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on 7 January 2010
This book should be read by every taxpaying citizen voter BEFORE they consider who to vote for in the next general election. It debunks the myth about 'honourable members' in the current UK parliament and is written by a one time insider in the 'system'.
Martin Bell (no relation to me!!) has to one of the very few individuals related to the current parliamentary setup in the UK who can be trusted to give us spin free information!
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on 27 January 2011
Martin Bell isn't afraid to get stuck in with his own thoughts, opinions and personal allegiances about the expenses scandal, which makes it an interesting read. I actually found that some of his opinions were questionable (such as the chapter defending Dr Ian Gibson) but the real joy of the book is that it is meant to get you thinking, debating and questioning right from wrong. In that sense it is one long opinion piece. That makes it sounds bad - it isn't; particularly because Mr Bell's opinion as a former MP and informed member of the public is worth listening to.

Honestly, it is a fairly depressing read about the greed of those who were meant to give not take. But it contains a seam of hope that things can improve. Unfortunately it depends on trustworthy MPs. After reading this book I get the sense that we're all doomed...
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on 6 December 2009
This book explodes a few myths about how political parties work.It was definately a book you cannot put down but it is not light holiday reading.
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on 2 February 2010
This is 100% better and more interesting than the book published by The Daily Telegraph. Their book focussed more on the inner workings of their newspaper and became totally boring half way through. Martin Bell's book was an easy read from cover to cover and dealt with this scandal effectively.
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on 15 February 2012
Well I read this book but I really had to power through. I am genuinely very interested in Politics but this book is very repetitive and feels like he is trying to string out the topic for as long as he can. The other problem with the book is that he is very biased against the Lib Dems and Labour.

A lot of the book is just his opinion based on his values and won't necessarily be shared by everyone!
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VINE VOICEon 10 April 2010
In 2002 the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin, was removed from her job, "essentially for doing it too well". MP's did not like the thoroughness of her investigations and preferred a system which allowed them to make claims which, if submitted to the Inland Revenue, would probably have been kicked into touch. The results of that self-regulation was an expenses scandal which "ranged from petty thieving to outright fraud". What followed were displays of arrogance by MP's who under-estimated both the intelligence and disgust of the general public.

"It began with an 88p bath plug" bought by, or on behalf of, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. The Parliamentary Commissioner, John Lyon, refused to investigate the matter as the complaint was based on a newspaper story. Parliamentary rules allow MP's to claim expenses for their second home (funded by taxpayer's money) but not their main home. Thus when a neighbour complained that Smith was rarely at her alleged main home (a room in her sister's home) Lyon had no option but to investigate. It soon emerged that many MP's were in the habit of "flipping" their homes i.e. at different times claiming their second home was their main home and gaining specific benefits such as avoiding capital gains tax and receiving expenses judged to be inappropriate.

As Bell, a former MP and member of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, noted, "many MPs were more concerned with their privileges than their standards". The result was "state-funded extravagance." Thus the headline writers had a field day in 2009 when they discovered Douglas Hogg's manor house had been designated as his second home on which he claimed £2115 for cleaning the moat and additional amounts for piano tuning and fixing the stable lights. Hogg was surprised voters found this unacceptable. Sir Peter Viggers was lampooned for charging £1645 for a floating duck island. Bell noted that over a three year period Labour MP Mike Hall had claimed £15000 for cleaning bills. Bell himself had always paid his own and thought everyone else should. In this respect he was in tune with the general public.

MP's did not help their cause by their responses. Over a four year period, Conservative MP Sir Anthony Steen, claimed his second home was in his constituency on which he claimed £87,729 for maintenance, including tree inspections and guarding shrubs against rabbits. He attributed public distaste for his actions to "Jealousy". Alan Duncan said MP's were underpaid at £64,000 per annum and forced to live on rations. He was immediately removed from the Shadow Cabinet. However, the scandal was not confined to one party. When a Private Members Bill to exempt the House of Commons from the Freedom of Information Act was introduced (thus preventing expenses from being published) its supporters were Conservative David Maclean, Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat) and Stuart Bell (Labour). The Bill only failed because it could not find a sponsor in the House of Lords, thanks largely to the impact of public opinion.

