Steerpike Steerpike

Eric Pickles puts John Prescott’s surplus stationery to good use

Since 2010, every government department has tried to highlight the profligate spending of their predecessors in the most imaginative ways possible. In return, Labour have been on the look out for the slightest whiff of waste upon which to jump in order to claim they have changed their ways. Parliamentary Questions are placed, diaries tipped off and John Prescott is still denying that the civil service credit card billing at his local Chinese was anything to do with him.

This latest letter that I have been passed, however, takes the metaphorical biscuit. After a story appeared in the Sun on Sunday about glamorous Russian fans demanding photos of Eric Pickles, it seems his Labour shadow Hilary Benn saw a chance to make some mischief, by requesting a photo. Pickles’ deputy Brandon Lewis returned fire:

Dear Hilary,

Your Parliamentary researcher recently wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government asking for a signed photograph of the Secretary of State.

I am pleased to enclose a copy of a signed photograph of Eric, along with a complimentary Office of the Deputy Prime Minister vintage biro. John Prescott ordered 20,000 of these vanity pens at a cost of £3,450, and we have been slowly using up the surplus stationery (caveat emptor: they only last 5 minutes).

No cost to the public purse was incurred in printing these photographs. Indeed, no public money has been spent by my department on photographs of current Ministers in this Parliament.

By contrast, £2,648 of taxpayers’ money was spent on official photographs of Labour Ministers in the last Parliament, a metaphor for the profligacy of New Labour. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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