Missed BBC QT? Then catch up now with the Eric Pickles’ slow-mo car crash

I didn’t imagine that last night’s BBC1 Question Time would be an especially memorable one – but my expectations were confounded by the efforts of Tory chairman Eric Pickles to dig himself into a deep, deep hole on MPs’ expenses. And then to keep on digging and digging.

Even if QT normally drives you round the bend, I do urge you to watch the three minute segment on the BBC website HERE. (Public appeal: can someone please, please, please put up this clip on YouTube for the benefit of posterity?)

Not since Welsh First Minister Rhoddri Morgan made a complete arse of himself by refusing to say whether he supported or not the Iraq war (on the bizarre grounds that he wasn’t an MP at the time of the invasion so had no rights to a view), has a senior politician died quite such a slow, lingering death in front of an audience of millions.

Eric Pickles represents the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar, 37 20 miles from Westminster, and therefore has a home in his constituency, and a second home – which we taxpayers are funding – near Westminster. Some will think that fair enough; it’s probably about an hour’s commute by train.

But Eric’s justification was risible: he needs a second home, he told us, because “the House of Commons runs like clockwork”, and he simply can’t be late; indeed, he proudly told us, he frequently has to be in Parliament by 9.30 am. Imagine that! As David Dimbleby sarcastically interjected, to huge applause, “Like a job?”

But I do everything within the rules, squealed Eric. An audience member, who for once was both sane and perceptive, exposed the Tory party chairman’s hypocrisy by asking if Eric thought Sir Fred Goodwin should hand back his pension: “Of course,” said populist Eric. But didn’t Sir Fred also play within the rules?, asked his interrogator: what’s the difference? Camera cruelly cuts to visibly speechless Mr Pickles.

It was at this point, perhaps, that Eric realised quite how much he’d lived down to his surname, and that he really couldn’t extricate himself: “I’m never going to satisfy you folks,” he harrumphed, “because I’m an MP and therefore guilty in your eyes.” Well dug, Eric.

It is, of course, easy to mock. In fact, all Eric Pickles was treating us to were his unvarnished views; and they’re not just his views; they’re shared by substantial numbers of his fellow Tory and Labour MPs, who have consistently refused to back Lib Dem attempts to tighten up the rules, and bring Parliament into the current millennium.

Perhaps last night’s humiliation will force Eric to think again, to recognise that the days of MPs voting themselves expenses that few others in the public sector could ever justify to their bosses are now over. It may do. More likely, I suspect, is that he’ll keep his trap shut from now on, and hope the whole thing just blows over. It’s what most of his colleagues are banking on. Quite literally.

PS: Lib Dem blogger Mark Reckons has published a transcript of the Pickles-Dimbleby exchange on his blog here. And Nick Perry has also blogged about it here.

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  • Um Brentwood 37 miles out of London? I am an Essex boy and I never realised Brentwood was that far out. 20 miles more like. Still if you want an excuse for 2 houses at public expense, distance can be no objective barrier.

  • notquitegabriel 27th Mar '09 - 9:24am

    The point Pickles was trying to make (not particularly well granted) was that for someone serving on committees as well as having to be in debates etc you would have to get to Westminster for 9.30 in the morning and not be leaving until 11 at night. A big ask of anyone. Unlike any other jobs where you have flexibility of where you live he has to be 38 miles from Westminster.

    In my opinion the Government should pay the mortgages on the properties, but these should be tied to the seats not the MP, so ultimately the taxpayer owns the property. If this had happened 30 years ago, the homes would be owned outright by now and we could stop pouring money down this blackhole.

  • “But Eric’s justification was risible: he needs a second home, he told us, because “the House of Commons runs like clockwork”, and he simply can’t be late;”

    You mean like Emily Thornberry who missed the vote on David Heath’s fuel poverty bill, arriving immediately afterwards and starting her contribution:
    “May I begin by apologising for not being able to be here earlier today? I had a surgery in my constituency at the Golden Lane campus, a new school that was opened yesterday by Princess Anne.”
    (Emily Thornberry is an inner London MP so doesn’t claim ACA)

  • When I lived in London, I knew a number of people who lived in the Brentwood area and they never had problems (other than the usual) of getting in to London for 9.30 – they maybe just left a little earlier than normal. In my view, you could simply look at the commuter lines around London and see where commuters come from to decide who gets the second homes allowance – probably as far north as Peterborough, for example.

    Of course, the other option is to build a purpose-built Parliament building outside of London with accomodation on site for all MPs – but they’ll never do that, will they?

  • Someone really needs to take Mr Cohen MP for Leyton to task for that £100,000 he’s spending on his allowance. As someone who gets annoyed at the cyncial lambasting of politicians for everything, it still makes me sick to my stomach.

  • What on earth route was Eric Pickles taking if it took him 4 hours to get from Brentwood to Westminster?! There are direct trains from Shenfield (part of Brentwood, in his constituency) to Liverpool St which take 23 minutes… With that and his 37 mile claims, it seems maths really isn’t his strong point!

  • Keep watching it – I’ve seen it at number 7 on bbc.co.uk most watched videos, but its now slipped to number 10…

    Its more obvious that he is Tory Chairman on the small screen, too. I didn’t notice that helpful caption last night.

  • Neil Bradbury 27th Mar '09 - 10:49pm

    Very interesting to see at the end of the Eric Pickles debacle a “member of the public” condemning:

    “the establishment coming out today and saying they haven’t done anything wrong and when thats happening we haven’t a chance of putting it right. So I would quickly say to the MPs if they can’t get by on their nice expenses …. I would suggest they leave and let other people who can get by do it”

    Except that this member of the public is Conservative Councillor Colin Horncastle of Northumberland, deputy leader of Tynedale Distirct Council and area committee chair of the Tynedale area committee on the County Council.

    Nice to see that when his party chairman is under heavy attack a senior local Tory puts the boot in. With friends like these who needs opponents!

    I wonder if Cllr Horncastle is annoyed that his constituency party has installed a carpetbagging wiltshire lawyer as their PPC for Hexham instead of a prominent local councillor.

  • If anyone wants to put it on YouTube, you can grab the BBC video with a program called Replay Media Center but you’ll need to register it for $40.

    YouTube will happily accept .flv uploads.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYl6WW5ypRE

    It’s only the first two minutes, but it’s a start.

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