by a large number of Publicly Elected so-called servants of the people.
    Self-righteous or not, to those who have been alluding to 'well we will/would do the same' I respond that is simply not the point at issue: These 650 plus Peers are the deliberators, creators and affirmers of the Law of the Land and if they are not to be trusted then a banana republic is all these islands are likely to become.
    When the rot of venality leads to conscious misuse of 'rules and regulations' by Parliamentarians, sent there to preside over the Nation's standards and conduct, then there is nothing "..technically not illegal.." about the claims. It is an affront to 'Democracy' and to the 'Rule of Law' and most especially a gross abuse of the trust placed in them by the Citizens.

    The sleazy malaise in the body-politic of the United Kingdom reaches to all levels: In some ways perhaps it is reflected in the attitudes and policies of both Conservative and NuLabour Governments which increasingly have tended to ignore the UK Public and merely reflect the 'Westminster village' plus 'Business-Media vested interests'.
    How else is it possible to explain a Scottish PM at No.10 with 3 Devolved Governments and the huge majority of the Electorate being English?
    What more is needed to show why all 3 main UK Political Parties have failed to introduce a Referendum on UK Membership of the EU despite numerous polls/surveys suggesting the Electorate want one (whether 'yes' or 'no' I have no idea)?
    Which Political Party could show any credible evidence of Public support/demand for British involvement in Iraq (yet 500+ MPs voted for it)?
    Why is 'Nuclear Energy' again being considered and yet every Public survey/poll indicates it is demonstrably unpopular?

    It is a fact Parliamentarians are elected to Govern on behalf of the UK Public and the major decisions are traditionally left to that small group of 650 plus Peers: Thus, the UK Citizens invest in those 2 Houses enormous confidence they will at all times act honourably and with integrity and consideration for the good of the Nation. Aware of Human Nature, no Electorate expects there will not be the odd 'fallen servant'. It is when the fallen outnumber the others we know something is very wrong indeed.

    No, in the end, I have to say I stand by my original thoughts on this matter when the first Telegraph revelations came out: When a person puts themselves forward for Public Office the highest of ethical and moral standards must be applied to their daily lives and when so many elected have so lamentably fallen short of those values there is no other recourse than to remove them all.

    That's not hyperbole or over-reaction, that is the surgical procedure in a 'Democracy' when all else has failed.

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  • 16. At 11:52am on 20 May 2009, itsdavehere wrote:

    The thing that annoys me about this whole scandal is that the ordinary members of the public have suspected that MP's have been 'on the take' for decades. Why is it only now that it's come to light?
    Better late than never I suppose, but...

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  • 17. At 12:26pm on 20 May 2009, grumpynotoldman wrote:

    When the Emperor has no clothes and the Emperor's aides have no clothes, and the Press reporting on the Emperor and his aides clothes, have no clothes, and the lobbyists manipulating and funding the no clothes that the Emperor and his aides don't have, then "No Clothes!" it is.
    None!
    The fact that we don't "see" they all are stark naked until someone shows us a picture reflects badly on us all.
    Holding a mirror up to everything is always beneficial.
    Try it!
    Ugly aren't we?

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  • 18. At 1:01pm on 20 May 2009, SecretSkivver wrote:

    I'm cheesed off, not only at the politicians, but at the whole public sector/pressure group nexus they serve. I am a skilled engineer( a legal immigrant) competing in the global market-place, and lie awake at night worrying about the level of competition I face and the uncertainty of my pension/savings - and yet I am taxed into the ground to support a wasteful entitlement culture which reaches into every street in the land, attracting new recruits from the rest of the world and from each new generation of pampered and illiterate youth it spawns. What is even more galling is that the passengers on this gravy train openly despise the old-fashioned values which created the social and capital infrastructure on which they gorge.

    I frequently encourage my children to emigrate ASAP - why should they have to pick up the costs of the current generation's self-obsessed and parasitical behaviour ?

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  • 19. At 2:01pm on 20 May 2009, Steve - Iver wrote:

    An excellent report Mark. It is refreshing to see a journalist speak so poetically about the news. Fact is, though, that much of the reporting I see across all media, follows a story for publicity ends rather than following a story for reporting the facts.

    Maybe the fact that government has been self-regulating for so long is the cause behind this, and since the PM advised yesterday that this would no longer be the case, maybe it is to become the journalists job to keep public office in check, but only if you can be truly independent.

