Parliamentary Elections In Britain

Here in Britain, in just a few hours time, the voters out there will be going to the polls to elect new Members of the European Parliament and new local councils. Or at least some of them will.

These elections do not set the pulses racing. Most of those voters could not actually name their European representative or their local councilor and in ordinary times, most don't even bother to vote.

But these are not ordinary times. The political system in this country is seized by a crisis more deep and more dangerous than anything I have seen in more than thirty years of covering British politics. The banking crisis was bad enough -- but a massive scandal over a generous expenses system which enabled our national legislators to rip off the public is worse. Much worse. One newspaper's continuing disclosure of some breathtaking abuses now threatens the entire democratic structure because they have destroyed the bond of trust which holds the system together.

According to a recent opinion poll, more than half of British voters think that more than half of our parliamentarians are corrupt. For weeks now, we have been treated to pages of revelations of our legislators' dodgy dealings -- and every day there are stories of parliamentarians and even of ministers forced from office.

Our beleagued Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is desperately trying to hold his government together. But his administration is collapsing around him. His Homeland Security Secretary has announced she's off in the next few days. His Treasury Secretary seems about to be moved, or fired. He accused his Communities Secretary of 'totally unacceptable behavior' in her financial affairs, and she's now walked out. It looks like she's trying to damage him even more just before the elections. Other members of his Cabinet are hanging on by a thread, having been discovered using elaborate financial devices to avoid the very taxes they are meant to administer. Two junior members of his Government have also said they're leaving.

The wheels are falling off the wagon -- and fast. If the results of today's elections are as bad as the polls predict -- and they are saying his party is at its lowest rating since records began -- the question now being asked is -- not whether Gordon Brown can win next year's General Election, but whether he can survive as Britain's Prime Minister next week.
By Peter Allen