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U.K. expense brouhaha triggers reform

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Kai Ryssdal: Today British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to punish lawmakers in his party who have been playing fast and loose with their expenses reports. Brown said offending members of Parliament would be banned from seeking re-election. And that’ll likely be the least of the changes this story brings. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports from London that the scandal has triggered promises of radical constitutional reform.

STEPHEN BEARD: The Daily Telegraph newspaper started it all, publishing day-by-day MP’s most closely guarded secrets. How much they’re getting in parliamentary expenses and what for. One claimed $600 for horse manure. Another: $2,500 for a duckhouse. Some claimed tens of thousands for non-existent mortgages. Voters are furious. Inside parliament scores of MPs have been cowering in disgrace, says Labor member Stephen Pound.

STEPHEN POUND: It’s like a slasher movie where every morning we come in and see who’s still alive. It really is very, very desperate and very dark. But what makes it worse, it’s nobody else’s fault except our own.

All the main parties have been damaged. In a bid to rebuild public trust, they’ve been vying with each other to offer the most radical change. Here’s the Prime Minister suggesting that an outside body should control MP’s pay and expenses.

PRIME MINISTER BROWN: Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman’s club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

And here’s the Conservative leader of the opposition going even further.

DAVID CAMERON: We will begin a massive redistribution of power in our country from the political elite to the man and the women in the street.

He wants to cut the size of parliament, reduce the power of a prime minister. Have more referendums. But some commentators say these grand plans miss the point. The people just want politicians that don’t fiddle their expenses. At the next election, all those MPs tainted by this affair could lose their seats — roughly half the House of Commons.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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