/ 24 May 2009

Church leader calls for end to British expenses leaks

The head of the Anglican church urged a halt on Saturday to ”systematic humiliation” of British members of Parliament (MPs) in an expenses scandal, warning it could undermine faith in democracy.

Media revelations of extravagant expense claims have infuriated recession-hit Britons and fuelled pressure for an early parliamentary election, with growing numbers of voters appearing set to reject mainstream political parties.

Claims made by more than 200 of Parliament’s 646 MPs have now been exposed in a series of reports by the Daily Telegraph newspaper based on information passed on by a former British army officer from an unnamed source.

”Many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made,” said Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican church.

”The continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy,” he wrote in the Times newspaper.

Hours after his comments were published, two further MPs said they would be standing down at the next election, which must be held by June next year.

The Independent newspaper joined the criticism of the continuing exposures, saying they risked eroding Britain’s democracy if all MPs were tarred with the same brush.

‘Crude bullying”

”What began as a justified critique of MPs’ behaviour has degenerated into crude bullying,” it said, dismissing as naive the idea the row had reengaged the public with politics.

”The public is engaged with the pillorying of MPs. A public flogging will always attract an audience,” it said.

The speaker of the House of Commons has resigned, a minister has stepped down, two MPs have been suspended by the ruling Labour party and now six have declared they will not run in the next election.

MP Andrew MacKay, a former senior aide to opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, said on Saturday he would stand down to avoid becoming a distraction during the campaign.

MacKay (59) had already quit as Cameron’s senior political adviser after confirming he and his wife Julie Kirkbride, also a Conservative MP, had claimed ”second home” expense allowances on both their residences.

Former Labour government minister Ian McCartney (58) said he would be standing down from Parliament for health reasons.

A party spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the expenses row and McCartney had not been forced to go. But the MP’s move came days after he announced he had voluntarily repaid £15 000 of expense claims last year for refurbishing his second home after the rules were tightened.

European and local elections to be held on June 4 are expected to reflect the level of popular disgust, with lower voter turnout and a move towards fringe parties predicted.

A poll published in the Guardian newspaper found two-thirds of voters sampled want Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call an election before the end of this year.

More than a quarter of voters are planning to reject mainstream political parties in favour of minority ones because of the expenses crisis, the Guardian/ICM poll found. — Reuters