The Sun reports today, with unsubtle snideness, on a new Channel 4 documentary, Tower Block Of Commons, in which ‘four pampered MPs were reduced to tears and tantrums when they swapped their grace and favour lifestyles for eight days living on a council estate.’
One of the MPs who took part is Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten, who is standing down at the next election. Here’s how the paper reports his experience:
In the first of the four-part series, the programme begins with Winchester MP Mark Oaten cleaning out his pool at his Hampshire pile and musing about what life on a council estate might be like.
He says: “I’m apprehensive. I think I’m going to have to eat lots of McDonald’s and watch Coronation Street. I don’t know what is going to be thrown at me so I am a bit nervous.”
As his car pulls up in the notorious Goresbrook Village in Dagenham, Essex, he gasps: “I’m hoping I’m not in a tower block. It is a bloody tower block.”
Staring up at Dunmow House on the looming estate he says: “It’s like when you turn up to the outskirts of Moscow. It feels like an old communist blocks.”
Oaten is invited to sleep on the couch in the living room of 43-year-old single mum Cathy, who has polished the floor specially for his arrival.
She says: “He’s got his own cook, a big house with a swimming pool. His life is just luxury. He hasn’t got to worry about where his next penny is coming from.
“My kids have never had a garden. The park is full of glass. Youths hang around smoking cannabis and drinking. It’s so boring here sometimes you might as well just sleep, or drink tea and smoke fags.”
When she advises Oaten to change into a tracksuit because he will get “egged” in his suit, he is aghast. “What’s egged? Eggs. Surely not?” he gasps.
Oaten resigned as the Lib Dem’s home affairs spokesman in 2006 following revelations he had three-in-a-bed sex sessions with two male prostitutes.
It’s not long before shamed Oaten is confronted by locals. One brazen youth shouts: “Ain’t you the one that got done for the rent boys? Oaten tries to retreat, but the youth shouts after him: “You’ve got Aids.”
In an extraordinary scene, tearful Oaten then lies face down on the grass outside the block.
Watching from her window, Cathy says: “One day he’s been in here and he’s like that. Look at him. I’ve been here ten years and he can’t take it. I’ve got his stuff, his wallet. If I didn’t he’d be off. I’m telling you he’d be on that train and straight home. My God. What is he gonna be like at the end of the week? He’s gonna want a noose.”
After a disturbed night listening to the busy A13 and Cathy’s hamster, Oaten realises he’s not cut out for this lifestyle. He admits: “If someone said to me, ‘You have to stay here for a week, a month, a year’ I don’t think I could cope.”
Will Mark Oaten’s appearance prove excruciating? Or will it show him responding honestly to an unfamiliar situation? If you want to find out, tune in to Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday, 1st February.