Was the Pickles roasting a foretaste of what’s to come?
Like most recent polls this morning’s April survey by Populus for the Times picked up voter hostility towards MPs and their expenses – but it’s often hard from the numbers themselves to get a feel for the passion that this subject arouses. There’s real anger out there.
In the same week that the Daniel Hannan YouTube speech was “going viral” there was, perhaps, an even more significant political TV occasion when the hapless Tory chairman, Eric Pickles appeared on BBC1’s Question Time and tried to justify his housing allowance.
Watch the extract – it ain’t pretty but my sense is that the audiences reaction gives a real sense of public fury. When, as Pickles tries to do, a justification is put forward then all we hear are the shouts of derision.
Pickles’s total mis-judgement of his audience and his pathetic “public transport unreliability” defence just made him look silly. His performance was even more surprising given his exalted position – you’d expect a key member of Team Cameron to show greater politically literacy.
Yet we are only just at the start of this process. Only a little bit of information has dribbled out and even figures such as Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are having the finger pointed at them.
The big question is what the overall political impact will be? How are the expenses of individual MPs going to impact on their chances of survival on election day. Could we even see a “reverse incumbency” effect where those defending perform. on average, worse than those who are not MPs at the moment?
In many ways Labour is more vulnerable. It has more London area MPs claiming the second home allowance, the hardest bit to justify, and the only MPs who are part of the other controversial category, those with grace and favour homes, are ministers.
And to think that it is all happening because of the Freedom of Information Act – which, of course, was a key manifesto pledge by Tony Blair in 1997. Without that the detail would have remained secret.
Betting markets for the next general election.