I wish I could muster a greater sense of opprobrium and indignation at the news that we, the put-upon tax-payers of this disunited kingdom, are subsidising the meals of our elected representatives to the tune of £5.8m per annum.
I don’t even give a weeping fig for the £370,000 bill for hiring trees for Portcullis House (or as the Daily Mirror helpfully pointed out: the equivalent of “the salary of 21 soldiers or 18 midwives – or £438,250 including VAT”)
The denizens of Westminster Village are riding us like donkeys? It’s hardly a ‘hold-the-front-page’ revelation now is it? Where I come from, there’s an old adage that springs to mind at times like this; evincing a complete lack of surprise at the bad behaviour of a person or a class of people: What would you expect from a pig but a grunt?
There are, however, a couple of aspects of this story that do give some pause for thought at least. On 6 February, notorious Westminster blogger (and London-Irish trouble-maker) Guido Fawkes posted an article drawing attention to the use of Portcullis House’s members’ restaurant by lobbyist (and current girlfriend of Chris Huhne) Carina Trimingham.
The price we pay for this is something else entirely and it’s called the democratic deficit
The former Energy Secretary Mr Huhne is currently having issues of his own, having been under police investigation for more than seven months now. Huhne and his former wife appeared together in the dock at Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Thursday 16 February, accused of perverting the course of justice. (Both were remanded on unconditional bail and ordered to attend Southwark crown court on 2 March.)
But returning to Huhne’s present paramour Ms Trimingham; Guido Fawkes asks (not without some justification) what “a lobbyist is doing having unmitigated access to Parliament”? She may have a spouse’s pass but that does little to allay my fears, particularly when one observes the ease with which she exploits her privileged position in order to further her career, boasting of her ‘excellent contacts amongst the Liberal Democrats’ in a job application.
This unholy nexus of politicians and lobbyists encourages cynics like me to view the Westminster regime of privilege and back-scratching as another area (like the Metropolitan Police/News International circle-jerk) where standards in public life are blatantly flouted while ostensibly observing the rules. Fawkes also helpfully points out that “after two terms in the House, former MPs are entitled to a pass, meaning they can get access to the bars and restaurants and continue to live their subsidised life.”
It’s the sense of entitlement that is perhaps most odious. I would never begrudge our elected representatives the right to subsidised food anymore than I would resent it in an NHS canteen; they are after all, public servants. But how often do we hear nurses or soldiers moaning that the food they are served, largely at public expense, is “literally uneatable”? The Tory ‘member’ (and I use the term advisedly) for Tewkesbury, Laurence Robertson certainly feels that he deserves better at least (why, I'm not sure).
I don’t know about you but if I’m getting rib-eye steak with béarnaise sauce and hand-cut chips for £7.80, I’m not going to moan about it. When I hear about fat, self-serving clusterfucks carping on because the catering staff hasn’t arranged their chips in a tower, I can feel my blood pressure spiralling and I have visions of bitch-slapping the whining oxygen-thieves in question till my fingers go numb.
It’s also probably worth remembering that our elected representatives, by and large, do nothing more than rubber-stamp legislation that has already been drawn up by our friends in Brussels. All that really happens in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ is that European law is translated into English and promulgated with minor changes.
In other words, our elected representatives are, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than provincial bureaucrats. What little latitude there is for deviation from EU Directives, is generally applied for the benefit of big business and well-financed pressure groups in the Westminster lobby
We may have some idea of how much the subsidising of Westminster's restaurants costs, but the price we pay for this is something else entirely and it’s called the democratic deficit.
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