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  • 20. At 2:06pm on 20 May 2009, SoUnfair wrote:

    Mark , You wrote "And yet, outside the Westminster village and before this week, how many would even have heard of Michael Martin? "
    I suggest you take a look at some back issues of 'Private Eye' magazine;
    they were reporting on Michael Martin long before this expense claims story broke. He was even accorded the honour of his own poem in the style of Robert Burns , "The Ballad of Speaker Martin"

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  • 21. At 3:40pm on 20 May 2009, jdsholdencaulfield wrote:

    If the MPS can't regulate their own expenses how can we expect them to be able to govern? Pathetic; Brown passing the decision to someone else as usual.

    On an unrelated topic can anyone tell me why PAYE payments now are paid to Citibank and RBS instead of the Bank Of England? Is this more tax payers money being lent to these wonderful institutions through the back door?

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  • 22. At 4:32pm on 20 May 2009, Joan Olivares wrote:

    Dear Mark,
    Please don't publish this. I'd like the BBC to investigate what really happened to 7-10, top level geneticists and virologists.One in England was possibly suicided, another dissapeared into the woods and then the other was Ivins, who the FBI claimed committed suicide. It's important to connect the dots for viewers because its difficult for people to see the big picture.

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  • 23. At 5:45pm on 20 May 2009, pandatank wrote:

    Post #2 has introduced a concept I have been banging on for years about to anyone who will listen and is interested in attaining a political sytstem more akin to democracy than anything presently in operation anywhere in the world. But I think some refinement is necessary. People don't want to spend all their time voting on issues that don't concern them and so the likelihood is that they won't vote (thus again the minorities with "interests" will rule). A better idea is that if say 30MPs declare an issue contentious, it goes to referendum. This would also give the media a purpose other than "gossip" interpreting "legalese" for their respective readerships. (the problem with "plain" English is that it's often not (plain) and liable to misinterpretation. Much recent legislation has made an effort to be in plain English and as a result doesn't do what it was intended for and furthermore affects people in ways not intended eg. Anti - Harassment laws haven't greatly curtailed the activities of the Paparazzi or celebrity stalkers but have made employers liable for harassment of one employee by another even during out of work activities. For centuries we have entrusted our faith in the "people" within the system without addressing any of the failings of that system. This was fine when we had evolved a fine tuned balance of power between the myriad arms of the "establishment" but when all the power has been shifted to the "executive" (the cabinet) as has been the case over the last 20yrs or so, the Government believes it has a mandate for any last minute hare brained knee jerk reaction that comes into its head.

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  • 24. At 7:07pm on 20 May 2009, John Ellis wrote:

    Joan you mean Mr Bush fema coffins and blue beam?

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  • 25. At 7:47pm on 20 May 2009, newspaceman wrote:

    Joan 22 :

    "It's important to connect the dots for viewers because its difficult for people to see the big picture."

    Patronising, or what ? I take it you have no problem. Any chance of a response to my previous,still negelected, points I made to you - wise one.

    cheers

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  • 26. At 06:34am on 21 May 2009, Joan Olivares wrote:

    Dear Newspaceman1,
    Yeah your always itching for a fight so like the crazy guy on the bus, I'm trying not to make direct eye contact with you.If its under the police radar that means they haven't been caught yet. Also, the statistics we do have are only who Soca and the DEA have managed to catch. Judging by what community criminal says, to me that seems to be a lot of people dealing drugs in his neighborhood and he would know. As for connecting the dots, few people really understand just how deeply the Mafia controls their government. That's not patronising, it's an observation.
    And to Community Criminal. I only know a bit about the FEMA camps.

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  • 27. At 4:24pm on 21 May 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    Interestingly, one of the exceptions to freedom of information requests is for journalism.

    Ask the BBC how much they spent on biscuits for the management's afternoon tea and they will have to tell.

    Ask them (example) how much was spent on gas guzzling air travel for a named 'environment' correspondent and they will not tell you. Journalism is exempt.

    So when MPs expenses are an open book in a few months, the expenses of the journalist reporting it will still be secret.

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  • 28. At 11:18am on 22 May 2009, aervac2 wrote:

    One of the irony's of a prime minister that feels that he/she is above parliament and the people who elected them is that they will turn elsewhere for guidance as it suits them, albeit unelected advisors, the church and foreign leaders.

    Take Tony Blair before the Iraq war and the debates that clearly showed that the British people were not on for joining up with the Americans. Blair went to see the Archbishop of Canterbury followed by a visit to the Pope in Rome, where both men told Blair not to invade Iraq, but he went ahead anyway, following spurious allegations of weapons of mass distruction.

