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Anthony Devlin/AP
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

UK’s Expenses Row Claims More Officials

June 04, 2009 06:00 PM
by Emily Coakley
In Britain, two top-level government officials and a number of Parliament members have resigned over taxpayer-funded expenses that have provoked public outrage.

Crisis Latest to Pressure Prime Minister Gordon Brown

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This week Jacqui Smith, the country’s home secretary, and Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, announced that they would resign from their cabinet positions.

Earlier this year Smith’s husband “had to publicly apologize for charging two pornographic films he watched at home to his wife's parliamentary expenses,” Reuters reported.

According to Agence France-Presse, Blears, who announced her resignation on Wednesday, was “the fourth to go in 24 hours.”

Last month, Michael Martin became the first speaker of the House of Commons in three centuries to resign as a result of the scandal. He faced criticism from numerous MPs who felt Martin did not show leadership after the expense uproar started earlier this month. Though Martin apologized in the House on May 18, his statement was interrupted by angry MPs calling for him to quit, the Telegraph reported.

“Since I came to this House 30 years ago, I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united,” Martin was quoted as saying in a May 19 article in the Telegraph, the newspaper that broke the story. “In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of Speaker on Sunday June 21.”

As the expenses scandal has developed, some have suggested that Prime Minister Gordon Brown should resign.

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Analysis: Brown faces challenges from his own party

As Reuters points out, Brown, who took over for Tony Blair two years ago, “has struggled to sustain authority” after becoming prime minister.

It’s not just the opposition who is looking for a change. The Times of London offers a detailed account of Brown’s struggles with his cabinet ministers during the last several days.

“If a week is a long time in politics, the bad news for Gordon Brown is that he is only halfway through this one,” wrote Francis Elliott, the Times of London’s deputy political editor, adding that there are “signs of a fully fledged ministerial mutiny.”

The BBC reported today that some members of Parliament might send a letter to colleagues, “to test whether there is an appetite for a challenge to Mr Brown.”

But Brown has been through this sort of situation before, the BBC explains. During each of the last two summers, there have been unsuccessful attempts to oust him.

The Labor Party, Brown's party, needs 70 of its members in Parliament “to nominate a challenger to Gordon Brown to force a leadership contest,” the BBC reported.

Many of Brown’s colleagues were angry that the prime minister held a meeting with members of his party and didn’t mention plans to change the MP’s expense system. The day after that meeting, Brown announced his plans in a video posted on YouTube.

One Labor MP, Barry Sheerman, told the BBC, “There was a deep feeling of resentment that we had been snubbed and I think the present problems stem all from that evening.”

Reuters’ Luke Baker doesn't seem optimistic that Brown’s political career can survive, saying “it does look like the expenses row is leading inexorably to Brown’s departure: porn films leading to political collapse. But that may be overstating the case.”

Background: How the expenses debacle unfolded in the press

The Telegraph’s Ben Leapman was the first to reveal details about alleged expense abuses by dozens of members of Parliament, including Martin. Since then publications including the BBC have extensively outlined which MPs are implicated and what their public responses to the accusations have been. Not every member of Parliament has been accused of expense abuses.

The abuses stem from second home allowances that are permitted for members who represent constituencies outside of London. According to the BBC, several MPs are accused of “maximising their financial gain by regularly ‘flipping’ their designated second home,” which has “allowed them to claim back the cost of renovating properties, which they have then sold off at a profit.”

Some MPs also abused an “additional costs allowance” that until last year, allowed MPs to claim without receipts “any item under £250” ($383). Although these costs are meant to be for items like “mortgage interest payments on second homes and utility bills,” they have also been used for “furniture, electrical goods like televisions, refurbishments and food,” the BBC reported.

One MP, a Conservative named Douglas Hogg, used the allowance to clean the moat surrounding his country house, according to the Telegraph. Hogg also announced his resignation, according to The Times.

Journalists Ben Leapman, Heather Brooke and others have been campaigning for several years to get members of Parliament to recognize that “freedom of information really does apply to them,” the BBC reported, referring to the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, which fully came into effect in 2005. Many have seen the law as a green light to public access of information like the MPs’ expense records.

Reference: Complete list of MPs’ offenses

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