The expenses scandal continues to stoke up outrage and fury everywhere from deepest Tunbridge Wells right up to the north of Scotland, as the credibility of the political class continues to sink into the mire.
Commentators from New York to Berlin are realising that the crisis is far deeper than simple embarrassment over dodgy expenses claims, like Chancellor Alistair Darling’s for accountancy advice or New Labour deputy leader Harriett Harman’s £10,000 for a “media trainer”.
As a New York Times writer notes, “the expenses abuses are only the tip of a malaise that has seen parliament grow ever more remote from the voters, and governments grow ever more oblivious of Parliament”. He compares today’s popular resentment to the time when the Great Reform Act was “speeded through Parliament by riots in several cities”.
The constitutional crisis, marked by the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin, is much more than a storm over a jaded and discredited institution. Britain’s modern parliament was the result of a Civil War and the political revolution of 1688 which enabled the emerging capitalist class to rule after the end of the feudal monarchy. So what is happening now is no small thing. What is at stake is the entire capitalist system of political rule and control.
The leaders of all the parliamentary parties and editorialists from the Telegraph to the Guardian hope and pray they can soothe over anger by a “root and branch overhaul” that will restore the credibility of politicians to the people. Facing not only public scrutiny of their greed but also the loss of their seats in the next election, MPs are looking desperately for ways to rescue the existing order of things.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson, for example, is calling for electoral reform. Others hope that proportional representation will do the trick. The Tory leader David Cameron is purging his party of MPs from the shires – who have used expenses to clean their moats and build duck houses – in a bid to appease the electorate.
But what the advocates of parliamentary reform miss out is that behind the constitutional crisis is the even deeper crisis of globalised capitalism itself. The revelations of parliamentary sleaze shows Parliament for what it is – not the centre of real political power but a club of parasitic hangers-on, far more concerned with looking after their own interests than those of the electorate.
The question must therefore arise – where then are the real centres of power? These are actually to be found in the boardroms of the corporations and the banks. And it is no accident that the scandal comes in the wake of convulsions in the banking system which go to the very heart of globalised corporate capitalism.
It is becoming abundantly clear that all the parties which make up the existing political classes are incapable of dealing with the worsening economic crisis. In fact, they are far more concerned with hiding their own greed at a time when hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs, their savings and their pensions as the effects of the economic crisis take hold.
Yes, the existing parliamentarians need to be swept away. But we desperately need new forms of democracy and representation and that must happen at the same time as a fundamental restructuring of the economic system itself, to create not-for-profit forms of co-operative enterprises in place of a profit-driven capitalism that is in meltdown on all fronts.
A World to Win secretary