CHARLENEM -Staff Writer-
Lawmakers focusing on economy as angry Brits ponder a change in political rulership
(FinalCall.com) – The major political parties made many promises during their recent annual conferences, including vows to curb crime and eradicate political corruption–but improving the state of Britain’s economy is the number one concern for many Britons going into the national election in mid-2010. Worries about the housing and the healthcare systems follow.
A Times-Populus poll gave the Conservatives a 40 percent to 30 percent lead over the governing Labour Party, which has been in office since 1997, at Final Call presstime.
The third runner-up is the Liberal Democrats Party with 18 percent of voters. The Green Party, will hold its national convention Nov. 13-15.
The new poll was conducted after Conservative leader David Cameron vowed tough public spending cuts to beat the downturn and slash the national debt.
The British economy will recover more quickly than many economists have predicted, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a recent interview.
Mr. Brown told The Daily Telegraph newspaper he believed the economy would grow by 1.5 percent next year, a higher rate than many have foreseen. The International Monetary Fund has said it expects 0.9 percent growth for Britain in 2010.
Mr. Brown’s assessment is more positive than that of opposition leader David Cameron. Mr. Cameron told his Conservative Party in mid-October that deep public spending cuts would be needed to beat the downturn and slash Britain’s 1 trillion pound national debt.
The Conservatives propose raising Britain’s state pension age, tightening welfare programs and freezing the pay of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.
Mr. Brown said the Conser-vatives were pessimists and their austerity plans would cut off the public spending needed to keep unemployment down and get the economy growing.
“They’re for cutting the help, therefore allowing unemployment to continue to rise,” Mr. Brown was quoted as saying.
“The choice is between people like me who are optimists for the future of this country and those who think the prospects of this generation are worse than the last,” he said.
“One thing that is looking evident is that the Conservatives will be getting into office,” forecast Huey Rose, United Kingdom chairman of the New Black Panther Party.
Recent political scandal over unjustified expenses by politicians, dissatisfaction over the country’s involvement in the Afghanistan War, and Labour Party complacency are just a few things that have helped to drive people to the Conservatives, he told The Final Call.
The prime minister himself is being forced to repay over 12,000 pounds in disputed claims following an audit of how British lawmakers spent public money.
Dozens of lawmakers received letters Oct. 12 from Thomas Legg–who Prime Minister Brown appointed to audit expense claims–asking them to repay the money or offer further explanations for why they claimed certain expenses. Mr. Legg was chosen to audit the spending rules in an effort to quell public outrage over lawmakers’ greed and abuse of taxpayer funds.
Mr. Brown’s office confirmed that he will pay back some money claimed for a maid and for decorating, but said Mr. Legg had told Prime Minister Brown he had not broken any rules.
Mr. Brown has urged all lawmakers to repay the excessive claims identified by Mr. Legg.
Details of legislators’ claims, which were leaked to a newspaper earlier this year and later released publicly, revealed how scores of politicians made inappropriate expense claims or manipulated housing allowance rules.
Some used public funds to renovate homes that were later sold for substantial profits or bought items that included pornographic movies, horse manure and an ornamental duck house.
Mr. Legg has proposed that lawmakers claim no more than 2,000 pounds per year for cleaning, or 1,000 pounds for gardening. He has suggested that lawmakers repay expenses that previously exceeded those limits–though they had not broken any laws in making the claims.
Under these recommendations, Mr. Brown’s expenses were 12,415 pounds over the limit.
The prime minister suggested that repaying the money is an important step.
“We have got to clean up politics, we have got to consign the old discredited system to the dustbin of history, so this is part of the process,” Mr. Brown told GMTV television.
About 175 legislators have already repaid about 300,000 pounds since the details of their expense claims were made public. Some legislators have suggested they could refuse, or challenge the audit in British courts.
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith Oct. 12 made a personal apology to the House of Commons over her excessive claims.
Ms. Smith became the most high-profile casualty of the expenses scandal when she quit in June. Leaked documents exposed that she’d inadvertently included two pornographic movies ordered by her husband in an expense claim.
Dozens of lawmakers have already resigned in the wake of the scandal. One study suggested that up to 300 of Parliament’s 646 lawmakers could lose their jobs in the next election–although some of that could be attributed to the widely expected rout of Mr. Brown’s ruling Labour Party by the Conservatives.
“Regardless of whoever comes back in, they’re not going to be able to mend the current condition. They will possibly need two terms to get England out of its condition because England is now more in debt than ever before,” Mr. Rose said.
The country is borrowing money from the IMF just to be able to pay the civil servants and public servants, such as police, fire people, doctors and teachers, he said.
Despite beliefs that the Conservatives will win office, Mr. Rose said Black people could actually be the pivotal tide on how the election turns, depending on how they organize because of their political power in some parts of London.
According to Mr. Rose, ethnic minorities make up one-third of London’s population of 17 million and in some areas they are the fastest growing populations.
“We could vote as an independent and put our own politicians into party; we could establish our own Black political party; or we could just do nothing and twiddle our thumbs. And we will just catch hell because it will be the same hell we catch from the Labour-controlled government, but with the Conservative controlled-government, they will kick our backsides harder,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.