Not since the Profumo scandal in 1963 has an event so frightened the British political class.
The day-by-day revelations about MPs expenses, coming so soon after the banking crisis, could make it seem that Britain is running Iceland’s economy alongside Italy’s political system.
Unsurprisingly, opinion polls show an angry collapse in support for the major parties. The Speaker was dragged into the mess.
Fallout from a current financial and political is impossible to predict and may last for years to come.
The local and European elections will be used to register the electorate’s aggravation, so councils will be affected by the backwash from the expenses fiasco.
While the European elections, using proportional representation, offer fed-up voters the easiest opportunity to register a ‘none of the above’ protest, it is inevitable some of this message will seep through into county and other local elections.
Turnout will surely fall.
There has been some concern the British National Party might benefit from voter revulsion. Oddly, the very scale of the reaction to the expenses scandal may harm the BNP’s hopes.
As parties such as UKIP and the Greens benefit from protest votes, it seems likely they will build up a critical mass of support. If voting for the Greens or UKIP offers the best way of punishing the major parties, the BNP may see potential voters switch back to such ‘fringe mainstream’ parties.
The Parliamentary expenses issue will play out across British politics, getting a boost when all expenses details are officially published in July.
Some local parties will find themselves under pressure to deselect MPs. If this happens, a number of well-placed councillors may have an unexpected opportunity to get into Parliament. Of course, local newspapers may not differentiate between MPs and the rest of politics.
Local government needs to steer away from any risk councillors will be seen as simply part of a single political class.
Encouragingly, many MPs have not indulged in the kind of practices that have filled the news during the past two weeks.
There are plenty of genuinely honourable members in all parties. Building on this brighter note, the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has published a major report on the balance of power between central and local government.
These members are clear there needs to be a substantial shift of power away from the centre. The report is a good example of how some Parliamentarians understand the need for a shift in the balance of power.
Parliament and national politics will recover if, and only if, MPs are willing to change the way they manage themselves.
In Britain’s uniquely centralised political system there is no other way things can change. If MPs cannot bring about such improvements, the consequences for democracy would be unpredictable and damaging.
Much is at stake for all elected representatives at both levels of government.