Enlightened Self Interest

March 04, 2008 10:19 AM

There was a very telling poll of political attitudes out over the weekend, commissioned from Yougov by the Daily Telegraph - the full results can be found here. While the newspaper reports headlined on the growing pressure on Michael Martin, there were some very interesting figures on the question of politicians abusing expenses and allowances.


Yougov_on_mps_3


They make pretty sobering reading from an MP's perspective. The vast majority of the public think that a large proportion of MPs are dishonestly taking advantage of taxpayers' money. That isn't to say that they are - as it happens, I think the majority of MPs are probably honest (in terms of expenses, anyway) - but that the public think they are.


It is at this point that mant politicians throw up their hands in horror and say that they are more sinned against than sinning, and that it is unfair for them all to be stained by the activities of a minority.


Few people will shed a tear for their predicament, though. If the public's assumption is unfair, MPs only have themselves to blame for not disclosing their expenses in detail.


Who can blame the public for thinking the worst when politicians resist something so uncontroversial as telling people where their money is being spent?


If MPs don't agree with the moral argument for transparency, perhaps this poll will make them do the right thing for more selfish reasons. An act of enlightened self-interest, if you will.


It is in MPs' best interests for this public cynicism to be dispelled; it certainly can't be very nice to have everyone assume you're a con artist, and it is probably electorally unhealthy, too. Until there is full disclosure and transparency, this cloud of suspicion will continue to hang over the majority of MPs - probably unfairly, but entirely understandably. If the suspicions are so unfair, as MPs claim, then they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from opening up their books for the world to see.

There was a very telling poll of political attitudes out over the weekend, commissioned from Yougov by the Daily Telegraph - the full results can be found here. While the newspaper reports headlined on the growing pressure on Michael Martin, there were some very interesting figures on the question of politicians abusing expenses and allowances.


Yougov_on_mps_3


They make pretty sobering reading from an MP's perspective. The vast majority of the public think that a large proportion of MPs are dishonestly taking advantage of taxpayers' money. That isn't to say that they are - as it happens, I think the majority of MPs are probably honest (in terms of expenses, anyway) - but that the public think they are.


It is at this point that mant politicians throw up their hands in horror and say that they are more sinned against than sinning, and that it is unfair for them all to be stained by the activities of a minority.


Few people will shed a tear for their predicament, though. If the public's assumption is unfair, MPs only have themselves to blame for not disclosing their expenses in detail.


Who can blame the public for thinking the worst when politicians resist something so uncontroversial as telling people where their money is being spent?


If MPs don't agree with the moral argument for transparency, perhaps this poll will make them do the right thing for more selfish reasons. An act of enlightened self-interest, if you will.


It is in MPs' best interests for this public cynicism to be dispelled; it certainly can't be very nice to have everyone assume you're a con artist, and it is probably electorally unhealthy, too. Until there is full disclosure and transparency, this cloud of suspicion will continue to hang over the majority of MPs - probably unfairly, but entirely understandably. If the suspicions are so unfair, as MPs claim, then they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from opening up their books for the world to see.

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