517. Crime and Punishment the British way: Accountability Channels Following the MPs’ Expenses Scandal
by Valentino Larcinese and Indraneel Sircar
Does democracy make politicians accountable? The UK expenses scandal of May 2009 constitutes an ideal setting to answer this question, since it allows credible ceteris paribus comparisons. We show that scandal-related press coverage significantly increased the probability of an MP to retire, reduced vote shares of standing MPs, but did not decrease their re-election probability. We also show that punishment was directed to individual MPs involved in the scandal rather than their parties. An objective monetary measure of malfeasance from an official report explains press coverage but has no independent effect on MPs’ retirement or vote shares. We show that voters perceive co-partisan MPs to be less involved than other MPs. Finally we analyse coverage of the scandal by seven national newspapers and conclude that the press worked as a watchdog by focussing on the government and on frontbenchers of the main opposition party, with little role for ideological leanings. Our study also uncovers a substantial gender bias: ceteris paribus, female MPs received more media attention and, for the same level of media attention, were more likely to stand down.