With the announcement that Michael Martin, The Speaker of the House of
Commons, is to stand down in June, the MPs Expenses scandal has claimed
its most high profile victim. He will be the first speaker to (in effect) be forced out of office for 300 years. For him, a week has most certainly been a long time in politics. However the crisis shows no sign of abating with the Euro elections only a few weeks away. Workers are increasingly sick of the way they are being expected to pay the price for the Credit Crunch in terms of wage cuts and job losses whereas those at the top are raking it in whether it be bonuses for bosses or huge expenses payouts for MPs. Rob Sewell looks at this developing
political crisis in Britain and explains the real background to it.
Political Crisis Deepens In Britain
is experiencing a deep crisis – not only in terms of a collapsing economy – but
a political and social crisis affecting its very foundations. The daily
revelations in the Daily Telegraph of the misappropriation of public
funds and outright corruption amongst MPs of all major parties have caused
public outrage at a time of mass redundancies, repossessions and pay cuts.
These astounding events mark a ‘sea-change’ in British society.
The public mood had already been fuelled by
the billions of taxpayers’ money to bail-out the banks. This had reached huge
levels of anger against the likes of Sir Fred Goodwin, the head of the Royal
Bank of Scotland,
who was responsible for the sacking of thousands of workers but who walked away
with a pension fund of £16 million.
Normally, such corruption in Parliament is
kept under wraps for fear of undermining the whole system, but periodically we
get a glimpse – a reflection of the underlying crisis of capitalism itself.
Now there is a deluge of non-stop
revelations about MPs claiming money for second mortgages, swimming pool
maintenance and all manner of luxuries, while they berate the unemployed for
scrounging off the state. Government ministers are also involved up to their
necks, including Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, Geoff Hoon, the
transport secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. Two
Labour Peers are being suspended from the House of Lords for taking money for
questions. The mood has now become even uglier at every sordid revelation and
the hypocrisy of the establishment and its kept politicians, who are completely
out of touch with the way ordinary workers live.
Harriet Harman, leader of the House,
pleaded for people not "to feel that all MPs are corrupt and the system is
rotten." But that is the widespread public perception. They see ministers
living in grace-and-favour accommodation while claiming for second homes, or
using taxpayers’ money to profit in the property market, while thousands of
family homes are being repossessed.
"The public mood in Britain this
week has been beyond extraordinary", states Matthew Engel in the Financial
Times. "The only analogy that springs to mind is with the hysteria that
took hold following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 12 years ago…Then, the British turned on the Royal
Family for its refusal to join in the display of emotional incontinence that
they thought ought to characterise grief. The crowds assembled outside
Westminster Abbey for the funeral were so worked up that if Diana’s brother,
Earl Spencer, had ended his eulogy with a call to arms, I am convinced they
would have marched behind him to overthrow the monarchy." (FT, 16-17 May)
There was an enormous mood in the country
surrounding Diana’s funeral which took on an anti-establishment character. This
served to undermine the monarchy as a reserve weapon of future reaction. There
is a similar mood now today, which is being fed by the tabloid press and is
serving to undermine the political establishment. The Daily Mail’s front
page on Friday resembled a Wild West wanted poster, featuring the MPs facing
the most damaging allegations. "BRING THEM TO JUSTICE!", it screamed. Last
week, The Sun depicted "snouts-in-the-trough MPs" playing "Mpopoly". A
Sunday paper offered readers a competition to "live free like an MP – all your
bills paid for a year!"
Just as the gutter press howled over
Diana’s death in order to sell more newspapers, so they are whipping up the
situation today to build up their falling circulation. But they are unleashing
feelings that they will not be able to control – feelings that are taking on a
very anti-establishment colour This is not only affecting the working class,
but also the middle classes.
As the rich get richer under this New
Labour government and working people are facing the brunt of this economic
crisis, our Parliamentary representatives have been indulging themselves at
taxpayers’ expense. Beneath the apparent calm mood on the surface of society,
there is burning indignation and anger, which has now burst through over these
On last Thursday’s BBC programme Question
Time, the angry mood burst out against the MPs on the panel, who were savaged
by the audience. They must have thought they were going to be lynched.
Worried by where all this could lead, the Financial
Times warned that "the general anger will not dissipate without some kind
of catharsis. In 1997, the funeral did its job; it was an end, not a
beginning." Today this is "the scandal at the heart of British politics" and
there is no obvious ending in sight.
It is no accident that the three basic
pillars of the capitalist establishment are the monarchy, Church of England and
Parliament, all of which are in crisis at the present time.
What the ruling class fears is the radical
change in the public consciousness. People are completely fed up with the lies
and hypocrisy that they have been fed for years. They are saying enough is
enough. It is the stuff of revolutions, where small quantitative changes have
qualitatively transformed the situation. Today’s professional politicians are
despised and loathed by ordinary people. The public standing of Parliament, as
with the monarchy, is extremely low. They are not trusted. As we have
explained, we have entered a new situation of abrupt and sharp changes in the
situation, where such revelations can become the catalyst for the general
discontent within society.
