Monday 30 April 2018


If there's one thing I've learned from writing about politics, it's to avoid commenting on matters I know little or nothing about. If only "professional" pundits were so reticent. Therefore I didn't know if Amber Rudd was going to fall on her sword. After all, the impression - despite Rudd being the fourth minister to resign in six months - is that no one steps down any more if they get found out for incompetence/wrongdoing. Well, thanks to the pressure piled on by Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and David Lammy, names conveniently written out of the scalping by celebrants of Yvette Cooper, Rudd has gone and, one hopes, the idea ministers resign when they do something wrong has reasserted itself. Boris Johnson, take note.

As news of Rudd's departure filled out social media feeds last night, there were wails of lamentation ... coming from the benches opposite. Lisa Nandy, once the great hope of the soft left argued, with a frankly laughable remark that her resignation should not be celebrated. Others were commiserating the banishment of a "liberal" from the Home Office to the back benches, in the ridiculous hope she would cause some Remain-related trouble. Yawn. Of course, we know a thing or two about liberal perfidy, but ask yourself this: what use is your liberalism when you have loyally toed the fundamentally illiberal line of your party since getting into Parliament, and without complaint implemented your boss's anti-immigrant obsessions? None whatsoever. Why the consternation? Perhaps Rudd is personable in her one-on-one meetings. Instead of getting a lackey to do it maybe she made the tea? There could even have been moments where Rudd and her "Opposition" guests grabbed a bite and nommed their baguettes over the latest LK Bennett lines (their "sun-ready" espadrilles are hotly "on-trend" at the moment, in case you didn't know). In short, the sympathy Rudd has got from Labour benches reminds us (again) that too many of our MPs feel a cosy affinity with the Tories. Luckily, that can be fixed.

Rudd is gone, but the Prime Minister remains. And despite hanging Rudd out to dry, the majority of the public blame Theresa May for the Windrush debacle. Therefore one cannot but detect a frisson of cynicism in her appointment of Sajid Javid. Reeling from accusations of indifference and racism, what better cover than the Tory who proclaimed his own disquiet over the whole affair? As the son of a working class migrant (funnily enough, the establishment media forget his time as merchant banker), May has got to be hoping he'll be better batting away the stinging criticisms. Then again, like Liberal Ambz, his record speaks for itself. He might personally empathise with Windrush cases, and undoubtedly has experienced the racism minority ethnicities in Britain have faced and continue to deal with, and yet none of it will count. The hostile environment continues, the deportations continue.

And here is the rub. The Windrush scandal has bubbled under for four years as an inevitable consequence of the direction May enthusiastically pursued at the Home Office, and chose to carry on once she became PM. Cases have trickled through constituency surgeries and correspondence with May and Rudd entered into as MPs have stuck up for those at the sharp end of these policies. And May did nothing, arrogantly assuming that the hostile atmosphere she'd spent the previous eight years stoking had created a, um, hostile atmosphere where no one gives a toss about the rights of immigrants, even if they had lived and worked here for decades. Wrong.

Nevertheless, as crisis convulses this government of permanent crisis there is an opportunity going begging: and that is to fundamentally challenge the terms of the so-called immigration "debate". For decades, good old British divide-and-rule has differentiated between acceptable and unacceptable minorities. The Gurkhas, the "wrong Jews", young black men, the Poles, each are examples of minority ethnicities and their sub-groups who fall one side or the other of what is and what isn't deemed a good minority, a good immigrant. As appalling as the Windrush scandal is, Tory ministers have worked hard to apologise and prostrate themselves before pubic opinion. They have argued they are "good immigrants" regrettably caught up in a dragnet designed to capture people who are here illegally. The transition from Rudd to Javid won't change this one iota, and nor would it had history turned out differently and the establishment left were still in control of the Labour Party. 

