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Rotten to the core: allowances crisis exposes the British political elite

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The British political system has been thrown into its most serious crisis for a generation. Leaked figures over MPs allowances claims reveal the most appalling corruption, leading to an explosion in public anger

Leaders of the main parties are desperate to shift the blame onto the system. Just as Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling talk about the global financial crisis as something that has nothing to do with them, so now the leaders of all the main parties talk about a “broken system”, “rotten to the core”, that has “completely lost the confidence of the public”.

The black and white simplicity of the injustice makes it so powerful. As millions of people face the dole queue and pay cuts, our MPs have been making the most outrageous claims for so-called “expenses” (in truth, the whole system is designed to disguise what MPs earn, giving them an actual income far exceeding their basic rate).

“Tory Grandees” have lived up to their stereotype: wealthy parasites, who are never content with what they have, always looking for more.

David Heathcoat-Amory claimed over £380 to manure his garden. Sir Michael Spicer spent over £5650 in 9 months for gardening and the cost of hanging a chandelier. Douglas Hogg spent more than £2000 to have the moat cleaned at his country estate. Michael Ancram claimed more than £14,000 per year on three properties valuing £8 million.

Anyone who thinks the Liberal Democrats were the honest party should think again too. Party leader Nick Clegg claimed £7000 a year ago to renovate his home, and then claimed £12,000 for his mortgage, £1700 for council tax and £600 in telephone bills. That Clegg is now ordering Lib Dem MPs to return profits made on second home expenses shows his opportunism, not his honest credentials.

But in many ways it is the claims of the Labour MPs, elected by working class voters with electoral campaigns funded by the trade unions, that are the biggest disgrace. Twelve years in government and they didn’t just do nothing for working people; they attacked us, taking privatisation in the public sector further than Thatcher ever dared and time and again attacking the trade unions. Now it turns out they were living like princes in the process.

Phil Hope used £41,000 to refurbish his home. Hazel Blears sold a flat declaring it a primary home to Inland Revenue when she had been claiming on it as a second home, and so avoided paying capital gains tax on a profit of £45,000. The taxpayer paid almost £10,000 for stamp duty when Alistair Darling bought a flat, which changed his designated second home.

Could it be clearer that these people are not like us?

They don’t just spend their political lives serving the interests of the rich: they also live like the rich too.

Constitutional crisis

Now attention has focused on the speaker of house, who has battled to keep details of MPs expenses claims private – blocking their publication under the Freedom of Information Act and even threatening a police investigation when they were leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

In historic scenes in the House of Commons, MPs rounded on the speaker – usually an untouchable figure above party politics – who now faces a vote of no confidence on Tuesday.

Of course this is a classic move. As the whole of parliament finds itself disgraced, they are now looking for a fall guy: someone to blame for the scandal of British capitalist politics.

David Cameron, meanwhile, smells the blood of the Labour government. He has called for a general election demagogically saying, "parliament has failed, so it must be dissolved.” “We must go to the people and let them decide”.

But what choice would working people disgusted by the corruption have in an immediate general election? They would simply get the opportunity to vote the same political class back into power.

In all likelihood, the Tories would win and a new government would carry out vicious attacks on the working class. This is no solution.

New party, new politics needed

When Chartists in Britain campaigned for radical democratic reform in favour of working people over a hundred years ago, they were right to say MPs should be paid. Up till then only the wealthy that didn’t need to work could serve as MPs. Though the Chartists did not win, their struggle was a first battle in the fight for the universal suffrage that would eventually give workers and women a say in who runs the government.

The Chartists had hoped democracy was the basis for socialist, working class and progressive politics – but capitalism turned out to undermined democratic principles. Politics became a profession, becoming an MP became a career – they tell themselves they could be corporate executives, barristers, capitalists, and demand equivalent pay. Working class electorates were there to be manipulated not served – a privileged political elite evolved that was in the pocket of private capital.

Clearly, a new kind of working class, anticapitalist politics is needed.

Of course MPs should be paid, but they should get the average wage of a skilled worker, so they can know how it feels to face the tough choices working families do. Even before allowances MPs get a basic wage £65,000 with ministers earning much, much more.

The scandal of the second home is easily resolved by anticapitalists too. Of course they should have a place to live near where they work – a right all workers should have. But why do they have to own it? Social housing should be provided for all MPs.

These are the kind of demands a new anticapitalist party would fight for.

Many workers will feel angry and frustrated – on the one hand the political elite are corrupt to the core, on the other the media are obsessively focused on it, and saying nothing about the pain working people are facing as the recession really bites.

A new anticapitalist party would link the fight for a new kind of politics, to the class struggle to defend working people: in every strike underway against cuts and job losses, we must raise the idea of a new party, win militants and whole unions to the project and provide an alternative to the millions of people appalled by the rotten political system.