Don’t wholly blame the politicians for the expenses scandal. A scandal that has destroyed the legitimacy of Parliament. The scandal that has fuelled the ever-growing political apathy amongst the people. The behaviour of these MPs merely reflects a morally bankrupt society. A society, which has perverted toleration to a degree that sources of value such as church, and family have been gradually eroded to make way for libertarianism and its related character flaw, extravagance. A society that has allowed religions that value an education based on racial discrimination and the imprisonment of women to be funded by the state. A society that has no moral voice, no clear moral philosophy of what is right and wrong and hence whose politicians have no clear yardsticks for accountability.
The joys of wealth and materialism is what we are all told to aim for, and few of us, including many of the journalists putatively outraged, have the moral integrity to challenge the values of our society. Self-fulfilment at the cost of ethics is the new code of aspiration for Britain. Educational certificates from GCSE’s to Degrees are watered down to be turned into simple permits, to be obtained for the sake of gaining access to the economy rather than to serve intellectual fulfillment. Hence many young people will merely enter the world with a weakened and dubious sense of scrutiny and an enervated ability to question. Community concerns are now useful in forming pithy sayings to create image, yet we live in a world where politicians work in Westminster only miles from abhorrent teenage drunkenness in Soho. No one is willing or able to yell at these people wasting their lives on cans of larger. In today's Britain the next door neighbor is too afraid to take the parents of the misbehaving youth to account. There is too much fear of censure, or at worse legal action. In this way community responsibility for each other is eroded and carelessness about our people and country ensues. Apathy is quick to follow, first of local society, and then of the nation. Politics, too self-absorbed in contenting itself rather than realising its responsibility, allows this illness to increase weakening a once proud nation. It is that apathy that distances the electorate from those who govern, and weakens electoral accountability of Governmental action. For this, echoing the words of Cassius: 'the fault is in ourselves'. That is of the people and not of their servants in Parliament.
In an age of sound-bites, where form over substance erodes accountability in politics it is not surprising that so many MPs thought they could get away with it for so long. People at large were too apathetic, too self-contented to question those in charge, the manner in which they Governed. Foolishly, after two centuries of difficult campaigning for the voting franchise, the British electorate left Governing to the Government. The popular substance-less politics has finally had its day of judgment. Though, let us not forget they were voted for. It is the peoples role to be dynamic to provide an alternative, whether by individuals coming forward as candidates or to form new parties in the absence of alternatives. That would be a sign of a people who are aware that the true responsibility of Government lies with them. The indictment of the people is clear. The politicians in the modern age only reflect the values of those who choose them. It is hard to imagine a 19th Century moral reformer such as William Wilberforce MP having a place in the Parliament of today. Both spin and sound-bite, the hall-marks of modern politics, have no time for difficult moral argument and ethical discourse. Wilberforce would not make entertaining news coverage or assist the sale of newspapers.
The MPs reflect so many of society, and the Labour Government. The Government and so many spent beyond their means in extravagance, taking a joy-ride on the economic good-times without any regard as to importance of national responsibility and impact. It’s as if the MPs were so spoilt in their upbringing that they had never learnt to say ‘no’. We now need to turn and take a deep look at ourselves, and our Parliament, and ask ourselves what we, as people, really stand for. Therein lies the first step to any hope of accountability.
(Copyright Birkenhead Society 2009)