From the Wall Street Journal, a story on a British scandal that threatens to “undermine the public’s remaining faith in the probity . . . of Parliament itself”:
A week or so ago, the Telegraph newspaper got its hands on some of the juiciest secrets in Britain—the dubious expenses claimed over the last few years by British politicians. The scale of the cupidity is astonishing. The evidence suggests that members of all parties—Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, even, most impressively, representatives of Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party whose members for years actually refused to take their seats because they didn’t recognize Westminster’s writ—have been bilking the system for all they’re worth.
The scandal threatens to be as corrosive as anything seen in Britain in decades—this isn’t just about a party abusing power; it threatens to undermine the public’s remaining faith in the probity, not just of politicians, but of Parliament itself.
It all started in a classically pragmatic way. During Britain’s brutal recession of the 1980s, Parliament honed a clever device to increase members’ pay without voting for unpopular salary hikes: It quietly expanded the list of living expenses that could be claimed for reimbursement by taxpayers.
The result was a secret handshake in the halls of Westminster that put thousands of extra pounds in the pockets of British politicians each year—without the public knowing the details. The government “was saying, ‘You can’t increase your wages,’ so they created a myriad of other ways for MPs to supplement their income,” said Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick. “People were told, ‘You don’t have to buy a TV anymore or a cooker or a sofa. You can claim it.’ ”
Politicians have sought and received reimbursement for claims ranging from a bag of manure and light bulbs to home-cinema systems.