British expenses scandal moves to heart of government

June 2nd, 2009 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown London, June 2 (DPA) The scandal over the abuse of parliamentary expenses moved closer to the core of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government Tuesday amid reports of an expected ministerial resignation and the admission of “errors” by two cabinet ministers.
Unconfirmed reports said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith would step down from her post in a reshuffle expected to be undertaken by Brown in the wake of elections to the European parliament and local elections in Britain later this week.

The 46-year-old minister had admitted to declaring her sister’s house in London as a second home under expenses rules, and earlier had made embarrassing headlines over her husband’s hire of pornographic videos on her expenses account.

Brown has promised to “clean-up” politics in the wake of the expenses scandal, in which hundreds of members of parliament (MPs) have been accused of making exaggerated - and possibly fraudulent - claims.

More than 50 MPs have since declared that they will not stand again in the next general election, due by June 2010, while the main opposition parties have urged Brown to hold an immediate general election to restore popular trust in politics.

The reports about Smith’s possible departure from government after two years in the job followed apologies from two key government ministers over “errors” in their expenses claims.

Late Monday, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, apologised for claims he made on service charges on a London flat and offered to repay several hundred pounds.

Darling, the second-most powerful man in the British government, and a long-term ally of Brown, had earlier been accused of changing the designation of a second home four times in four years to assist claims, and of claiming 1,400 pounds for help in filling in his tax returns.

On Tuesday, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon admitted that he “accidentally” overclaimed expenses on a second home and said he would pay back the 384 pounds ($630) in question.

Even though the sums involved in the cases involving the two long-standing Labour ministers are small, the scandal surrounding expenses has evolved to focus on the issue of morality in government.

The latest revelations come just two days before elections to the European parliament, and local elections in Britain, in which the ruling Labour Party is expected to perform badly.

It is widely expected that Brown will undertake a major reshuffle following the elections in an attempt to restore his government’s battered image, and that a number of key government ministers could be replaced.

A series of opinion polls published ahead of the elections has shown that support for all the main parties has dropped in the wake of the scandal, and that voters are likely to turn to fringe parties at both ends of the political spectrum.

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