LONDON – Britain's prime minister called for drastic steps to restore trust in the country's scandal-tainted political class, as lawmakers across the political spectrum sought to take cover from public anger over their lavish expense claims.
Political leaders have been writing checks, making apologies, calling for inquiries and even threatening action against their own lieutenants in an effort to survive the publication of their expense claims in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper over the past few days.
The paper has stoked outrage in recession-hit Britain by revealing how lawmakers have asked to be reimbursed for everything from porn movies to chandeliers to housekeepers. One legislator even charged the public for sacks of horse manure, while an ex-minister submitted a claim for cleaning the moat that circles his country home.
Brown said "extreme action" was needed to reform the expense system "because politicians must show themselves worthy of public trust."
"I hope that the vast majority of MPs (members of parliament) and indeed all MPs can show that they are in politics for public services, not for self service," he said Tuesday night, announcing a bid to independently review expense claims filed by lawmakers over the past four years.
The leader of Britain's opposition Conservatives said earlier Tuesday that he would ban members of his party from filing expense claims for food and household items after the Telegraph revealed Tories had been charging the public for swimming pool construction and tennis court upkeep. He demanded that Conservative parliamentarians pay taxpayers back for frivolous claims, threatening to kick them out of the party if they didn't.
Cabinet minister Hazel Blears, criticized for making tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) — tax free — by selling a home she was using public money to maintain, appeared on television holding a check and promising to reimburse taxpayers for part of the profit she made in the sale. All the while, she insisted she had done nothing wrong.
British lawmakers had long refused to offer itemized receipts for their claims on public money, until a recent ruling ordered them to make the details known. About 2 million receipts for claims by British legislators will be published in July under the ruling, but the Telegraph said last week it had obtained the material ahead of its planned release and has released the information piecemeal, prolonging the political agony.
A poll published in the Times of London Tuesday showed that public trust in the two major parties — Brown's Labour and Cameron's Conservatives — was fraying, with more support going to the country's smaller Liberal Democrats party and other groups. However the poll was taken before the Telegraph's publication of the Liberal Democrats' expenses, due Wednesday.
Pollster Populus interviewed 1,504 adults between May 8 and 10. The pollster did not give a margin of error, but surveys of that size usually have a margin of error of about plus or minus 3 percentage points.
While parliamentary guidelines don't ban any specific items under lawmaker expenses — the rules say expenses should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn't damage the Parliament's reputation.
Critics complain the rules are being stretched and that the expenses aren't independently audited.
Scotland Yard has been asked to investigate whether any of the alleged misuse of expenses crosses amount to criminal wrongdoing. The force says it is considering the requests but that no investigation is under way.