The MP expenses scandal dominated the headlines during much of my time at the Adam Smith Institute. Each day I watched with great interest as new stories unfolded. The one thing that struck me about the public’s response to the scandal was how genuinely surprised so many people appeared to be that the MPs would do such a thing. It was a stark contrast to what I perceive as very low expectations among Americans for the scruples of their elected representatives.
Beginning with Watergate, the American public’s confidence in government officials has been rocked by scandal after scandal. Hollywood and the news media only foment the discontent with sensationalized accounts of government corruption. Public opinion has spiraled downward to the point that there is almost an assumption that all politicians engage in some sort of clandestine impropriety. For example, what surprised the US public about the Monica Lewinski affair was not that Bill Clinton was messing around with an intern, but that he actually got caught doing it.
I believe that this deeply ingrained distrust of politicians is one reason why Americans resist increased state involvement in their lives: they do not trust government to do the right things for the right reasons.
Perhaps the MP expenses scandal will awaken the UK electorate to a similar sense of governmental skepticism. If such a nationwide mentality were to develop and lead the public to take matters into their own hands (i.e. tell the government that it has had its chance at managing the national infrastructure, and it is time for the citizenry and the markets to take over), then what is now a blight on the reputation of Parliament may eventually be celebrated as the first step towards freedom.