Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Only connect. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said that her family house in her Redditch constituency was her second home. This allowed her to claim £116,000 from the taxpayer for it. Then her husband, Richard Timney, who is paid by the taxpayer as her constituency assistant, claimed pornographic films as part of her parliamentary expenses.

Nobody seems to have noticed the link.

By her own account, Miss Smith spends four nights a week staying with her sister in London. Mr Timney, answering his wife's constituents' letters in Redditch, may, therefore, be bored and lonely. His claim for the cost of Raw Meat 3 (why '3'? - did he also claim for Raw Meat 1 and Raw Meat 2? ) may be his way of getting his wife to pay attention. It is what we psychologists call 'a cry for help'. Spouses of MPs traditionally feel hard done by - especially, perhaps, husbands. Barbara Castle, Labour's most successful woman politician, recorded in her diary a sad scene with her husband Ted, the worse for drink, in 1970. He rounded on her: 'You can't possibly understand. How could you? You have gone from success to success.

I have gone from rejection to rejection.

You've no time to spare for me. How could you?' The best way to deal with the role is to accept it and assume that you will get no public money out of it, and get on with life. That was Denis Thatcher's attitude. He had many evenings alone while his wife ran the country, but I should be very surprised if he resorted to pornography - let alone pornography supplied by the public purse - to beguile the hours. He preferred gin, the Daily Telegraph and rugby on television.

He certainly would never have hired Raw Meat 3. The title would have put him off.

Denis had a horror of undercooked steak.

If a waiter brought him one, he would poke it and say: 'Take it away, and bring it back when it has stopped mooing.'

By the way, I heard the Liberal MP for Truro, Matthew Taylor, attacking second homes on the BBC last week. I see from the just published chart that in 2007-08 he claimed £23,083 for his second home, the highest annual amount that the rules seem to permit.

It seems that Gordon Brown announced his desire to interfere with the succession to the throne in order to avoid the bad publicity which dogged him as he rushed round the world last week. It is a shaky basis for constitutional reform. Some sensible esarticles have pointed out that few Catholics are really offended by Prince William's legal inability to marry us (though he is presumably allowed a civil partnership with a Catholic man, if the Catholic can get that one past the hierarchy). They add that the proposed succession of the eldest child, regardless of sex, would be no more fair than that of male heirs only, and that the nature of monarchy is not an ideal subject for the application of 'human rights'. All true, but I feel that the strongest of all arguments in favour of leaving this matter alone has been omitted. The most dangerous thing that can happen to a succession is that it be seriously disputed.

Its method itself is not so important: it could be by lottery, height, haruspication, monkish divination (as with the Dalai Lama), internet polling, whatever. But the method must be accepted and the result must be unambiguous. …

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