To the observer, last night’s BBC Question Time was truly shocking. Facing question after question on expenses, Margaret Beckett, Theresa May and Menzies Campbell were repeatedly forced to defend the honour of MP’s. Individually and collectively, they failed. Beckett in particular was continuously booed and heckled by an audience who – it appeared – now hold her and her ilk in contempt.
The reason for this is clear. Despite seven days of revelations, and varying levels of political response, the politicians still do not understand the essence of the frustration of their electors; that an expense regime is only ever as honest as the people who claim from it. When abuse is uncovered, you hold the users to account rather than the system. Beckett keeps talking about the system itself – like an alcoholic promising to lock away the booze if only another chance is given, but such a measure does not rebuild trust – if anything, by abrogating individual responsibility, it ensures that trust can never be regained.
At one point Beckett was asked whether she thought that an immediate election was the answer:
Ms Beckett said no, because the Government wanted to get on with dealing with "the important issues facing this country. We'll see what happens, but we've got to deal with this mess, to steer the country out of its economic problems, which are much more serious than anything we've talked about tonight."
Ms Beckett, here is the news. Nothing, but nothing, is more serious than basic trust between the electors and the individuals they elect. You and your over-weaning and arrogant colleagues have - since 1997 - allowed this trust to break down just as you allowed the relationship between the Executive and Parliament itself to break down – a schism made flesh in the person of Speaker Martin – a man whose concept of public duty, if it ever existed, was apparently shredded like so many receipts.
You, and the Government you represent may “want” to get on with any number of things – but you no longer have the peoples consent to do so – and neither does the wider body of Parliament. If you believe that you do, you are lying to yourselves as well as the Country. You may want all you like, but read these words again – you no longer Govern with the consent of the electorate – as sure as any third world dictator relying upon the army and the police against the will of the majority, you remain in office only because the “rules” say you can, and because you wish to.
This has gone beyond a matter of politics. It is, in a real sense, a constitutional crisis. The Electorate are not interested in your plans for changing the rules, they have called time on you. They will not take lectures from you and your kind on what is important for the country – they already know what is important – that you and every single one of your colleagues pack up your London homes – whoever paid for them - and return to your constituencies to face the judgement of those who sent you there upon trust. Only then can democracy begin to be rebuilt.