A Loss of Face-to-Face: MPs Expenses

In the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, some MPs have met their constituents to explain themselves, with bruising consequences. Jon Lawrence looks back to when such holdings-to-account were commonplace and benefited democracy.

After the long and bitter furore over MPs' expenses it has become something of a truism to claim that politicians have never been held in such low esteem. Some have even begun to ask whether democracy itself may be endangered by the revelations about MPs' extravagant, and sometimes fraudulent, expenditure. Certainly, one would have to go back a long way to find an era when the reputation of politicians was comparably low; arguably back to the crassly venal politics of the 18th century when the main purpose of holding public office appeared to be personal enrichment. But we should not kid ourselves that there has ever been a 'golden age' when public trust was the norm. Britons have always displayed a healthy scepticism about the motives and morals of the 'political class'. The corrupt and disingenuous politician has been a standard trope of English literature for centuries. Our politicians have always been 'them': a class set apart from 'us', the self-proclaimed 'ordinary' people.

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