Thursday, May 21, 2009

Expense Accounts

With at most a year to go until the next British general election, that country's political debate is dominated by a scandal involving the expenses that have been submitted for reimbursement by members of Parliament (MPs). MPs representing constituencies outside of London are eligible to submit certain expenses that arise from their need to maintain two homes, one in London and one in the constituency. Widespread abuses have been reported.

Even though MPs of all of the major parties have been implicated, most of the political damage seems to be accruing to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leader of the Labor Party.

This is, of course, the type of story about which politicians want a minimum of publicity. But they lost all hope of that, when it was disclosed that a leading member of Brown's Cabinet had submitted the expense of an online pornography service to which her husband subscribed.

Brown's standing in the opinion polls, and that of his party, have been on a roller-coaster ride, since he replaced Tony Blair in the top job, in 2007. The latest polls show a large lead for the Conservative Party, which is led by David Cameron.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, has resigned, on account of the scandal. I can understand placing responsibility for the scandal on the person responsible for administering the House. But it seems a bit hypocritical for MPs, among whom are those who sought the improper expense reimbursements, to place the blame on Martin.

Some say that Martin has been made a scapegoat. There seems to be some truth to that. And in thinking about the origin of that word, it strikes me how close this example comes to the original meaning.

Hebrew scripture (Leviticus 16:20-22) describes a procedure whereby a priest places all of the sins of the community onto a goat, and then sends the goat out into the desert, thereby purifying the community.

Martin is being cast out into the political desert. British politicians will find out in due course how effective their ritual of purification has been.

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