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The Right Honourable Members?

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The latest scandal to hit British politics is the expose of the way elected MP’s have been feathering their pockets with taxpayers money via outrageous expense claims.

The practice has been widespread across all parties and has only come to light after an MP has gone public with the practices and newspapers have gained access to the details of the claims historically made. Some of the worst excesses have been the practice of “flipping” or declaring a second home to be the main residence to enable specific 2nd property expense claims (which were supposed to be for MP’s which live far from London), claims for a second residence which in fact was a room in her sisters home (Home Secretary Jacqui Smith), a plethora of claims for dog food, cleaning the moat of the family castle, 100 pounds a pop for changing light bulbs and even repairs to the family tennis court. All while the man in the street is under threat of losing their job, suffers from below inflation wage increases, or salaries (such as Nurses) significantly lower than some of the MP expense claims. It is little wonder that confidence in Politicians is at an all time low ebb.

The mantra we have heard from many of those caught with their fingers in the public purse, is that they have done nothing wrong and that the “rules” – if one could call them that – allow such excess. The other argument put forward is that the politicians need to have generous expense allowances to make up for the low level of salary they draw. A salary which in some ways has not kept pace with inflation or recommended increases. It must be noted that in this respect the leaders of the respective ruling parties (Labour and Conservative) have both been happy to announce to the public that they would forgo rises to MP salaries to keep control over public spending. Claims which now ring very hollow when it is clear that the lavish expense allowances have more than made up for seeming probity over salary levels.

The current annual salary for an MP is £64,766. In addition, MPs receive allowances to cover the costs of running an office and employing staff, having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency. It is surprising that many London based MP’s have also deemed it necessary to have a second home in London! The 64,766 salary (before expenses) at more than 2.5 times the national median wage (24,900), is hardly trivial and is surely sufficient for anyone that has the true public service sentiment at heart. Sir Alistair Graham former Chairman of the committee on standards in public life, writing in the Daily Mail wrote:

“For too long, too many MPs have been abusing the taxpayer by unethically claiming parliamentary allowances to enhance what they see as an inadequate salary.”

However, the argument that MP salaries should be much higher in order to attract candidates of the highest caliber breaks down when one considers the very high numbers who run for office from all walks of life and experience.

The problem essentially stems from a core issue within secular capitalism. If you give the lawmakers – in this case parliament – the right to legislate including their own salaries/expenses they will abuse it. The pursuit of personal gain within capitalism is pervasive, and not limited to UK politicians. From company directors, to heads of public bodies, to those in positions of ruling, where those responsibilities extend to setting their own remuneration, the results have been consistently in their own favour. Western Politics is also seen as a gravy train to related directorships (those most involved in the Privatisation programmes in the Thatcher days, Lord Tebbit, Lord Walker, et al, all achieved lucrative directorships when retiring from the House of Commons). The lure of the speaker circuit and book contracts is also there for those reaching the highest levels. It is a poor politician indeed that cannot establish a key network of contacts that will ensure lucrative employment or further business opportunities post sitting in Parliament.

The whole notion of public service requires a different outlook. I am reminded of the incident during the rule of Omar bin al Khattab, the second Khaleefah when he was publicly challenged over the size of his cloak (the state was effectively rationing cloth in a very difficult time) and Omar was accused of having more than the one assigned piece! Rather than hide the fact that he was indeed wearing a garment made of more than one piece (he was after all a large man) it was left to his son, Ibn Omar to explain that he had given his own piece to his father.

Islamic history is littered with examples of selfless public service. Abdur-Rahman an Nasser was the Amir that opened Andalus (Spain) to Islam. As the Wali (governor) he appointed officers to look after the erection of new buildings (town planners) in accord to the Prophet’s (saw) command:

“The neighbor has the right over his neighbor in two things, firstly, to be free from bad cooking smells, and secondly for him not to build higher than his house.”

He also assigned officers to look after the milk, to ensure that the milk was not watered down. He appointed environmental health officers to inspect meat and other foodstuffs on sale, ensuring that the produce was well protected from flys and insects. He built hostels for the travellers and so scrupulous was he in his accounting of the public assets he would put out the candle he was using from the government store and alight a personal candle when attending to personal business. So busy was he with the affairs of state, that on his death when the people read his personal diaries they found that throughout his entire rule of 55 years, 7 months, and 3 days in office, he had only 14 days free from affairs of state. And on his death he had nothing to leave, he died poor.

In looking at such cases it is important not to assume that this is merely the results of strong principled individuals. The Islamic society is built upon key values which are built upon accountability to Allah (swt) rather than whether the individual will be caught by journalists or a court of public opinion. The values include the notion that authority in Islam is a trust and must be taken with full responsibility and concern for fulfilling that responsibility. The Muslim will seek reward in the hereafter.

There is little surprise that the public in the UK is turning off politics when their elected representatives have been so badly exposed. The democratic idea of assuming the people (or the elites dominating public opinion) will objectively and independently decide right from wrong to the benefit of all is fundamentally flawed. The Muslim world too has suffered from this corruption since the decline of the Caliphate and Islamic rule was replaced with man made rules and laws. But it is this very failure of democracy which is leading to a revival in the call for Shariah throughout the Muslim world – the West has long lost any form of leadership whether moral, economic or political.

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