The current scandal over expenses claimed by nearly all UK Members of Parliament threatens to tar all politicians with the same brush. It will be difficult to dislodge the public perception of MPs en-masse as exploiters of parliamentary privileges and allowances in order to boost their own lifestyles.
The idea of Parliament being an exclusive ‘club’ of the privileged and the rich is of course nothing new and predates the current MPs expenses arrangements. Indeed the 1947 film Fame is the Spur told the story of a young socialist firebrand (played by Michael Redgrave) who gets elected to Parliament and eventually gets absorbed into the very system of privilege that he set out to change. Redgrave’s character ends up rich and privileged but looses his roots and ideals in the process.
The expenses scandal serves to boost the burning cynicism that many people hold about politicians and politics in general. And I use the word cynicism specifically; I feel that people do care about the political issues of the day and are not apathetic, but rather cynical that traditional politics can actually make any difference.
Grassroots politicians need to re-convince local people that they are inspired by a wish to serve their communities and make a real difference in society, rather than seeking professional political careers and purely personal satisfaction. Integrity needs to be rebuilt at the grassroots with local politicians re-engaging with people on the doorstep, in the shopping centres, churches and the pubs – wherever people meet. They need to rebuild confidence that public debate on the issues of the day are important and will lead to action on the results of those discussions.
I am optimistic about this positive change. Communities are already full of local community activists and existing local politicians who do a fantastic job in representing their constituents. They do so because they care about the people and issues they advocate for. They need to reclaim their political parties and cleanse the political system of the stench and fallout from the present crisis.
Also posted on Your Say – Your Mail.