The past must become a foreign country

MOST people in the Bury St Edmunds constituency cannot afford �2,175 for a new television - indeed most residents may find it hard to believe that anyone could splash out on such an expensive piece of kit unless they had more money than sense.

Graham Dines

MOST people in the Bury St Edmunds constituency cannot afford �2,175 for a new television - indeed most residents may find it hard to believe that anyone could splash out on such an expensive piece of kit unless they had more money than sense.

When the television has been bought at Harrods - that epitome of wealth and privilege - by their local MP who says he was only buying the “basics” to live at his second home in the constituency, then it's little wonder that there is anger among the voters at what they see are the excesses of the political class.

David Ruffley was reimbursed “only” �750 from the public purse for his Sony 46inch widescreen HD television, and received just a fraction of the expenses he claimed for kitting out his bedroom. That's not the point - although the expenses regime at the House of Commons was so lax that MPs seemed to be encouraged to go out on a shopping spree, that doesn't mean they should have done so.


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Then there's the “shop local” element that is lacking in Mr Ruffley's claims - he's offered an “unconditional apology” to the trades people of his constituency for buying expensive goods in London and transporting them 100 miles up to Bury, but resentment is bound to linger.

Mr Ruffley was fingered early on in The Sunday Telegraph as it drip fed, along with its sister paper The Daily Telegraph, the expenses claims of MPs. There's enough mileage left in the story to guarantee several days more of horror stories and it's fair to say that the Bury St Edmunds MP's shopping habits are nowhere near as outrageous as other claims.

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The full details of every MP's spending will become public within the next few weeks, when the Commons publishes them on line. Frantically trying to sound tough now even though they must have known what was going on in their own parties, political leaders have declared the past is a foreign country - their chastened charges must learn there is no hiding place for those who think living the high life goes with the job.

Yet there is one element of the expenses binge that is being maintained - without receipts, MPs will still be able to charge �400 a month for food, while the rest of us have to pay.

This is totally outrageous - assuming MPs work eight months of the year, that's an extra �3,200 income free of 40% tax which they can trouser while smirking at lengthening dole queues. Next we will be having EU and Soviet styles commissaries offering tax free goods to the privileged few.

The story has exposed the poison at the heart of the political system. I have spoken to scores of MPs in the past week and only one of them - West Suffolk's Richard Spring - seems to understand just why there is such anger in the real world.

Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg must sack all the blinkered miscreants within their parties. If they're afraid of destroying reputations, then all I can say is that MPs have done a good job of that themselves.

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