Now that public opinion has glimpsed the brutalities and Kafkaesque nightmare of the immigration bureaucracy, it might provide an opening for a generalised offensive on the premises underpinning the government's and, sorry to say, the widespread antipathy toward people who come here. If "good" immigrants can be humanised in defiance of the Tories' efforts, there is the possibility the humanity could catch and the invisible, despised and reviled people hidden and exploited in the underground economy could likewise shed the dehumanising terms in which they are perceived. But only if this moment is used to make the case against immigration as a problem, that there is nothing wrong with wanting to come to Britain to build a new life, that newcomers are not to blame for the housing shortage or strain on public services, and that, in all essentials, their interests are our interests. Not in the liberal, fluffy, hand-holding way, but as our common existence as living labour exploited by the vanishingly small minority for whom the Tories represent and act for.

Sunday 29 April 2018

The 2018 Eurovision Preview

I love meself some Eurovision, so it's just as well the Eurovision Song Contest is but around the corner! Saturday 12th May is when our beloved supranational institution touches down in Lisbon for the annual festival of superlative music! Who are the runners and riders this year? Is the UK going to be spared ritual humiliation? Well, let's begin there.

This got the BC household vote in our song for Europe contest on account of SuRie's superb live performance. On stage she makes it come alive as a proper belter, so why the powers that be have toned it down for the video is a complete mystery. As for its chances, Storm is probably mid-table. While good in that Eurovision kinda way, the competition are too strong for it this year. For yes, that's right, 2018's contest has a monster. Of which more shortly.

Sweden are always good for a punt, and this is what they've entered this year:

Yes, it's an Ingrosso but not that Ingrosso. Still, in any other year this would be in with a serious chance. Redolent of Timberlake, Dance You Off captures the same head space - while being totally different to - Eurovision favourite/fixture Måns Zelmerlöw. 2.5m page views is surely indicative of good things?

Well, better than that in my opinion is this operatic treat from across the Baltic:

In the future everyone's clothes will be able to put on light shows like this. Certainly the most amazing vocal performance to have graced the contest since Cezar's 2013 classic, Elina Nechayeva's perfect voice could cut glass if she was so minded. Just don't check out the dance remix - it's rubbish.

What else do we see? Unfortunately, Alexander Ryback is, um, back with That's How You Write a Song. A bit presumptuous there methinks. Italy enter this year's obligatory war-is-bad song, Russia have phoned in a yawnsome but competent power ballad, Croatia are featuring Goths in a sand pit, and Romania and Denmark have popped down the time tunnel to carry back some 90s guitar riffs.

Alright, no more beating about the bush. Bulgaria's entry has three million views and Spain's on over five million. It's going to be between them, right? Wrong. Here's your runaway winner with 16 million views. If you're into betting, this is the one to stick the house on.

What the hell was that? Just amazing is what it is. Girl power meets chickens(!) with a hint of Eastern, Israel's Netta is the most striking Eurovision entry since Conchita Wurst took to the stage. I'm not joking. Considering Toy is her debut single, the performance is incredibly self-assured and charismatic. In short, she's going to walk it. Nothing this year can top it for originality and energy. In short, this is an instant classic and one sure to be talked about for years.

Eurovision might be a foregone conclusion this year, but it's going to be fantastic as always. See you for the live tweeting on the 12th.

Friday 27 April 2018

Local Council By-Elections April 2018

This month saw 15,888 votes cast over 10 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Five council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with March's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Apr 17

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There were two Independent clashes
**** There were no Others this month

What a rubbish result for Labour. I've done this by-election tracking lark for five years and I can't remember seeing such an awful set of figures. Yes, in the grand scheme they don't matter, and the only matters of significance are the winning and losing of councillors won and patterns of support over time. And yes, I would be the first to point out all but one of the month's contests were in places where Labour would never stand a chance. Such is the crumbing of the by-election cookie.

But come on. The Tories are in a death spiral. Their vote might be holding up, but the party is falling to bits before our eyes. The most formidable election winning machine democratic politics has ever known is well below 100,000 members. And yet, yet, week after week, year after year they reach into the barrel and scrape out candidates to stand almost everywhere. Meanwhile Labour has numbers not seen since the 1970s, and yet it is consistently out-organised by a cranky, ageing outfit around eight times smaller than it. How can this be? Frustrated answers on a post card, please.

