It’s become the Everyman Revolution against what is seen to be corrupt government. 2009’s ‘Annus Horribilis’ for Gordon Brown’s government, escalated into a press war over MP expenses that shattered the confidence in all UK political parties.
“I feel like a trap-door has opened beneath me” said one MP.
The transport and energy strikes over the Christmas period were seen as ‘the last straw’ and have united voters, casting a pall over the next general election.
Millions of voters seem ready to “SAY NO TO THE VOTE” as a sign of absolute abhorrence of the lack of ethics displayed by MPs. Coming so soon after the banking scandal, trust in government has all but gone.
“We know that there is something fundamentally wrong with a parliamentary system that encourages such gross unethical conduct. A vote for any party or any MP would show massive lack of judgement” says Bernard Mudge, a solicitor who is heading the NO VOTE campaign.
“If we stand together and get this right, then we can bring a totally new, more independent, party to power – even with just a small number of votes.”
Of course, NO VOTE actually does ask voters to vote, just not for any of the UK’s major parties involved in current government – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.
The NO VOTE campaign insists that any MP found to have broken the Commons rules for expenses, or the law, be fired and suggests that the remaining MPs re-apply for their jobs by signing their online Openness Index and agreeing to a ‘New Political Ethic’ around which a new party can be built.
It was a fire lit by campaigning journalist Heather Brooke in 2004 when she insisted that the Freedom of Information Act gave citizen’s the right to full disclosure of how MPs spend ‘their’ tax money.
After more than five years of legal wrangling the initial dream of ‘openness’ has been realized – and it’s shaking democracy to its roots. Come the General Election, the only ones voting for established political parties could be the few surviving MPs themselves.
The big question is this – which country is next to feel the full impact of citizen’s demands for transparency?
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Some definitions for our non-UK readers (more on Wikipedia.org):
The House of Commons is the name of the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom.
The Labour Party is a political party and current ruling party in the United Kingdom. Founded at the start of the 20th century, it has been since the 1920s the principal party of the left in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, where it has only recently organized again. Under the Third way, the party’s position has moved towards the Centre. The current national Labour government won a landslide 179-seat majority in the 1997 general election under the leadership of Tony Blair, its first general election victory since October 1974 and the first general election since 1970 in which it had exceeded 40% of the popular vote. The current party leader is Gordon Brown.
The Conservative Party is a conservative political party in the United Kingdom. Founded in its present form during the early 19th century, it has historically been the principal party of the right, though in the modern day the party and its voters are more associated with the centre-right.
The Conservative Party is descended from the historic Tory Party which was founded in 1678. Due to this lineage the party is still often referred to as the Tory Party. The Conservative Party was in government for two-thirds of the twentieth century, but it has been in opposition in Parliament since losing the 1997 election to the Labour Party.
The current party leader is David Cameron, who acts as the Leader of the Opposition and heads the Shadow Cabinet.
The Liberal Democrats, often shortened to Lib Dems or just Lib Dem, are a liberal political party in the United Kingdom, formed in 1988 by a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party; the two parties had been in alliance for seven years, from shortly after the formation of the SDP. The party’s leader is Nick Clegg.
The Lib Dems are the third-largest party in the UK Parliament, behind Labour and the Conservatives.
A Member of Parliament, or MP, is a representative of the voters to a parliament. In many countries (such as the UK) the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses, such as senate or The House of Lords, often have a unique title, and thus also have unique titles for its members (such as senators or Lords of Parliament). Members of parliament tend to form parliamentary parties with members of the same political party.
2004: Heather Brooke starts her campaign for ‘Openness’
Heather Brooke starts work on a book to be titled ‘Your Right to Know: A citizen’s guide to using the Freedom of Information Act’.
Her request to the Commons for a breakdown of MP’s expenses is met with silence and then a promise that the expenses would be published in October 2004.
Unfortunately, the information released only showed summaries for categories such as travel etc. Nothing on individual MPs. As always the devil was to be in the detail.
2007: Rejection and an alliance
All requests to the Commons for detailed information have been rejected on the grounds of “privacy and security”.
In June, the independent Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, makes a decision on three related cases – to make the expense categories more specific. The incremental ruling pleases no one.
Heather Brooke teams up with barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC.
2008: An information tribunal
Heather Brooke and Hugh Tomlinson are confronted by a barrage of predictable comments from the Commons representatives present:
“MPs should be allowed to carry on their duties free from interference…”
“Public confidence is not the overriding concern per se…”
“Transparency will damage democracy”
It is in these meetings that the extent to which MPs were writing their own cheques became apparent.
The case goes to the High Court and the hearings ended on 16 May 2008, finding that the House of Commons expense system had a “shortfall – both in terms of transparency and accountability”; “we have no doubt that public interest is at stake”; “The expenditure of public money through the payment of MP’s salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers.”
The cat was finally out of the proverbial bag.
2009: The press feasts on ‘the devil in the detail’
On 8 May The Telegraph splashes its front page with a series of detailed reports on the abuse of expenses by the top team in the ruling Labour government, followed later by similar disclosures for members of the other parties.
Trust in the parliamentary system is damaged across the board. Resignations and an early general election are called for.
Late in 2009 the NO VOTE movement gets real momentum and hardens attitudes even further.