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The Scandal and the Heroine

A reader writes, "Are you following the public fury and hourly increasing anger in the UK over the looting of the Treasury by Parliament?"

Who could miss the School for Scandal, as the Wall Street Journal dubbed Parliament? Happily for those of us looking for someone to admire, there is a heroine to this story.

The story began in the classic way - imperfect human beings devised a sure-fire way to generate corruption. MPs, who are already paid more than most people in Britain, "honed a clever device to increase members' pay without voting for unpopular salary hikes". They "expanded the list of living expenses that could be claimed for reimbursement" and they hid the list from the public.

The scale of the cupidity

They chose to spend expense money on their second homes, cleaning out the moat, new interior decoration, the mortgage expenses for second homes which had already been paid off, chocolates, dog food and a "black, glittery loo seat", just a few items in a cascade of dubious expenditures.

"The scale of the cupidity is astonishing," said the Journal. Members of all parties were involved.

MPs earn £63,000. They have allowed claims "on everything from staff costs of over £100,000 to the additional cost allowance of up to £24,006 and a so-called incidental-expenses provision of £22,190".

The heroine

All this malfeasance would have been buried and never seen the light of day except for 1) a landmark change, 2) the government's typical incompetence in preserving the privacy of computer records and 3) a heroine. The Journal reported -

In 2000, Parliament passed a Freedom of Information law mandating, for the first time, public access to documents relating to thousands of government bodies across the U.K.

That law became the basis of a five-year battle in which a freelance journalist and campaigner, Heather Brooke, navigated through a labyrinth of freedom-of-information filings and the courts to win public access to the ugly truth of parliamentary expense records. . .

While the broad dimensions of such payments have been public, the specifics of what members of Parliament were using the extra money for have been shrouded in secrecy. . .Meeting opposition every step of the way, she sought itemized, rather than aggregated, expenses for each MP.

She finally won a court victory over the House of Commons authorities, run by the speaker Michael Martin, in May last year. . .The records Ms. Brooke fought [for] are set for formal release, in a somewhat redacted form, as early as late June. . .

Preparation of those records may have led to the leak to a newspaper. Parliamentary officials hired a contractor to convert thousands of paper receipts into computer files so they could be put on the Internet, according to parliamentary records. Because the job was so big, temporary staff were hired to help, increasing the number of people with access to the information, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Selling out Britain

Outrageously these are the same MPs who refused to give the people the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty 2008 which they had promised in election manifestos. The public is deeply angered by the expense scandal, but a majority of these MPs sold out their nation to the European Union. And the people are paying for that with their hard-earned cash and their liberty.

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Heather Brooke was born in the US to British-immigrant parents from Liverpool. She returned to Britain in 1998. She has worked for the BBC and is currently teaching at City University's Department of Journalism.

Brooke tells the story of her struggle in the Guardian. An astonishing tale. Pro bono Hugh Tomlinson QC, who was at her side, looks like a hero, too.

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