This did not stop MP's attempting to prevent their expense claims from being published. When the information was finally released by the House of Commons a lot of information was inked out. None of this found favour with the 250,000 people who logged on to the House of Commons website the same day. It was clear that MP's were out of touch with the mood of the country. Matters came to a head when lawyers for MP's appearing in the Courts claimed exemption from prosecution as a matter of Parliamentary privilege. By then Michael Martin was forced to resign as Speaker of the House of Commons (albeit with "a generous taxpayer-funded index-linked pension until his death") and a record number of MP's announced they would not be seeking re-election. As some expense claimers may be elected to the new Parliament the chances of a completely fresh start appear impossible

Bell calls the scandal an accident waiting to happen. Tony Blair was elected in 1997 with a promise to clean up politics, following years of sleaze which included receiving cash for asking questions in the House of Commons. Peter Mandelson was forced to resign when he was caught not revealing in his mortgage application that he already had a loan on his constituency home. His defence was "that he did not know a mortgage was a loan". Labour MP, Dr Tony Wright, chairman of the Public Administration Committee, warned as early as 2002, of the inherent dangers of allowing MPs to regulate their own expenses. In 2007 the outgoing Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee accused Blair of failing to keep his promise to clean up politics.

As a result of the scandal the notion of "Honourable Members" has taken a beating. Bell believes British politics will never be the same again and advocates reforms to make MP's more accountable to their constituents. He concludes "it is not their (MP's) Parliament: it is our Parliament" and "politics is too important to be left to the politicians. They are not to be trusted with it". In the final analysis we get the government we deserve. As a contemporary account of the expenses scandal Bell's book is excellent. It's easy to read, honest and interesting. Five stars.
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on 22 September 2011
Martin Bell has a difficult balancing act in this book. On the one hand he is the indignant former journalist, on the other a former MP. So he has to remain somehow above the scandals, and chooses rather to sound naive, astonished that as an MP he had not even known about the possibilities to abuse expenses.

From his vantage point he can decry the abuses we all know about. It really is pretty easy recalling all those details of bath plugs and moats, and the other knock-about stuff. Where he is good on this is in showing how far the scandalous behaviour was from the Nolan principles of conduct in public life, or detailing the various attempts by MPs to block any scrutiny or reform in the period leading up to the scandal.

The distance from events makes it easy for him to sound superior, but he does manage (just) to avoid sounding smug. He owns up to various foibles or mistakes (one such being a decision not to resign from the Committee for Standards and Privileges), although he does still like to sound important - he recalls tipping off a senior officer about abuse of expenses, and recommending a phone call to a good source. The call was never made, and the rest is history. But if Martin knew, why did he not persevere? You do get the impression that when he laments the fact that we no longer have a George Orwell among us he would at least like an audition.

Sometimes he is not entirely clear - the "political class" is dismissed as a modern phenomenon even as he quotes a reference from 1855. His complaints about a "non-elected PM" in Britain are surprising, as there is no compulsion for a PM to be elected to office by the people. Another such error is the reference to Italian PM Berlusconi as the President of Italy.

Having pointed to these lapses I should say that I did enjoy reading the book. Even when one disagrees with Mr Bell - he seems to me to be entirely unfair to civilian politicians when discussing the issue of defence - he does at least make you think. The same goes for the long list of ways to improve the situation at the end - again, some of them seem very debatable, but it is that spirit of debate which keeps the book above the level of cheap knock-'em-down anecdotes.
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on 31 October 2011
I have just finished reading this book and found it very interesting and mainly quite a good read. I have marked the book down to 3 stars tho because I felt that Bell went off on a tangent about half way through the book as if discovering that it wasnt quite long enough for the publishers and needed padding out. Despite that a good read.A Very British Revolution
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on 18 January 2015
Altogether a rant that gets a bit repetitive, but he makes so many good points that he is forgiven by me for being a bit too passionate. for heaven's sake why don't we always have Open Primaries in Britain? Is anybody listening to Martin Bell? I hope so.
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on 13 January 2012
Serious discussion about the more dubious side of MPs. Nice touch of including information about expenses claimed in chapters about MPs or issues.
Before reading this book I was concerned by the power wielded by the party political machines, believing that it was to the detriment of both the constituencies the MPs represent, the parties themselves and the future of the country. After reading this book I am only further entrenched in that belief and I hope that the future offers the opportunity for a refreshing discourse on this matter - or that more independents are able to take places in the House of Commons.

Whilst watching the House of Commons can be most amusing, it is perhaps not conducive to good government.

I found this book very accessible and quite thought-provoking. Will definitely read more of Martin Bell's work and start to read some of the Hansard records.
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