Eric Pickles may be the darling of the Tory grassroots, however he was not the darling of the Question Time audience last Thursday in Newcastle upon Tyne. Eric lives 37 miles away from the House of Commons, yet he has a flat in London which he stays in during the week. When he bought this flat, the Commons was still sitting until the wee small hours of the morning. He defended his decision to use the second home allowance by stating if he returned home he would have to set off at 5.30 am and not get back until after midnight. There was much booing and jeering from the good folks from Geordie land. Welcome to the real world were the comments he received not only from the audience, but from members of the panel, which included the infandous Michael Winner.
I have sympathy with Eric. MPs regularly work 15-plus hour days. If they can get back home to their constituencies in a reasonable time, then they should; but this is not always possible for those who - by most standards - do not live that far away in miles. An MP has a split working life. They spend most of their time - quite rightly - representing their constituents in Westminster and they also have much work to do in the constituencies on a weekend or when parliament is in recess. There does need to be reform of MPs allowances and expenses. There needs to transparency. The public does not have confidence in the current system and it is open for abuse. There are times MPs act lawfully, but are not seen as acting in the spirit of the law.
Those who heckled Eric Pickles in Newcastle do not leave work at 5.30am and get home after midnight on a regular basis. It was - as Eric said - hang an MP week. Hopefully a reformed and transparent system will be introduced. I also think the public need to be educated on what an MP's working life is like. MPs should not benefit financially in the long term from a second home; renting accommodation, not buying it, should be one measure introduced.
It was not Eric's finest hour, but we are all entitled to our cock-ups. Those who think he should be replaced as party chairman are talking complete bollocks. He didn't get his point across very well, but those who were jeering him don't fully understand the role of a Member of Parliament either.