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What’s so “Hon’ble” about MPs, ask voters

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CRISIS-HIT WESTMINSTER: MPs have replaced bankers as the most hated people.
CRISIS-HIT WESTMINSTER: MPs have replaced bankers as the most hated people.

Hasan Suroor

No reports of mob-lynching yet, but there have been cases of MPs being heckled and have doors slammed on them by their constituents.

It is hard to recall a time in recent years when the British public has been so angry as it is over revelations that MPs have been wining and dining on taxpayers’ money by abusing the Commons’ expenses system. It is the sort of raw and visceral fury that, on a bad day, can easily turn into mob frenzy.

No wonder, MPs are quaking in their boots with mea culpas and pledges to reform themselves oozing out of their ears, so to speak. They have replaced bankers as the most hated people in the wake of the expenses scandal which has shaken the political establishment to its very roots and plunged Westminster into an unprecedented crisis.

No reports of mob-lynching yet, but there have been cases of MPs being heckled and have doors slammed on them by their constituents. One had a brick hurled through her constituency office. Tory leader David Cameron was told by a woman constituent that she would like to see MPs “hanging from the lamp-posts.”

According to one Tory backbencher, caught up in the scandal, there is a whiff of “McCarthy-style witch-hunt” in the way MPs are being humiliated. The climate in Westminster has become so “unbearable,” she says, that MPs are “seriously beginning to crack up” and “everyone fears a suicide.”

“I have never been in an atmosphere or environment when people walk around with terror in their eyes and people are genuinely concerned, asking: ‘have you seen so-and-so? Are they in their office? They have not been seen for days.’ There’s really a serious concern that this has got to a point now which is almost unbearable for any human being to deal with,” Nadine Dorries told the BBC.

Apparently, what the MPs dread the most these days is an email or a call from The Telegraph newspaper which has confidential expenses details of each of the 600-odd MPs. It has already published details of some 200 MPs and more disclosures are threatened. In a version of the dreaded midnight knock, every afternoon the newspaper emails or calls MPs who are next on the list. They are then given a few hours to respond to the allegations. One MP said it was like waiting for one’s own execution. Those who survive live for another day — but only for the panic to return the next morning.

“Doing this day after day after day amounts to a form of torture which any group of human beings would find difficult to bear,” the MP said.

The mood is so threatening that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for everyone to calm down a bit saying that the “systematic humiliation” of MPs threatened to “undermine” democracy itself. Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, he said: “But many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made. The continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy.”

Returning home from an overseas trip, Mathew Parris, a former Tory MP and now a Times columnist, said it seemed to him as though Britain had “gone berserk.”

“I returned on Thursday to find my country in one of its periodic fits of moral horror. At such times, witches have been burnt, monkeys hanged as French spies and Catholics hounded out of office. There is no arguing with a spasm of popular anger... Judgment has fled,” he wrote.

Such is the fear of facing voters that Prime Minister Gordon has warned there would be “chaos” if elections were held now. Although he explained later that what he meant was that there would be chaos if the Tories won, his remarks revealed the extent of nervousness among politicians — and not just Labour. Given the depth of public anger, even Tories — for all their apparent bravado and the much-talked-about double-digit lead — are not sure how exactly it might pan out on the polling day.

Surveys have revealed widespread revulsion against the entire organised political class and there is concern that people may end up voting for fringe groups such as the near-fascist British National Party (BNP) simply to spite the mainstream parties. There is a growing clamour for Independent candidates with some 53 per cent of voters saying that they would “seriously consider” voting an Independent, according to one opinion poll.

Several high-profile people, including a former television celebrity, have already indicated their willingness to take the plunge and others such as actor Joanna Lumley, who led the successful campaign for Gurkhas, are under pressure to join.

Voters will have a chance to draw blood when elections to local bodies and the European Parliament are held on June 4. Labour is resigned to a walloping in both local and European Parliament elections. The only question is: how bad would it be? But it doesn’t look good for Tories either with the BNP and the Europhobic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) snapping at their heels. If polls are right, expect a lot of blood on the floor on June 4.

Corrections and Clarifications

(The tenth paragraph of "What's so 'Hon'ble' about MPs, ask voters" (Op-Ed,May 28, 2009) had a reference to "Prime Minister Gordon". It should havebeen "Prime Minister Gordon Brown".)


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