Sunday, October 18, 2009


Calling time on David Wilshire, MP

Last Sunday, I got home at 4 am and awoke a few hours later to find I had the flu. Burning the candle at both ends: never wise.

I slogged through Monday's lesson, got home and went to bed at 9 o'clock.

I woke up eleven hours later to the very real possibility of being late for the Houses of Parliament trip our lecturers had planned. I burned some rubber and, 45 minutes later, found myself sniffing and coughing outside the Palace of Westminster with my school chums.

We wandered through the place guided by a rum old cove called Michael. Jim Cunningham (MP for Coventry South) came past us in the corridors of power. He didn't recognise me from last year's Earlsdon fun run, and I refrained from shouting "Vote Nellist" at him.

At the end of our tour, we had a special sit-down session with David Wilshire, MP for Spelthorne, and one Robin Knight, journalist.

Mr Wilshire, a former Tory whip and infamous champion of clause 28, keeping mention of homosexuality out of our schools, is a bit of a different political animal to myself. Little did we realise at the time that he was 48 hours away from getting his.

Robin Knight was apparently once drugged by the shady Soviets in an attempted to cause mischief. (Story here.) Having recently read the tale of Jeremy Wolfenden in Sebastian Faulks's The Fatal Englishman, I'm already quite confident that, whatever my journalistic future holds, I don't fancy the Russia desk.

Unsurprisingly, a fair few of the questions for Mr Wilshire revolved around the parliamentary expenses scandal that flared up again this week with some MPs being instructed to repay expenses claims.

Mr Wilshire had a few bon mots on this subject:

"Some of my friends are being pilloried over a packet of biscuits, or a pork pie, or a tin of dog food.

"Is it fair to drive someone perilously close to a nervous breakdown or suicide over a packet of biscuits?"

Of course, the above is small beer. Most voters couldn't really give a hoot how many biscuits or pork pies their MP goes through. Or how much dog food they eat, for that matter.

Of more account is something like Mr Wilshire's second home: why an MP whose constituency lies in the commuter belt and who attends less than half of votes in the Commons needs a London flat at the taxpayer's expense is beyond me. Gallingly, he seemed to think he was really thrifty for not claiming for the cleaning bill.

Mr Wilshire was bullish about the business of MPs being told to repay expenses, asking us how we'd feel if, at the end of working a year for £24,000 someone told us they'd worked out it should have been £20,000 and demanding we pay back some money.

"That's not the case though, is it," said one dissentious voice which, after a brief glance around the room, I was horrified to discover had come from myself.

"You're not being asked to repay your salary, you're being asked to repay your expenses. Your expenses are not the same as your salary, not in any job."

Robin Knight, journalist, suppressed a grin which my paranoia put down as amusement at my petulant outburst. It was only afterwards that I considered he might have enjoyed watching my torpedo hit the HMS Bullshit.

I was dead wrong, in any case: Mr Wilshire's expenses were the same as his salary. Two days after we met him, it emerged in the newspapers that Mr Wilshire had paid over £100,000 from his office and staffing allowance to a research company owned by him and his wife.

It was subsequently confirmed that Mr Wilshire would not be standing in the next general election.

I don't know if he was aware, while he was glibly telling us that black is white, or while I was haranguing him, that his time was running out.

I'm guessing the Spring intake of students on our course will have to sharpen their claws on someone else.

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thank heavens, your former city taxes will prevent you from running for office anywhere.--VMM
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