On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: twelve bags of compost; eleven hanging baskets; ten Tudor beams; nine toiltet seats; eight trouser presses, seven leather arm chairs; six porno films; five flat screen TVs, four Ikea kitchens; three garlic presses; two second homes and a duck house in a bell tower. But not any more, they won’t.
Forget Christmas Day in the Work House, what about in the House of Commons? Has there ever been a Yuletide so drear for Members of Parliament, who will no longer able to buy nice presents off their Lewis’s List. They might even have to pay for their own Christmas cards. The indignity. Having to buy their own Christmas trees and deck the halls of their London homes at their own expense.
Time was when MPs could spend, spend, spend on everything from moat dredging to organic dog food. It’s all there in the latest batch of expenses claims published by the House of Commons Auditor, Sir Thomas Legg: seagrass carpeting, ride on lawn-mowers, robotic vacuum cleaners. Ann Cryer MP bought duck egg-coloured Majestic velvet carpet at £73 a square and a toilet brush at £18. The former defence secretary, Geof Hoon claimed for two televisions in two years. No wonder all the shops are holding pre-Christmas sales this year. MP penury is surely a major reason why Britain is slower out of recession than other European countries.
And spare a thought too for the homeless this Christmas. No, not those people sleeping on the streets or the beggars who unreasonably block your way into the Sainsbury’s No – the really deserving: the Members of Parliament who, through no fault of their own, now face also the loss of their second homes. Now you can scoff – most of us make do with only one abode. But “second homelessness” can be psychologically damaging for individuals who have grown used to multi-residential living. MPs are going to have to rent, or – shock horror – stay in hotels. They are likely to suffer a profound sense of deprivation and loss of self-esteem and will no doubt claim for psychotherapeutic counselling.
That nice little bolt-hole in the New Forest where they used to take their secretaries and researchers for team bonding sessions. Gone forever. Those nice croft houses in the Hebrides or cottages in the North West of Scotland, where the local peasants used to cheer their MP’s arrival from the porches of their homely caravans, celebrating as house prices rose ever higher.
But that isn’t all. There’s another group of dispossessed needing your sympathy this Christmas: all the wives, husbands, sons, daughters and other relatives who are to be thrown cruelly out of work by the penny-pinching Scrooges who now run British politics. Even in the Scottish Parliament, last bastion of honest nepotism, MSPs are to be barred from putting close relatives on the public pay roll. What a grim Christmas for them. Dig deep – they‘ll need your help.
Think of that fine young chap, the flamboyant Henry Conway, the self confessed “Queen Sloan” employed by his father the Tory MP Derek Conway. Has anyone given a thought for his welfare this Christmas? He and his brother were paid £10,000 a year as parliamentary researchers while they studied in remote universities and organised parties in Chelsea with fun titles like: “F@@@ Off I’m Rich”. What will they do now? Derek Conway collected £260,000 of tax payers money employing his family. Now the Conways might even have to work for a living.
The expenses row, broken by the Daily Telegraph after it received a CD stolen from the parliamentary fees office, has led to the greatest upheaval in parliamentary lifestyles since MPs started getting paid a proper salary in 1911. MPs had come to see their expenses as a salary top up. After all, how could anyone be expected to get by on a pittance of £65,000 – a mere three times average wages. Barely enough to send a couple of sons to Eton.
Now that the party is over, we are told that MPs will desert in droves come the election and that the new intake will be of low calibre because of the poverty pay. Able individuals will shun parliament. There will be no towering intellects like Sir Anthony Steen, the Tory MP for Totness who rounded on jealous voters after it was revealed that he had claimed £87,000 for his “little Balmoral”. The Commons will have to get by without those great parliamentarians Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton, whose ingenious schemes for personal self-enrichment baffled Her Majesty’s Revenue. Gone also, Sir Peter Viggers who achieved international celebrity by claiming for a duck house.
And so now, in the bleak midwinter, as our few remaining MPs sit around their one bar electric fires in some grim housing estate in south London, they will dream dreams of the good old days. And wake up to the reality of living within their means – just like the voters of Britain who put them there.