What a hair-raising week it has been. Starting on Friday, we had the front page revelations by the Telegraph of Cabinet Ministers’ expenses – a story which completely dominates their UK politics section. Over the course of the weekend, the story has been picked up by all the other big UK news outlets, although only the Guardian has given it the same level of coverage as the Telegraph.
What has surprised me about the whole expenses row is that all the papers appear to have focused on senior figures within the Labour Party. I know that government sleeze stories always make a good headline, but I was expecting some dirt to be thrown in the direction of the Conservatives and possibly even the Lib Dems. Admittedly the story was broken by the Telegraph, which was probably looking to smear Labour more than politicians in general, but even the Guardian only managed a blog post about the uneven level of sleeze allegations. Greg Barker got a ticking off for his flat purchase, but as shadow minister for climate change he’s hardly a bit hitter. Does this mean that Cameron & Co. are a bunch of saints, or that there are more damaging revelations to come – possibly when expenses are published in full later this year?
The tide of public anger over this issue now seems unstoppable, with even former Archbishops, who usually stay out of politics, getting involved. Interestingly, both the police and HMRC are now taking an interest, which could make life even more difficult for politicians in two ways. Firstly, the fact than an investigation is ongoing could mean that they are unable to comment on the matter, which might be interpreted by many people as simply dodging the issue. Secondly, the simple fact that HMRC are involved, even if they find no wrongdoing, leads people to believe that there is something fishy going on.
The mounting embarrassments, not to mention the Commons defeats suffered recently, have led to suggestions that Labour could be wiped out at the local elections this year. I’m not sure if this only applies to Labour though, as the damaging revelations will probably turn people off politicians in general, particularly if expenses claims from Tory MPs are released before the elections. I suspect two possibilities are more likely: either turnout will crumble even further or people will conclude that they are sick and tired of the existing political elite and decide to vote for minority parties instead. The latter possibility could play into the hands of UKIP and the BNP in the European and local elections respectively.
All in all, a rather turbulent week in politics, and the worse week for Gordon Brown and Labour since… last week.