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U.K. opposition leader outlines reforms

Britain's top opposition leader proposes a radical redistribution of power as a way to restore faith in government following a scandal over the misuse of public funds.
Britain Expenses Scandal
Britain's Conservative Party opposition leader David Cameron delivers a speech at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England on Tuesday. He proposed a radical redistribution of power on Tuesday as a way to restore faith in government following a scandal over the misuse of public funds. Stefan Rousseau / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Britain's top opposition leader proposed a radical redistribution of power on Tuesday as a way to restore faith in government following a scandal over the misuse of public funds.

Conservative leader David Cameron, who is widely favored to become Britain's next prime minister, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Guardian newspaper that the power of the prime minister should be reduced. He also said he would also consider giving lawmakers fixed terms.

"I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power," Cameron, 42, wrote in a two-page article. He pledged decentralization, transparency and accountability.

"We must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street," he said.

Cameron said individual lawmakers should get more say in how they vote — rather than being forced to follow the party line. Leaders should also consider curtailing the immense power of the prime minister, who can decide when to hold elections.

Cameron's promises follow more than two weeks of sordid revelations about the abuse of lawmaker expenses that has tarnished all of Britain's political parties, particularly Prime Minister Gordon Brown's ruling Labour Party. A handful of House of Commons lawmakers have been forced to announce they will not run for re-election due to the expenses scandal and political analysts say hundreds of lawmakers could lose their jobs in the next election.

Sweeping reforms of the expense system
Brown has proposed sweeping reforms of the expenses system for lawmakers, saying that will eliminate the outrageous charges seen under the old system, where lawmakers did not have to publicly reveal their reimbursement details.

But Brown has resisted calls to hold an early national election to let the public oust legislators who abused the system because the opposition Conservatives are far ahead of Labour in opinion polls and widely expected to win. By law, Brown must call the next election by June 2010.

British lawmakers do not have fixed terms. A prime minister must call an election within five years of the previous election.

Cameron wrote that beneath the current anger is a deeper discontent in British society over a feeling of powerlessness and Britain's "increasingly Orwellian surveillance state," citing a hotly-disputed plan to give people identification cards.

"The anger, the suspicion and the cynicism — yes with politics and politicians, but with so much else besides — are the result of people's slow but sure realization that they have very little control over the world around them, and over much that determines whether or not they'll live happy and fulfilling lives," he wrote.

The op-ed piece was part of Cameron's maneuvering to pressure Brown into calling early elections.

Money used to clean moats, buy TVs
Public anger has been fueled by revelations of how lawmakers used public money to clean a moat, buy plasma screen TVs and repair swimming pools. Most claims were legally valid under Parliament's lax rules, but some — like claiming interest payments for mortgages that were already paid off — could spark criminal charges.

The stricken lawmakers are pushing for changes unprecedented in the nation's history, even though many ideas have been discussed before, such as changing Britain's electoral system — which favors the two major parties — to one that apportions House of Commons seats based on each party's share of the national vote.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg described Cameron's ideas as a "nip and tuck" solution.

"I think David Cameron's ideas are fine as far as they go — but they don't go far enough," he told GMTV, a British morning television program. Clegg said huge amounts of power were given to Britain's two main parties.

"It seems to me that we want to have governments in power in our name who really have to get a proper mandate from us, otherwise what right do they have to run things on our behalf?" Clegg said.