5th April
Fylde Heyhouses Con hold
Highland, Caol and Mallaig Lib gain from SNP
New Forest Milford Con hold
Taunton Deane Wiveliscombe and West Deane Grn gain from Ind

12th April
Chichester Rogate Lib gain from Con
St Edmundsbury, St Olave’s Lab hold
South Northamptonshire, Middleton Cheney Con hold

19th April
Perth and Kinross, Highland Con hold
Warrington, Lymm South Lib gain from Con
West Berkshire, Thathcham West Lib gain from Con

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Len McCluskey on Labour Anti-Semitism

Len McCluskey has played a blinder. Read his article for yourself. He doesn't give the impression, which he has in the past, that Labour anti-semitism is a put up job. He explicitly addresses it. Rightly, he contextualises it as an excrescence, a minority pursuit to be dug out and thrown out using the enhanced powers the party has adopted. And what he does is to give voice to the frustrations and anger rippling through the party membership about Labour's other big problem, the Parliamentary Labour Party problem.

Despite achieving in two years what it took Kinnock nine years to do (and even then got a much better share of the vote), large numbers of Labour MPs are not reconciled to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, nor will they ever be. As noted last week, it's not a matter of a few disagreements here and there. When you have a big tent, you don't nod politely and sympathetically as folks take an axe to the supports, snip at the tethers and rip up the pegs. There is a hardcore group for whom their opposition to Corbyn is a cypher for their opposition to what Labour is becoming: a mass, democratic movement informed by and responding to the lived experience of millions of people hitherto excluded from mainstream politics. In our new, redefining, refounding party there is little room for champions of water privatisation, Labour friends of Erdoğan, enthusiasts for hospital car park charges, and self-styled practitioners of the stitch-up. They know it as well, and will do anything, anything to turn the clock back to the time when these people were feted, and their general shittiness wasn't a matter for embarrassment and shame.

This drives their exaggeration of Labour Party anti-semitism. As Len observes, it might be the case some are outraged by the emergence of anti-semitism, but it is also the case it is being talked up and used as a stick to beat the left and the Corbyn project with. They know Labour isn't riddled with anti-semites, they know that as a mass party it's bound to take in the prejudices - to a degree - from the society of which the party is part. But, appropriately in most cases, it's a scab our MPs can keep picking at. That Labour's leadership have looked all at sea at times has merely encouraged them. There are reasons for this, one being Corbyn's well known reluctance to throw long-terms associations under a bus, even if they have dodgy af views on some issues, but it doesn't matter. He could be as contrite as can be, not hang around with the "wrong Jews" any more, and get the Jewish Board of Deputies to oversee Labour's disputes panel, and it still wouldn't be enough. Because it's not about anti-Jewish racism. It's about politics. I know it, you know it, they know it, and the membership knows it.

Going from their behaviour, some have reluctantly accepted they're not going to stand as a Labour candidate ever again and so are bent on the destructive course of doing all they can to wreck the party's chances. They are doing over the party now, but they can be stopped. Their martyrdom fantasies culminate in a departure from Labour at the point maximum mayhem can be inflicted. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the membership can enforce a timetable on them by CLPs ensuring they send delegates to conference who agree with mandatory reselection - such is a suitable finish for people prepared to use anti-semitism for something as inconsequential as their dreary, unremarkable careers.

Monday 23 April 2018

Owen Jones vs the British Media Establishment

It was January 1994 when my A-Level Sociology class got to grips with the media. I can remember learning about the discredited hypodermic model of media/audience interaction, the pluralist argument that whatever was transmitted or made it into print was there because the audience wanted it, as well as the bits and bobs of Marx and Weber around the edges manifesting as the manipulation and hegemony arguments. The first was a simplistic rough and ready view that ventured much of the media was privately owned and is therefore the conduit through which the politics of their owners were peddled to the punters. The latter was associated with the Glasgow University Media Group, who were famous for, funnily enough, their Bad News series of in-depth studies of the media. Among other things, they argued the framing of news stories and the slants they take are indicative of common backgrounds and common outlooks among senior journalists. If memory serves, yours truly got my first good mark for an essay arguing there was a relationship between the two, that papers reflecting their owners' prejudices actively hired journos who shared them.

