Peter Hoskin

Street talk

Street talk
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Just in case some politicians aren't aware how angry the public are over these rotten expense claims, I'd recommend they read Patrick Barkham's article in the Guardian today.  He's visited the constituencies of five MPs who have been implicated in the mess this week - Geoff Hoon, George Osborne, Hazel Blears, Alan Duncan and Douglas Hogg - and simply recorded the views of folk who live there.  Perhaps tellingly, Barkham picks up on more anger directed at Labour than the Tories.  Here, for instance, is what was said about Hoon:

"'Disgusting, absolutely disgusting,' says Kate Cooper, 45, as she passes Hoon's constituency office in Kirkby-in-Ashfield on her way to her shift at Somerfield. Pinned to the window are photographs of a diligent MP at work: Hoon posing beside a community bus and clutching a football with schoolboys. Last weekend, one disaffected local resident added a new poster: 'Robbing bastard,' it read in large type. 'Out now.'

Cooper has always voted Labour but won't next time. 'I always said I'd never vote Conservative, but I would seriously consider it now,' she says. What about those Tory claims for dog food and horse manure? 'When I was growing up it was the Conservatives who kept the rich rich and the poor poor. Everyone expected that with the Conservative party, but no one expected it with the Labour MPs – you expected them to be working alongside you.'

A little fiddle of the expenses would go a long way in this former mining town in Nottinghamshire: five sausage rolls cost £1.55 and a three-bed semi is on sale for £74,995. Many shops are shuttered and closed. Each week, say local people, another shuts its doors.

'Everybody is struggling and then you hear this,' says Susan King of K&R Else Family Butchers. The expenses scandal is the only conversation among her customers. 'They say a monkey with a red rosette will get in as Labour MP here, but I don't think it will happen again.' She believes the Tories will destroy Hoon's 10,213 majority at the next election. For these old Labour voters, the expenses turmoil is final proof that the centralised, Blairised Labour party has deserted its faithful. 'There isn't a party of the working man any more,' says King. 'Nobody is for us any more.'"
Of course, tuning into people's views on the street is hardly scientific; but it's often a more useful barometer of the public mood than the most rigorous of opinion polls.  Putting aside the question of which party has come out of it worse, it's plain to see that the expenses row has damaged Parliament's reputation more so than pretty much any other scandal of recent years.