+Scott Watson

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Right Honourable? MP's Expenses and Trust

Print and broadcast media in the UK continue to focus on the MP expenses scandal. Even the use of the word 'scandal' impacts how we feel about or perceive a situation - even before we know the facts.

A growing number of MP's (people supposedly trusted...yeah right, to represent the residents of their constituency in an honest and fair manner) are being identified as having taken advantage of the rules governing the claiming of expenses, in addition to their salary, which for a non ministerial level MP is approximately £67,000 per annum. This salary equates to approximately £5,583 per month before taxes.

The BBC reported that former Minister Elliot Morley had been suspended from the Labour Party, the governing political party, for claiming £16,000 expenses relating to a mortgage which had actually already been repaid. The main opposition party, the Conservative party, reported that Douglas Hogg, was to repay £2,200 he claimed for the clearing of his moat (nice if you can afford it) at his home. An abundance of other questionable claims continue to surface, and perhaps this will continue during the coming weeks and months. But why is this proving to be such a popular and disappointing news story?

Remember the bankers?

UK bankers have in recent months been in the firing line of MP's for supposedly 'fat-cat' salary packages with significant bonuses for hitting short-term targets. Targets that appear to have contributed to causing the recession that the UK currently finds itself in. The 'looking after number one' mentality of senior bankers was heavily criticised by MP's, many of whom called for swift and decisive action to stop the banking fat-cats continuing to benefit from large pay-offs when being removed from office. What are the sayings about what goes around comes around and those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones?

Who do you really vote for?

If you're approach to politics is anything like mine, you won't study every local and national policy of each political party vying for your vote. You'll either pick out a few policies that are most important to you at any given time - such as family welfare, taxes such as income or mortgage related taxes and a few more. Then it's about the candidate's personal impact. Does s/he look like a person who can be trusted? Do they create some kind of emotional connection with you? Do they strike a chord with you in terms of what they are passionately standing for - or even what they are standing against? Think of it this way. Do you vote for the candidate you TRUST THE MOST or the candidate you MISTRUST THE LEAST? There is a massive difference in the quality of any such relationship and as those MP's identified as being rather generous in their expenses claims will soon find out, they may lose not just the trust, but the votes the next time they choose to stand for re-election.

The danger of generalising

It's important to remember that not all MP's from all political parties have made excessive, or what could be viewed by some people as simply dishonest. Holding the opinion that 'All politicians are .................' may be factually inaccurate. And there is a difference between a fact and an opinion. A fact can be supported by indisputable evidence, whereas and opinion is simply a belief we hold about a person, group or situation. Even the reports that 'Trust in MP's is at an all time low' is factually inaccurate isn't it? Perhaps if the media added 'since our records began' would be more accurate. When we feel upset, disappointed, let down or even betrayed, we human beings tend to focus solely or largely on what's wrong rather than remembering what is good about a relationship or situation. And it's a good thing that we can feel these emotions. It would be a bad thing though if the people who actually voted for the MP's to get them their seat in our Parliament didn't use this as an important lesson in leading by example. Don't we have a habit of judging ourselves by our intentions and judging other people by their actions or behaviour?

Do the rules of the game need changing?

However ridiculous or annoying some of the expenses claims may first appear to us, many of them appear to have been made WITHIN THE RULES. OK, perhaps, it is now time to revisit the rules, develop more clarity and perhaps a nice bonus would be a level of transparency. When there is an absence of transparency, some people may steer their thinking towards suspecting there is a hidden or personal agenda rather than finding out the facts. This suspicion leads to trust falling apart - and it can happen very quickly as we are currently witnessing. Doesn't this bring to our attention another point worth considering? That even when acting within the rules and regulations, we can still break unwritten rules and expectations which relate to integrity, character, trust and transparency? MP's may wish to remember that during the war crime hearings following the second world war, many high-ranking German soldiers told the hearings that they were 'just following orders' - they complied with a higher authority who instructed them to behave in such a way, however inhumane or sickening the outcome of such behaviour/action.

To step down or to step up?

As all of the main political parties appear to have been implicated in the expenses scandal, how likely is it that Mr Cameron, Mr Brown or Mr Clegg will be insisting that their opposite number step down from office? Not likely at all I expect. When trust is lost, it can take what seems like forever to restore. It can be done though but it takes people og good character to step up, accept responsibility, speak authentically, apologise genuinely and set the example that the people who voted for them in the first place have a right to expect. Focus on character and not reputation. Our reputation is outside of ourselves and simply an opinion held by other people. It's outside of our control - however, when people say that we're wonderful, it can stroke out ego very nicely. But what happens to our reputation when those very same people change their mind? OUCH! Our character is ours, it is owned by us, is developed by us and is not in any way influenced or controlled by the good, or bad opinions of others. Character involves developing an abundance of trust - self-trust (trust for self) and even if nobody else knows that you have been dishonest or at the very least, economical with the truth - you know. Shouldn't that be lesson enough?

A comedian named Johnny Casson recently stated that 'Children's nappies and politicians should both be changed regularly. And for the very same reasons.' While Johnny's role is to entertain, wouldn't it be a good thing if the people we vote in to power to represent us chose to act in a way that reflects the trust placed in them? And perhaps it doesn't sound too authentic or accurate when the MP's involved in the current situation refer to each other 'As my honourable friend'. It just doesn't sound true anymore, at least for me.

Relate the current situation back to your workplace. Do you choose to focus on developing your reputation or developing your personal character?

Do you speak honestly and candidly about when you've messed up or made an error of judgment

Or do you keep quiet, hoping that nobody notices?

What do you feel it would be like to work for someone who wasn't transparent and who you knew was taking advantage of their position?

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