This brings us to the case of Owen Jones vs the British Media Establishment. For saying the obvious about the press pack, Owen has been subject to a full spectrum pile-on by some of the best known politics commentators in the land. Amusingly, they spent the best part of the weekend proving his point for him. How very thoughtful. Why then has Owen's critique, known to everyone who's done a bit of sociology and media studies, driven them into apoplexy?

There are the professional myths that gird their loins. In Bourdieu's career long study of fields, he observed that the cultures of politics, of professions, of organisations, of families, of practically every set of social relationships are organised as if they are economies, and can be read in terms of the accumulation of capital specific to the field these practices take place in. For example, commenting knowledgeably on the finer points of the Russian Revolution at a Trot educational, rustling up a GBBO signature bake for RAG week, and saying at a job interview you've applied because of the "challenge", are all moves that accumulate cultural capital in those fields whether that was the intent or not. This only works if all participants buy in to the conceits that structure the field, that the stakes matter. Like 1917 having a bearing on what tiny groups of self-described revolutionaries should do in 21st century Britain, pretending those involved in RAG week truly, deeply care about charidee, and no one ever goes for a job because of the money. At some level, everyone knows the real state of affairs, but because they are so readily accepted, particularly by those utterly immersed in the fields, the behaviours and strategies that go with active participation are assimilated to one's set of dispositions and countenance - what Bourdieu calls habitus. The more cultural capital is situated in and absorbed by your habitus, the more natural you look in that field.

When you get a gig in the establishment media you too have to go through a load of rigmarole specific to it - assuming you want to advance to a well remunerated berth and be regarded as someone who matters. Writing about everything everyone else is writing about, ensuring your views remain within a scale of acceptable opinion, paying heed to and nodding toward more senior figures in the field, and so on. These inculcate a habitus appropriate to these settings, of not just conscious adherence to sets of values but getting a feel for the game, of imbibing the doxa - the unconscious premises - of the field. The unthought assumptions we've seen blown apart so many times these last few years, such as Brexit wouldn't win, Trump would fail, and Corbyn would be crucified by May are examples of the unconscious feeling that permeates and continues to condition the media field. Not a million miles away, and ultimately rooted in the doxa is what Bourdieu refers to as the illusio, or the ideology of the field. The illusio of journalism, wherever you go, is of fierce independence that speaks truth to power/tells it how it is, and are uniquely positioned to cast a dispassionate eye over the scene. Owen humbugged the high-minded ideology of the British media scene, called out the titans of political comment as nothing more than lucky recipients of social processes, and rightly criticised them for being part of an insular, privileged and out-of-touch culture.

Yet why has this riled them so much, and why now? That Owen is part of their universe and is one of its most popular and influential inhabitants has something to do with it, but renegacy only goes so far. Exposing the media field as a field like any other is one thing, but doing so at this juncture when establishment media is in crisis is quite another. They don't know their world any more, thanks to the - for them - counter-intuitive rise of Corbynism and the fall out of polarising politics, something that is barely acknowledged let alone talked about. They got it wrong and continue to get it wrong, spectacularly. And, crucially, when they know they're wrong they don't know why they're wrong. The second problem is how social media is a great leveller. Once upon a time, you'd file your article and make your report, and that would be it. Yes, perhaps a bit of fan mail would drift in but that would be all. Now, social media brings their audience and, more importantly, their critics right up to their faces. They can console themselves in having substantial followings, but when all is said and done they know they're no better, and in many cases a great deal worse, than loads of others without their platform or connections.

Last of all, and most importantly, their lofty perch is creaking in the wind. Collapsing press circulation, growing audience scepticism of the media, and the eruption of the new left blogs is stirring up anxiety. A sense of nemesis is abroad, a palpable pulse of desperation as they struggle to reassert their pre-eminence. The recent shoddy behaviour of the BBC on Newsnight, for example, makes little sense unless you factor in the controversy it was bound to stir up on social media. Likewise the vituperative attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, the barely concealed glee over anti-semitism claims, it goes on and on.

The egregious bias, the bad faith and overly partisan attacks are the spasms, the doomed squeals of a caste of "professionals" who have got found out and whose future is uncertain. Owen's real crime, and one that might cost him commissions, is to remind his "colleagues" that they're not forever, and oblivion could come knocking at any moment.