    I often wondered since what HM the Queen must of thought of this, afterall the monarch is the head of the established English church and the Archbishop of Canterbury is her most senior appointee. In some ways it is a pity that the monarch no longer has powers over the Parliament, but then that is democracy afterall.

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  • 29. At 2:14pm on 22 May 2009, jdsholdencaulfield wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 30. At 3:43pm on 22 May 2009, jdsholdencaulfield wrote:

    Try again!

    To get to the bottom of the expenses fiasco we should give the MPs an amnesty from prosecution so they stop hiding behind the rules and admit they have done wrong without the fear of admitting they may have broken the law (we all know there will never be a sucessful prosecution).

    Anyone agree?

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  • 31. At 10:35pm on 22 May 2009, aervac2 wrote:

    I have another idea seeing as they took the Queens shilling, let them wear a crown tattooed on their forehead.

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  • 32. At 1:18pm on 27 May 2009, dominangel23 wrote:

    The expense system in place at the moment is obviously open to blatant abuse and as a whole, all and sundry were quite willing to partake of that abuse until the freedom of information act came into being. We are now hearing lame and self pitying apologies from all sides of the house and are expected to accept those apologies with an open heart. NO SIR. First of all let me ask you if that apology came from true remorse at STEALING from your country and therefor the less unfortunate within, or, are you simply apologising and begging forgivness for being caught with your fingers in the till?
    This whole system of recompense needs a thorough work over, and, since our worthy members of the "politik" actually put themselves forward for election and therefor "the job". I would suggest this: All members to receive a basic salary (approx 60,000 GBP), A staggered expense budget depending on distance from Westminster, Up to 50 miles: 8000 GBP. 50-150: 12000 GBP. 150-300: 14000 GBP. 300-450: 16000 GBP. 450-600: 18000 GBP. 600+ : 20000 GBP.
    In addition, all members will be provided with 1 secretary plus two computers for parliamentary use within Westminster (to be paid out of government funds) and 1 secretaty plus two computers for constituancy work (to be paid out of Party funds). No other expenses to be considered under any circumstances. Those figures give an average of 100,000 GBP per annum as a working salary, which, multiplied by our 625 members gives us a grand total of 625,000,00 GBP as our annual members wage and expenses bill compared to the approx 1312,500,00 GBP we are being stumped with now and of which, a goodly proportion seems to be spent on duck sheds, moats, and sundry top end home entertainment equipment. If you are really serious about your job and working for your country then get out there and do it but if you are in it for the free ride then I suggest that you apply for a good banking job at the RBS.

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  • 33. At 5:22pm on 27 May 2009, xavierbloggz wrote:

    Payment based on distance ia not the answer. IF the MP has to attend parliement the simplist way is to have suitable living quarters owned and run by the government. A central sectretarial office and a daily food allowance. NO employment of relatives and rail travel costs covered by travel warrants. The sort of warrant a soldier uses for travel would do nicely. Certainly a reduction in the number of MPs and a maximum four years term and no returns. A complete cull of the Lords down to a 100 elected members.

    I think that journalists too have a reputation of 'enjoying' their expense account jollys. So small wonder they didn't want to question the MPs maybe a bit too close to home eh!

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  • 34. At 11:58pm on 27 May 2009, jamesthought wrote:

    Forgive me for saying so, but I have never seen such a load of twaddle.
    We are supposed to be talking about journalists not people cosying up to get tossed snippets of copy
    The question is who is employing these supposed seekers after the truth. They have presumably got what they wanted: the public have certainly not got what they needed.

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  • 35. At 00:26am on 28 May 2009, jamesthought wrote:

    Forgive me for saying so, but I have never seen such a load of twaddle.
    We are supposed to be talking about journalists not people "cosying" up to get tossed snippets of copy
    The question is who is employing these supposed seekers after the truth. They have presumably got what they wanted: the public have certainly not got what they needed.


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  • 36. At 2:26pm on 28 May 2009, SiriusWonderblast wrote:

    Let's not get distracted. It's not the ermine and the gold leaf and the ceremony whih are at fault. It would be a sad day if we couldn't have them. The only tradition which needs changing is the one which has built up lately, of getting one's nose in the trough and keeping it there, exploiting one's public position for every lat penny that cn ebwring from it. That is a question of attitude and intention, it comes from the core of the individuals involved, and has nothing to do with tradition.

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