A Very British Revolution: The Expenses Scandal and How to Save Our Democracy by Martin Bell
|A Very British Revolution: The Expenses Scandal and How to Save Our Democracy by Martin Bell|
|Genre: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A insider's look at the background to the scandal of the MPs expenses and the wider ramifications. A recommended read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: April 2010|
|Publisher: Icon Books|
I've long thought it strange that of all the ills that have befallen the country over the last few years it was not really the bankers' follies or the swine flu that never really got off the ground but the venality of our MPs which caught the public's attention. Compared to the amounts required to bail out a bank the sums involved were minute, but moats, floating duck houses and flipping houses caught the imagination and our elected representatives became just a little wary of admitting what they did for a living.
Martin Bell is uniquely placed to write about what has happened. He entered Parliament as an Independent, standing against Neil Hamilton at Tatton. He promised that he would be a one-term MP and was as good as his word, despite many requests that he should stand again. He enjoyed the constituency work, was a member of the Committee on Standards and Privileges but was not schooled in the way of politics, or the House of Commons and this proved a major burden.
Another burden (or benefit, depending on your point of view) was that as an Independent there were no senior members of his party to take him to one side and explain how to make the most of his expenses. Not being a member of a party he knew little of what the honourable members were getting up to. As the scandal unfolded in the Daily Telegraph in 2009 he had the benefit of an insider's knowledge and a spectator's view.
I'll confess to following the unfolding scandals with the voyeurism of someone gawking at a road crash and then thoroughly enjoying No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner – the account of how the story came to be in the Daily Telegraph. It is, though, a scandal with legs and it will run much as Watergate did. The Duck Island Parliament will go down in history as the most venal – because that is how the public have perceived it.
Bell is by profession a journalist and he tells a good and compelling story, not just about what the MPs have been getting up to (although you'd perhaps be better looking at No Expenses Spared for the details) but about the wider ramifications. There's a stark contrast between the wide screen plasma TV which the taxpayer paid for and the privations suffered by our troops in Afghanistan.
The problem is, of course, not just the money. It's the fact that MPs make their own rules with little to deter them from being at best unreasonable and at worst fraudulent. Even after all that has happened there are still many MPs who think that the scandal will die down and it will be back to business as usual. Remarkably few MPs were completely untainted by the scandal and the parties have not been even-handed in the way that they have treated the miscreants. There's little sign that the problem has been solved.
It's worth reading A Very British Revolution for its unique view point and grasp of the wider essentials. The paperback, published in 2010 is updated with a chapter on the Kelly Committee and the Legg reports.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you'd like to know more about what was happening at the time we can recommend The Broken Compass: How British Politics lost its way by Peter Hitchens, Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City by Philip Augar and The Fall of the House of Credit by Alistair Milne.
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