The World's Laura Lynch reports on why British politicians of all stripes are spending a lot of time apologizing these days. It has to do with newspapers printing expense claims for members of Parliament stretching back four years. The documents show many lawmakers took advantage of the system to claim thousands of dollars for things like home renovations and landscaping.
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LISA MULLINS: Politicians of all stripes are spending a lot of time apologizing in Britain these days. The Daily Telegraph newspaper has been printing details of expenses claims for members of Parliament claimed to stretch back four years. The leaked documents show some of those lawmakers took advantage of the system to claim thousands of dollars for home renovations and interest on mortgages. But there are many other items, even some rather trivial ones, that have raised the ire of taxpayers. The World's Laura Lynch reports.
LAURA LYNCH: For the fourth day in a row, taxpayers are learning the fine details of what MPs are buying with their money. There are big-ticket items â€“ thousands spent to renovate and furnish homes, thousands more to cover municipal taxes and mortgage interest â€“ and then there are the little comforts â€“ the things it seems British politicians can't do without, or at least without having the cost covered by taxpayers.
MAN: 2.50 Pence for a Kit Kat chocolate bar; 78 Pence for two tins of pet food; 59 Pence for a chocolate Santa, 2.50 Pounds for an eyeliner; 10 Pounds for horse manure; 5 Pence for an Ikea plastic bag.
LYNCH: And the list goes on. No one is escaping scrutiny, and they know it looks bad. So today, Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked for forgiveness.
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: And so I want to apologize on behalf of politicians on behalf of all parties for what has happened in these last few days.
LYNCH: Among today's revelations are the thousands of pounds opposition MP Alan Duncan claimed for gardening. He says it was for maintenance. Still, Duncan is chastened.
ALAN DUNCAN: The whole House of Commons, I think, has to apologize for the mess that has arisen. These allowances cannot continue like this. They've got to be replaced or changed or abolished. The House of Commons is in such a mess. These allowances have got to stop. I've been calling for this allowance to go for years.
LYNCH: But that didn't stop him from taking advantage of it himself. The fact is, the politicians were working within the system, but they're acutely aware that defense doesn't look too good under the glare of publicity. Opposition lawmaker David Willetts claimed the equivalent of about $150 dollars to have workmen replace 25 light bulbs in his home.
DAVID WILLETS: I mean, I know that the image of me not being able to change a light bulb is one that people will read in The Telegraph today. That isn't quite true. The truth is that we had problems with the electrics in our house.
LYNCH: Government MP Tony Wright says he's fed up with hearing his colleagues claim they were acting within the rules.
TONY WRIGHT: I think if the great British public hear that trotted out one more time, they will reach for their collective sick bag. I mean, it is the most extraordinary thing. I think we haven't had anybody yet, despite all these disclosures, who's simply said, â€œLook. Yes, I behaved badly, owned up, I did wrong.â€
LYNCH: Well, the apologies are flowing from all sides, but it's not enough to quell the public's fury. The subject has dominated chat shows. And Gordon Brown's apology isn't going down too well.
MAN 1: They've taken us all for a huge ride. And I don't want them just to say â€œsorryâ€ today. There must be accountability, immediate repayment, and the due process of law.
MAN 2: I think deep down, although he didn't say it, I think he's more sorry by the fact these MPs have been found out. They've finally been exposed for what they are.
LYNCH: The newspaper that's delivering the details is promising more and more and more in the days to come. The editor refuses to say whether he paid a government bureaucrat to get at the files. But that seems to matter little to a public already grumbling about generous payments to bankers and banks in these difficult times. Now, the country's politicians, not all that popular to begin with, are competing for the dubious honor of being the most disliked people in Britain. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch, in London.