Am expecting the esteemed journal to plop on my doormat when I return from Barcelona where I have been this week, amid the hooting of horns and fireworks, for a conference.

If you are not a subscriber the link to become one is here. In the meantime I am posting/pasting my latest column:

Carry On Claiming?
As the expenses-saga wore on, our morbid fascination for the lurid detail of it all continued. Anger grew and the leaked claims got curiouser and curiouser. A packet of hobnobs, dogfood, a rocking chair, a trouser press, an antique rug… It all began to take on the aura of the conveyor belt feature of one-time BBC tea-time viewing staple “The Generation Game”, where contestants witnessed consumer durables whiz before their eyes before undertaking a recall exercise to win them. Always on the list somewhere was “cuddly toy”; which felt like the one item absent from the honourable members’ claims.

What do the claims, which relegated even Jordan and Peter’s bust up to the inside pages, say then about the political cultures among our parties? Does the fact that a LibDem wanted a rocking chair indicate questionable third party priorities? Surely it is telling that the not-short-of-a-bob-or-two George Osborne a wanted a chauffer driven ride from his Greater Manchester constituency to Westminster. The jaw-dropping collection of moat-cleaning, swimming-pool maintainance and tennis court heating claims all demonstrate that under the veneer of Cameron’s egalitarian spin, the Conservative squireocracy is alive and well. As evermore extravagant Tory grandee details leaked out it became clear that they had a better class of claim, putting the ginger crinkle biccies of their opponents to shame.

Housing seems to have been a Labour preoccupation; buying, selling and kitting out. As a second generation Bangladeshi myself I only wished I’d warned Shahid Malik of the possibility of potential dodgy Asian landlords out there. My old MP Gerald Kaufman claimed he was “living in a slum”. Kitty Usher appears to have alienated the artex ceiling-loving vote with her subjective interpretation of what constitutes poor taste. To the 2005 Labour General Election pledges we could justifiably add “your television widescreen”. From massage chairs to massaging the figures, trouser-presses to pocketing the cash: all sides have been implicated and politics appears to have been the loser.

The fall-out has been massive: the once gentlemanly Question Time turned into a lynchmob, a formerly obscure BBC News 24 presenter became a YouTube hit for taking the bait when challenged by Lord Foulkes on the details of her own P60. MPs who would normally kill to be front page news found themselves peering out from underneath the Telegraph’s masthead, becoming household names overnight – for all the wrong reasons.

Of course much of the queried cash has been paid back. Hazel Blears was one of the first to set this precedent; chirpily appearing with a cheque for the requisite amount of capital gains tax, almost like an ecstatic pools winner or someone who’d struck the lottery jackpot. Others followed suite, commonly claiming accounting was not their string suit or pleading amnesia. As we navigate our way through a serious recession, extravagant expense claims are not going to get MPs Joe Public’s sympathy. Reversing a payment for treating dry rot (for a house not in the constituency or capital) has not appeared to stop the rot. However from this shambles a better system must and will emerge. It is now commonly acknowledged that long-needed reform must be urgently undertaken.

There is much at stake; by-products of the saga include the elections of June 5th. Every Progress member needs to strive to prevent worries that revulsion over expenses will drive people BNP-ward becoming a reality. Those taking out their anger by simply not voting inadvertently help advance Nick Griffin, aided and abetted by STV in the Euros. As the General Election rapidly approaches, once again it is the ballot boxes that will have the last say. In the meantime I’ve been brainstorming slogans. “New Labour New Britain New tv” anyone?

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