Once the initial horror of the expenses scandal wore off, the British became aware of some of the shocking consequences of electing people. Two in particular stood out.
First, that people will behave greedily and/or crookedly, usually in minor ways that they can justify to themselves and friends, if they believe they can do so with impunity.
Second, that there is no democratic alternative to electing people. That is, whatever type of election or representation is chosen, the British end up with leaders, who might be greedy, or crooked, or both.
Those leaders were as shocked as the British. Some were shocked that they had been found out: and two people, from quite different ends of the social register, had the working class, or upper class, gall to say so. But both Speaker Michael Martin, who had mocked MPs for “telling the media what they wanted to hear,” and Conservative MP Sir Anthony Steen, who said that the British were “just jealous,” resigned their office or seat—an indication that this kind of shock was dangerous.
The proper shock for the people to express was that this had happened at all, and many of them expressed it. Their leaders had spent much of their time devising payment systems which were hard for people to fiddle, because they would in some way be overseen by the British people. This was done to the accompaniment of a chorus from the British people—in letters to the editor, in blogs, in vox populi on radio and TV, in confrontations with in constituencies, in TV studios or on the doorstep—that the MPs were irredeemable rogues.
As often in troubled times, the British (in the form of the BBC) turned to the Scandinavians for an example of how to live properly. It was discovered in Sweden that Euro MP Jens Holm, of the Left party, had long protested the European parliament’s habit of reimbursing MEPs for the price of an expensive business class ticket for all travel, without asking for a receipt. In a blog on his website in April, he wrote that “an MEP can quite easily become rich, very rich, on representing the people that elected him/her…I find it crucial to do two things: struggle as much as I can for reductions of these outrageous expenses…(and) give away the money I don’t need to do my work as a politician.”
It thus seems that, despite what the British like to think of themselves, other people can be more honest than the British. This was a disquieting thought, however, for it led to the reflection that, if other people could be honest, might some of the British be crooked? And so it didn’t get very far, and the “irredeemable rogues” chorus went on.
[Editor’s note — to see the original Metamorphosis, click here.]