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LONDON — In British politics the familiar scenario is for the opposition to press for an early general election — there being no fixed-term provision in the very flexible British constitution — and for the government of the day to reject all such demands and sit tight.

The more unpopular the government of the day proves to be, the stronger the pressures from the opposition parties to hold an election. And of course the greater the determination of the government to avoid such a test and to hang on in the hope of better times ahead.

This is now broadly the scene at Westminster as the Labour government’s ratings reach a record low level, and as intermediate elections — for local government and for seats in the remote European Parliament — demonstrated that the electorate has truly fallen out of love with Labour and prefer to stay at home rather than vote for it.

The electorate may not yet have switched full allegiance to the Conservative opposition, but it seems clear that the opposition has gained ground under the present leader and prime minister. So it is generally assumed by most political experts that the Brown administration will cling on till the very last moment, sometime next May, and pray for some good news to turn up, such as a few green shoots of economic recovery.

But this time, one significant and unique difference marks a contrast with the “politics as usual” of the past. A gigantic swell of public opinion is heading toward Westminster in the form of an outburst of demand that the whole Parliament should be cleaned out and refreshed.

The detailed revelations of expense claims by members of Parliament (MPs) for second homes, and the often-dodgy practices on which these claims have been based in past years, have built up a mood of contempt for all elected politicians unknown in recent times.

One must go back to the English Civil War of the 17th century, when the dictator Oliver Cromwell and his colleagues purged the House of Commons and appointed a doctored list of yes-men to the so-called Rump Parliament, to find comparisons with today’s attitudes toward Parliament. Today, the loud demand is for a purge once again of the whole House of Commons.

In one sense this is healthy. Political establishments that become too inward-looking and remote from ordinary people and everyday concerns deserve to be booted out from time to time, and many of Britain’s liberties have been secured through such robust attitudes to the country’s rulers.

In a sense the Westminster coterie has had it coming for some time as Parliament has been increasingly ignored — not least by the previous British prime minister, Tony Blair — and has allowed its powers to seep away to higher authority in the European Union. All this was happening long before the expenses scandal swept the system.

Responses of the besieged political establishment have ranged from the comic to the desperate. Some have blamed the “system” of expenses that has long allowed them to draw cash (untaxed) to pay for their second homes, either back in their districts or in London if they already had a home elsewhere.

Some have called for radical reform of the whole parliamentary procedure. Some have oddly called for the other chamber, the House of Lords, to be elected rather than appointed, making it more like a second-class House of Commons, although how this would remedy the expenses problems of MPs in the House of Commons is hard to fathom.

Some have proposed setting up independent authorities to vet MPs’ activities, or even suggested that they should be recalled midterm to their districts and re-selected, thus turning them into delegates and upending centuries of tradition in which MPs were always representatives, using their own judgment, and not compliant delegates — a pattern more familiar in former communist states.

Most have found an easier way, which is to blame the prime minister and demand his removal, which of course he strongly resists, despite the desertion of half a dozen ministers and intense media criticism.

So the questions now are: Will Brown be forced out? Or will he hang on? And if he is indeed forced to go because of the desertion of colleagues and the collapse of parliamentary support, will that automatically lead to a general election? The answer: “not necessarily.” It is quite possible to engineer a change of prime minister without consulting the electorate. That is what happened almost two decades ago when Margaret Thatcher was ousted and replaced by John Major. And Brown himself replaced Tony Blair as prime minister without a popular mandate.

But this overlooks the unique mood of public dismay and anger now prevalent throughout the United Kingdom. Whatever maneuvers are carried on at Westminster, the nation as a whole wants a real clear-out.

“For we are the people of England, that have never spoken yet” went the line of a well-known poem by British writer G.K. Chesterton. They could be about to speak now, and the politicians will have to listen.

David Howell, a former British Cabinet minister and former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, is now a member of the House of Lords (www.lordhowell.com).

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