The politicians – as well as the thinking
strategists of capital – are frightened that this affair is dangerously
spinning out of control. They tried to first of all blame the administrators
for forcing MPs to take the money. They then tried to reform the system, but
failed miserably. But whatever they do they will not succeed in regaining the
public trust. It is too little, too late. It reflects a much deeper malaise in
Already Ministers’ heads have begun to
role. So serious has it become that the Metropolitan police and Crown
Prosecution service has been brought in to establish an ‘expenses panel’ to
examine complaints and see whether they merit further investigation. This story
could run and run up to the next general election which must take place by 2010.
Brown is running to catch up with a
situation that is out of control. Cameron is also desperately attempting to
seize the initiative, but is blighted by allegations against Tory MPs, one of
whom, Douglas Hogg, claimed money to clean out his moat. Others have claimed
for tennis courts, swimming pools, paddock, maids and chandeliers, all of which
underlines the squirearchy life-style of the Tories. There is now a dash to pay
back some of the money, but the damage has been done. Others, like Labour’s
Shahid Malik, who was forced to resign from the Cabinet, protested "I’ve done
nothing wrong" and the money was "legitimately mine" but reluctantly agreed to
pay the public money to charity.
But that excuse now belongs to another era,
which abruptly came to an end when the lid was publicly raised on the scandal.
The public standing of MPs is lower than the gutter press.
The mood amongst MPs was shock and fear.
Fear that the public will turn on them as individuals and the established
parties. One Tory MP was repeatedly in tears at the hostile emails she was
getting. One from a constituent said: "Why don’t you just commit suicide?"
Nobody knows where the dust will settle.
Many MPs will stand down at the next election, fearing the wrath of their
electorate. "Why would they bother?" said one party official. "The abuse, the
rude comments to their partners and family, the kids being teased, the flak at
the village fete."
"This is the biggest constitutional crisis
since the abdication of Edward VIII" said one Labour MP. But it is far more
serious than that. The whole political establishment is in the dock.
Labour, the party in power with the most
sitting MPs is likely to suffer most. It was no accident that the scandal broke
at this time in the run up to a general election. The reason for this was to
undermine the Labour government and prepare the way for a strong Tory
administration. But the plan has back-fired badly, with all MPs tainted,
including those from the Tory Party. Even worse, it has brought down the public
wrath against the political establishment as a whole. This is very dangerous
from the point of view of the ruling class.
The political scandals in Italy in the mid 1990s were to
result in the collapse of the Christian Democrats, the main bourgeois party
that had ruled the country since the Second World War. The crisis was very
dangerous at the time as it unleashes uncontrollable forces that threatened the
entire political edifice. There were similar dangers in the Dreyfus affair in France at the
turn of the 19th century. The exposure of a military cover-up
resulted in widespread anger against the military and the establishment,
provoking a social crisis. It served to expose the rottenness of the regime and
a question mark was placed over the whole capitalist system. Lenin explained
that with a bold socialist leadership the situation could have led to
There is also another angle to the present
British scandal. The current economic crisis of capitalism has resulted in huge
government borrowing and deficits everywhere, which will need to be paid back
and urgently resolved. This will mean in the very near future massive cuts in
public expenditure. In Britain,
they are talking about an austerity programme that will last more than 20
years! The Tories are already sharpening their axe for their new-found role. In
order that these savage cuts in living standards can be introduced, the
capitalist class in Britain
will require a strong government at the next election. For them, that means a
strong Tory government that will do its bidding.
"The Tory leader is concerned" went on the
article, "the revelations about his MPs’ taxpayer-funded lifestyles will make
it more difficult for a Conservative government to justify proposed reforms,
such as curbs on benefit claimants, to an increasingly sceptical public."
"This just makes it harder for politicians
to take the tough decisions on public finances we need to take" said one
shadow cabinet minister. "It means we’re operating in a more hostile
This is a major problem for the ruling
class. They need to carry through vicious cuts not seen since the 1930s. A
strong government will be required to do this work given the massive opposition
that will result. But this sleaze scandal has undermined the Tories as well as
Labour. The recent Populus poll saw a decline in support for both parties.
While the Tories are likely to win the next election given the disillusionment
amongst Labour supporters, the authority of Parliament as an institution has
been undermined. This will also be the case with a new Tory government, as
Cameron realises. It will not have the necessary authority in the eyes of most people,
despite it being the elected government.
This will simply serve to galvanise all
opposition to the Tory government that will inevitably emerge. This will make
their task even harder, as they have realised. This means that the next Tory
government will be a government of crisis. Cameron has already made it clear
that they will go onto the offensive as soon as they are elected. He stated
that Thatcher had made a mistake in delaying her tough measures until 1981,
losing two valuable years. But their room for manoeuvre will now be limited
given their badly tarnished authority arising from this scandal.
But to press on with their austerity cuts
immediately will not save them either. It will push the working class onto the
industrial plain and unleash a new stage in the class struggle in Britain. It
cannot be ruled out, given the weakness of the next Tory government, that they
will be brought down as the Heath government was in 1974. Whatever happens, it
will stir up the hatred of the working class and usher in a period of class
battles the likes of which we have not seen for decades.
The sleaze will stick whatever they do. The
ruling class can see what the Marxists can see, namely the inevitability of a
social explosion in Britain.
The crisis today is a harbinger of what is to come but on a far higher level.
In this turbulent period that has opened up, the working class will place firmly
on the order of the day the socialist transformation of society. That is the
real lesson of these unprecedented events.
Click here to read more on the MPs expenses scandal
Click here to read more about the background to the crisis in Britain