London bridge is falling down.
And the British House of Commons is ablaze.
Not as the result of gunpowder and plot, but the recession.
That great leveler -- sparked by the incendiary failure of the US sub-prime market -- has wreaked havoc on the parliamentary system that Britain has given the world. When I say "given," I mean imposed. And, of course, when I say "world," I mean the Commonwealth. And timely havoc it is too.
If you're British or American, the word "democracy" usually means everything is "just fine thank you very much. No corruption to see here." Unfortunately, the so-called existence of democracy means that most of us go on auto-pilot when it comes to our political system and our politicians. But like our warm beer, disdain and disappointment by the British public in politicians has been brewing for sometime, reaching a tipping point in recent days on this side of the Atlantic. This tepid interest in the workings of government, has left us a little pie-eyed and drunk on our own pomp: "Now look here Johnny Foreigner, our parliamentary system is over a thousand years old and our Palace of Westminster is a neo-gothic architectural marvel. So you see, there really can't possibly be anything wrong with it. Tea?"
With the London Telegraph drip-feeding leaked details of official expenses claimed by Members of Parliament over the last few years, the prollies are inflamed and ready to dig up Guy Fawkes.
"I hear the peasants are revolting..?"
"They are indeed your Lordship."
Our Speaker of the House has resigned (the first to do so in over 300 years), for failing to be seen to maintain the integrity of the House. Ironically, he was hung out to dry by the MP's he had sought to protect when the police began to ask questions of their alleged misappropriation of the national kitty. The MP's blamed him for not moving with the times and not being transparent enough about their questionable finances. We invented irony as you know. The details of many of the most ludicrous financial claims have been widely reported, including the infamous "duck house" claim by the Member of Parliament for my very own constituency -- a stalwart of the Conservative party ("Republican equivalent to you, Johnny Foreigner") for three decades. The press have justifiably made an example of him, "Hoisted", said one commentator,"...by his own canard." In the meantime, the British press has been awash with...well, hogwash from Members of the House of Commons, one of whom -- a government Minister -- this week ventured onto BBC television apologetically waving a signed cheque (that's the proper spelling Johnny -- enjoy.) for the amount she is said to have withheld in capital gains tax payments for mortgage benefits received as a sitting Member of Parliament. Some Members of Parliament have even managed to pay tax with...yes that's right, taxpayers money. A neat trick, if you like prison food. Stranger still are warnings by MP's of potentially imminent suicides among their colleagues, if the Telegraph continues to publicly flog our elected officials in this way.
That political lives and careers have been instantly incinerated by the sweeping innuendo of a British newspaper is nothing new of course. Politicians have long been fodder for the rabble-rousing editor of any tabloid, but when exactly did we stop respecting or appreciating those we elect to represent us in the legislative process? No longer the honourable profession, but figureheads to the self-serving, coated in spin and smarm. Objects of national ridicule at any opportunity, none more so than at present, when Britain is really feeling the economic pinch. With rising unemployment, falling house prices, negative inflation and invisible interest rates, nest-feathering with public money is about as dangerous as placing your wedding tackle in a lion's mouth and flicking his backside with a wound-up wet towel. Welcome to the post-crash finger-pointing that emanates from any good recession: "Good evening my name is Patsy and I will be your guide." Did any one of Madoff's clients stop to think that his very name might indicate that he may not be the most trustworthy of financial advisors? Of course, making off without payment or theft are not the clear-cut offenses for which British MP's stand accused. Not even fraud, for the time being, has been seriously considered by investigators -- but something far worse: "letting the side down." Britain loves a loser, but if you disappoint this nation, you do so at your own peril -- as Gordon Brown is quickly learning. The Prime Minister is now coming under increasing pressure to call a general election. With recent surveys showing more than 60% of the nation feel that he shouldn't delay, the general mood is for a clean sweep of the lower House of Parliament. But a greater opportunity awaits. Perhaps this is a time to attempt a proper overhaul of our old system, instead of merely replacing politicians and Speakers in a new-for-old. Merely setting up independent review boards of MP's expenses can't be the answer, after all, it is the House of Commons who since 1949, like US Congress, has powers over the upper House in economic matters. And If they can't even be trusted to organize their own personal finances...
This is a rare opportunity to show one of the great advantages of a democracy: evolution. It shouldn't be missed. Particularly as the current British Prime Minister continues to sit unelected, without a British mandate to run the country. Since Tony Blair stepped aside in 2007 and Brown took over, he has yet to call an election for fear of losing power. But no, it's fine because this is a democracy. Nothing to see here, move along.