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Crime and Punishment the British way: Accountability Channels Following the MPs’ Expenses Scandal

  • Valentino Larcinese
  • 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.

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Paper provided by IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University in its series Working Papers with number 517.

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Date of creation: 2014
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Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:517
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  1. Swamy, Anand & Knack, Stephen & Lee, Young & Azfar, Omar, 2001. "Gender and corruption," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 25-55, February.
  2. Puglisi Riccardo, 2011. "Being The New York Times: the Political Behaviour of a Newspaper," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 1-34, April.
  3. Timothy Besley & Robin Burgess, 2000. "The Political Economy of Government Responsiveness: Theory and Evidence from India," STICERD - Development Economics Papers - From 2008 this series has been superseded by Economic Organisation and Public Policy Discussion Papers 28, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  4. Claudio Ferraz & Frederico Finan, 2008. "Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil's Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(2), pages 703-745, 05.
  5. Timothy Besley & Valentino Larcinese, 2011. "Working or shirking? Expenses and attendance in the UK Parliament," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 146(3), pages 291-317, March.
  6. Sendhil Mullainathan & Ebonya Washington, 2006. "Sticking with Your Vote: Cognitive Dissonance and Voting," NBER Working Papers 11910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Riccardo Puglisi & James M. Snyder, Jr., 2008. "Media Coverage of Political Scandals," NBER Working Papers 14598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Larcinese, Valentino & Puglisi, Riccardo & Snyder, James M., 2011. "Partisan bias in economic news: Evidence on the agenda-setting behavior of U.S. newspapers," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(9), pages 1178-1189.
  9. Besley, Timothy J. & Prat, Andrea, 2002. "Handcuffs for the Grabbing Hand? Media Capture and Government Accountability," CEPR Discussion Papers 3132, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Dollar, David & Fisman, Raymond & Gatti, Roberta, 2001. "Are women really the "fairer" sex? Corruption and women in government," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 423-429, December.
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