Disunited kingdom is flagging
One of the politicians charged with reducing Britain's debt mountain has, with the task barely begun, been exposed of milking the system of tens of thousands of pounds and paying it to his boyfriend.
David Laws, the chief secretary to the Treasury and a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, claimed about £950 ($1600) a month for eight years to rent rooms in two properties owned by his long-time companion, James Lundie.
Parliamentary rules expressly ban MPs from leasing second-home accommodation from their spouses or partners.
Illustration: Michael Mucci
Laws was exposed by London's Telegraph on Friday night, local time. At first he dissembled. By late evening he admitted his error, apologised and committed to reimbursing the Treasury. He said he had not disclosed the payments to protect his ''privacy''.
Give us a break. Laws owes the Treasury an estimated £40,000 for breaching the ban since 2006. He has claimed twice that much since coming up with his arrangement eight years ago. On Saturday he resigned, just 18 days into the new government, and will refer his conduct to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
He had to go. The man who, days earlier, helped announce proposed cuts of more than £6.2 billion in government spending - cuts that will cause people to lose their public sector job or services - could not start this process with a pall over his own behaviour.
As Laws said in his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister: ''I do not see how I can carry on my crucial work on the budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations.''
The higher the office, the higher the standards.
His resignation comes a week after the latest humiliation of the Duchess of Pork, Sarah Ferguson, who was caught on video camera, trying to peddle access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. The duchess is broke and desperate. These ructions could not have come at a worse time for traditionalists who want to maintain the status quo in Britain while pretending that everything is fine with the world's oldest major democracy.
Everything is not fine. A great fault-line has opened up at the centre of British culture and politics.
These new revelations follow last year's exposure of the widespread fiddling of expenses by scores of MPs. That scandal was also revealed by the Telegraph. The entrapment of Ferguson was carried out by News of the World. The fabric that holds Britain together is beginning to fray.
It is no accident that the country is being governed by an unnatural coalition of two parties who were adversaries, not allies, during the recent national election. This is a byproduct of an electoral system so antiquated it is no longer truly representative.
Distortions are everywhere. The old system of the ''rotten borough'' has given way to rottenness on a much grander scale. Consider these structural flaws:
Electoral inequality. In Britain one vote does not have one value. In the national election on May 6, Scotland, with a population of 5.2 million, elected 59 MPs. Wales, with 3 million people, elected 40 MPs. That gave them one seat in Westminster for every 83,000 electors. England, with 52.5 million people, and most of the economy, had 533 seats, one for every 98,000 voters. This means a vote in England carries 15 per cent less weight than a vote in Scotland and Wales.
If one vote had one value, Scotland and Wales would have had 15 fewer seats to contest on May 6. This alone could have changed the outcome of the election.
(The Northern Irish, with one seat per 100,000, and decades of sectarian criminality masquerading as patriotism, are not part of this equation.)
Self-perpetuating welfare states. The Celts are also coddled economically. Scotland and Wales are heavily dependent on the public sector. They vote accordingly. The anti-Tory voting bloc in Scotland and Wales was an overwhelming 90 to nine. This perpetuates political support for public sector spending that Britain cannot afford. My fellow Celts prefer to live in La-La land.
Weak mandates. The combination of the simple first-past-the-post voting system, plus non-compulsory voting, produces governments that are not elected with a majority of the votes cast. This has long been so but the May 6 election produced a spectacular example.
The Conservatives won 36.1 per cent of the vote. Only 65 per cent of adults voted. This means that David Cameron leads a party that received the vote of just 23.4 per cent of the electorate. Less than one in four British adults voted Tory, and Cameron is Prime Minister.
An unelected upper house. The term ''House of Lords'' says it all. The standing of the Lords has been compromised in the past by prime ministers simply creating new peerages to change the balance of power.
For this new Conservative-led government, the price of power was a commitment to their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, to substantive electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats want proportional representation. That is the road to gridlock. Better answers lie elsewhere.
A clue for the British government can be found in the Australian flag.
It is colonised by the Union Jack. This reflects Australia's foundation on British traditions with refinements that improved the original and have proved sturdy over time, delivering majorities and mandates: preferential voting, one-vote one-value, compulsory voting, an elected upper house and an impartial electoral commission.
The disunited kingdom would do well to look for reforms from its Antipodean creation. It probably won't.