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U.K. lawmakers face ouster over expenses

/ Source: The Associated Press

David Cameron, Britain's main opposition leader, said Sunday that a major purge of veteran legislators is likely at the next national election amid mounting public anger over the country's scandal regarding lawmakers' expenses.

Cameron, who has ordered some his Conservative Party lawmakers to quit over their excessive claims, said fresh faces are necessary to help rebuild confidence in the Britain's political system.

Days of embarrassing revelations have disclosed how legislators used public money to clean moats, pay for pornographic movies and an ornamental bird house, furnish lavish second homes or claim vast sums for mortgage loans.

Many — but not all — the details were to have been released in July following a freedom of information ruling that ordered lawmakers' expense receipts to be made public for the first time. But they were published by Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper after it acquired copies in advance via a former special forces soldier.

Facing a public backlash
Lawmakers have faced a public backlash almost unprecedented in recent years, with voters angered by what they say is a squandering of public funds during the economic downturn.

Colin Rallings, director of the University of Plymouth's elections data center, told The Sunday Times newspaper that a new analysis suggested as many as 325 of Britain's 646 House of Commons lawmakers could quit or be ousted by voters as a direct result of the scandal.

Several public figures, including well-known British television presenter Esther Rantzen, already have suggested they will stand at the next election as independent candidates to protest the scandal.

Cameron said he will reopen lists of candidates that his party has drawn up ahead of the next election, to allow people who have not previously been involved in politics to put themselves forward.

In Britain, local political party officials select a candidate via an interview process, often choosing from would-be lawmakers who have no connection with the district they are seeking to represent in the House of Commons. Some lawmakers have called for a U.S.-style open primaries to select candidates.

"They may not have had anything to do with the party before. But I'm saying, if you believe in public service, if you share our values, if you want to help us clean up politics, come and be a Conservative candidate," Cameron told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Expected to win power at next election
The Conservatives are far ahead of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party in opinion polls and widely expected to win power at the next election, which Brown must call by June 2010.

Though Cameron's lawmakers have been responsible for some of the most audacious expenses bills, including charging the public for a mole catcher and repairs to a tennis court, his party hasn't suffered in opinion polls.

Several polls in recent days have shown that a majority of the public want Brown to call an election before the end of the year, to allow them to boot out lawmakers who have abused their expenses.

But Treasury chief Alistair Darling declined to say Sunday whether a 2009 election is likely. "We will have an election when the prime minister decides," Darling told the BBC. "The election will be about a range of issues, whether it's about the expenses question, trust, constitutional reform or the wider economy."

The Telegraph reported Sunday that about 200 lawmakers employ family members as staff, allowing them to charge numerous routine household expenses to the taxpayer.

It also said more curious bills were submitted by legislators. Christopher Chope, a Conservative, charged the public 881 pounds ($1,400) to have a sofa reupholstered, while Labour's Tom Levitt filed an expense claim for the 16 pound ($25) cost of a wreath he laid at a war memorial service.