Press coverage of MP Tony McNulty’s expense claims for a house his parents lived in have sent political debate into new directions. Perhaps, it was suggested, Members of Parliament should live in rented accommodation.
Perhaps, even, they could live in shared accommodation – a large block of flats, a bit like academic Halls of Residence. What would that be like?
Let’s go forward in time to later this year, after the hasty passing of the Members of Parliament (Overnight Accommodation) Act 2009.
This has brought to an end to the system of allowances used to pay for second homes, and a new beginning for Pimlico View House, a block of private flats (originally built as council housing in 1961). The entire block has been re-fitted as “student style” accommodation for MPs, capable of sleeping 700 people in small rooms clustered around shared kitchens...
SCENE: A large kitchen. There is a view from the window - we must be about 10 floors up. We can see Parliament over the rooftops, and the London Eye nearby.
JACQUI SMITH (Lab, Redditch) strolls in. She is wearing a baggy dressing gown. She ambles to the fridge, pulls out some milk, puts the kettle on.
JOHN PRESCOTT (Lab, Hull East) enters. He wears baggy pyjamas and a bowler hat. He speaks to Smith's back.
PRESCOTT: Morning Jacks love, make us a cup of tea.
SMITH: Make your own you lazy tosser.
She turns to face him, bobbing a teabag up and down in the cup.
PRESCOTT (shielding his eyes): Oh crikey Jacks, put 'em away will you? It's too early in the morning!
She flings the teabag in the bin and leaves, taking her tea with her.
PRESCOTT chuckles, stretches, then walks to the fridge.
PRESCOTT (to himself): Right, what treasures have we got this morning?
He rummages. Pulls out a plastic bag, opens it.
PRESCOTT: Hmmm, ham. Meat sandwich?
More rummaging. He pulls out cheese, tomatoes, and a small jar.
PRESCOTT: Oooh, pesto. Smashing.
He turns to the worktop and spreads out his feast. He opens a cupboard, apparently at random, and pulls out a loaf of bread. He cut two huge doorstep slices and starts making his sandwich: ham, cheese, tomato, pesto. Crumbs and bits fly everywhere. Sandwich made, Prescott starts eating it and walks out of the kitchen, leaving the mess of construction behind him pausing only to reach into the fridge again, grab a carton of freshly squeezed orange juice from the door, and exit holding sandwich in one hand and juice in the other.
There is quiet for a moment.
In walks DAVID CAMERON, in jogging gear and brilliant-white trainers. He is talking on a mobile phone.
CAMERON (Con, Witney) (into phone): ... and if that's the way he wants to play, it, well fine by me. Tell him I've had bloggers strung up for less. If he's not prepared to back down when he is so clearly wrong, he's going to get a shock.
Still talking, Cameron spots the mess left by Prescott.
CAMERON (still into phone): What the hell? Bloody Prescott. No, not you, my bloody housemate.
Still holding the phone, Cameron steps over to the fridge and opens it.
CAMERON: BASTARD! No, not you. Look, can I call you back? Yes, yes, I'll approve the policy document later. Some arsehole's nicked my orange juice again, and I bet I know who it is. Speak later. Yeah. Ciao.
He hangs up. Puts his hands on his hips, surveys the kitchen. Then shouts again over his shoulder:
CAMERON: PRESCOTT! Come here you dirty thieving bastard!
SMITH returns, drinking the last of her tea. She speaks to CAMERON without looking up.
SMITH: Nicked your milk again, has he?
CAMERON: No, this time it's my freshly squeezed orange juice. Bastard. That cost me nearly four pounds and I was looking forward to it this morning. Got a Shadow Cabinet meeting this morning you know, and half a litre of juice gets me nicely pepped up for it -
SMITH (almost ignoring him): Mmmmm.
CAMERON: - packed with vitamins, a real pick-me-up for the morning. Ah! There you are!
PRESCOTT strolls in, big smile on his face. He wipes his lips on his sleeve.
PRESCOTT: Good morning school. Say hello to teacher.
CAMERON: Look here you windbag, where's my freshly squeezed orange juice? I left it right here on the fridge door. It had my name written on it and everything, precisely so that it couldn't get stolen.
PRESCOTT (wide-eyed): Really? And still someone's napped it? Tut tut. What's this country coming to?
CAMERON: Exactly my point! It's thieving bastards like you who run this country, and thieving bastards like you who keep stealing my stuff from the fridge. Why can't you go and buy your own food instead of nicking everyone else's? That juice cost me nearly four -
PRESCOTT: Look, you can nick some of mine and we'll be all square, all right?
CAMERON: But you only buy that cheap shit from Aldi! We won't be square at all. And anyway, I'm not a thief. Give me four pounds, then we'll be square. I'm going to go and buy myself a mini fridge to keep in my room.
SMITH: Can't do that. Not allowed. The Members of Parliament (Overnight Accommodation) Act 2009 says clearly: all members shall be granted the same identical accommodation units within Pimlico View House, Westminster. No pets. No loud music. No parties. And no electrical appliances in rooms.
CAMERON: This is just bloody ridiculous.
SMITH: Your fault, though.
CAMERON: It is not!
PRESCOTT: Yes it is, boy scout. It was your lot that kicked up a fuss about expenses in the first place. Your lot that set the ball rolling. Your lot that came up with this fantastic idea.
He waves his arms around, indicating the whole building.
CAMERON: Well I'm going to get a bloody fridge anyway, and declare it in the Register of Members Interests. It's all very well having all of us locked in here from Monday to Thursday, but no good to anyone if we starve to death is it?
PRESCOTT: That was a delicious ham sandwich.
SMITH: Ham? HAM? That was my ham you tosser!
She slaps him across the face.
PRESCOTT raises his fist to strike her back, but CAMERON shouts.
CAMERON: Pack it in both of you. For Goodness' Sake John, you wouldn't hit a woman would you?
PRESCOTT: Well she started it.
SMITH: I -
Suddenly loud music starts playing from another room. It's Queen's Greatest Hits. All three of them look in that direction, then at each other.
SMITH: That wanker Darling again.
PRESCOTT: I've told him before. I bloody told him.
SMITH: "No loud music." Can't he read?
PRESCOTT: No better than he can count.
CAMERON (rolling up sleeves): Right, come on. You two grab him, I throw the stereo out the window.
They all exit. There are shouts, scuffling sounds, and the music suddenly stops. Then there's a brief "NO!" and the sound of a window breaking.
There's a silence. Then we hear another voice.
DARLING (Lab, Edingburgh South West): I borrowed that off Gordon, you know.
(30th March 2009)