The privileged few and their expenses devalue democracy

Politicians and their finances are back in the news
Politicians and their finances are back in the news

Politics is a messy business and none of us can be blamed for coming to the conclusion that many of those who wield political power do awfully well financially out of it.

I could go back a few years and remind everyone of the liberties so many MPs took during the great expenses scandal.

Too few of them faced court proceedings though a handful did go to prison.

Politicians and their finances were back in the news this week as rows rocked our own seat of power – Stormont. We heard how Sinn Fein claimed £150,000 for research by a company whose directors are SF’s finance directors with, allegedly, no evidence of the production of that research.

It was reported that the DUP and Sinn Fein closed ranks in response to the criticism with the DUP chief whip Peter Weir denouncing ‘‘erroneous and mischievous allegations against the Assembly that strike at its integrity’’.

Across the water at Westminister not much has improved with taxpayers’ money being spent seemingly with gay abandon. Commons Speaker John Bercow has an expenses bill which has topped half a million pounds and includes four figure lunch bills for speakers from countries like Lithuania, Slovenia and Romania. They must have been dining on caviar and champagne.

Mr Bercow spent £210 on portrait prints of himself for voters and £286 for tuning the grand piano in Speaker’s House.

Then there was the £2,000 spent on beeswax candles.

A reception for retiring MPs cost £1,700 and another £3,000 was lavished on an event for newly elected members.

Undoubtedly, in addition, all those MPs will have been charging expenses for simply getting there for the events.

All this largesse is for the politically privileged in a country the Health Service of which is threatening to ‘evict’ elderly patients from hospitals to deal with the bed-blocking problem.

This week the NHS has had to admit it is failing patients who are mentally ill with some of them having to wait up to 12 years for treatment, and where rationing for hearing aids could be contributing to the dementia epidemic says experts.

Midwifery services are under pressure putting mothers and the new-born at risk while waiting lists to see consultants get longer by the year.

There is little evidence that Westminister politicians are being reined in over expenses. So it’s interesting to see that our new First Minister Arlene Foster says her party – the DUP – is ``revisiting’’ plans for a more independent body to take control of MLAs’ allowances, of the kind, according to this newspaper, which currently operates in Westminister under its Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

We all like to claim we live in a democracy but that principle is being devalued by the privileged few and their expenses. Yet I know some really decent, principled politicians who are considering standing down at the next election because they fear being tarnished by the dubious reputation of politicians in general.

It wasn’t much different of course in Roman times and eventually its empire was brought down. There are many who would like to see the fall of Stormont with its current emphasis on partisanship. Can we ever have a true democracy while politicians continue to chose to disobey the rules for themselves whilst expecting the masses to conform?