ABC News' Jean Fievet reports:
Is the British government in meltdown? That’s what opposition parties are now saying, after it was revealed today that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is to step down from the cabinet and become the highest profile casualty so far in the expenses scandal that has engulfed Westminster.
Polls show that by and large, the scandal has hit both main political parties in Britain. Daily media coverage of the controversial expense claims made by members of parliament has been relentless, and has now entered its third week. The British public, experiencing its worst recession in decades , is not in a forgiving mood. So far, seventeen lawmakers caught up in the scandal, from both the Labour and Conservative parties, have said they will either step down at the next election, or have been barred from standing by their own party. One way or another, more are likely to follow.
The result has been a spectacular loss of public confidence in politicians of all parties. Some have called it a once-in-a-generation crisis. Political pundits have been doing much soul-searching. Is the scandal really an institutional crisis? Has parliament become sidelined in recent years, full of spineless career politicians that merely tow the party line? Has the scandal just served to highlight how politicians were already held in disdain by the public? Has the time come for constitutional reform to restore public faith in the “mother of parliaments”?
Yet now the focus has shifted onto Britain’s beleaguered leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, is under pressure over his expense claims. Two other cabinet ministers are looking decidedly vulnerable. The government is bracing itself for a big defeat in Thursday’s European elections, and conspiracy theories abound about plots to force Brown out by members of his own party. To make matters worse, Brown has been involved in an embarrassing diplomatic tussle over the Queen’s non-attendance at this week’s D-Day commemoration ceremonies in France.
Now the pundits are asking: is this the beginning of the end for Brown?