Friday 20 April 2018

Thursday 19 April 2018

A Case for Mandatory Reselection

Not more centre party rumours. Perhaps it's just churnalism. After all, it's not like British politics is gripped by a major scandal or anything.

Touring the debris of recent weeks, Andrew Grice riffs off anti-semitism, Syria, and the Skripals to argue that relations between Labour's "two tribes" are breaking down and that a parting is inevitable. The only chance of salvaging the situation is, apparently, if Jeremy Corbyn speaks out for MPs who were on that anti-semitism protest and recommend they not be deselected. Given some of the most awful, anti-working class and anti-Corbyn people in Labour politics were in attendance, how about "no".

Let's be quite clear about the balance of power in the Labour Party. Corbyn is strong and immovable. The unions are onside. The central administration is under the left's control. Momentum is a large, growing and inescapable presence many multiples larger than the combined strength of Labour's right, and the membership, in the main, are extremely critical of the activities of our self-described Labour rebels. They might not like Corbyn's positioning on foreign affairs, but the real reason why "the level of despair is back to mid-2016" is because they're utterly powerless. They have no strategy, no way of asserting their former dominance, and only command attention when they're pouring scorn on their leader. Small wonder the fantasy of a new centre party exercises such a pull. It's the nostalgia fever dream of what they have always wanted: a technocratic outfit sans the hideous trade unions and a membership who expect a say over how things are run.

This is not a "tribal" issue, as Andrew and tedious Westminster commentators like to style these things, but a matter of interest. Should the Labour Party reflect the lives and articulate the interests of the working class as it exists now, in 2018, or pursue the austerity-happy, business-friendly, elite-embracing strategies that have proved such a success for centre left parties elsewhere?

The sad truth is there's no reconciling with these people. This is not a broad tent issue, it's a matter of fundamentally being at odds with what the Labour Party has become and is becoming. Until they do the decent thing and follow the logic of their politics out of the party, they will use their position as official Labour representatives to attack, undermine, destabilise and wreck the party's chances. Their powers may be depleted but their access to the media is not, and they are willing participants in, as Owen notes, their efforts at delegitimising the left as a whole. And they will keep at it until, at a time they think is right for them, they'll decamp to cause maximum damage.

Enough. The membership are not powerless to do something about this. At Labour Party conference this year mandatory reselection of MPs will be debated and voted on. It's in our power to select constituency delegates who support the policy and get it through. And if we're successful, it will force the hand of the hostiles to put up, or spend the next few years scrabbling around their constituencies begging for reselection. We will see what stomach they have for opposition then. Meanwhile, we can be confident that whatever outfit they come up with isn't going to be much trouble - unless you seriously think an alliance of Blairists, Woke Soubz, and the Liberal Democrats will be a goer among Labour's left-minded electorate more so than Tory voters.

Remember, Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership have bent over backwards to accommodate the self-designated core group hostile, and at every turn they've made their contempt clear. It's about time the membership showed them their contempt as well.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

The Tory Politics of the Windrush Scandal

You don't need me to tell you what a disgrace Theresa May is. She can't be accused of mishandling the Windrush scandal, because the pain and misery caused to surviving family members is by design, not by accident. As Diane Abbott puts it, "Tory MPs and commentators who have always supported the government’s policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants express astonishment that there is now a hostile environment." The government can try and plead ignorance, but the Home Office have been aware for years of the issues. Migrants who came here when they were little kids and have spent their entire lives working and raising families have fielded queries about their immigration status when they suddenly found themselves out of work, not eligible for social security, and denied treatment on the NHS. It wasn't picked up as a pressing issue because the Home Office doesn't care, and this indifference is baked into the immigration system by successive editorial-chasing home secretaries.

Immigration is the one topic we're "never allowed" to talk about, but it's the topic the press never shut up about. Since the war, and in some dishonourable cases long before it, the press have vilified successive waves of people coming here - Caribbeans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Ugandan Asians, Africans, East Europeans. They are responsible for framing migrants as "a problem", it is they who are responsible for scapegoating them for job losses and housing shortages, it is they who have powered the disfigurement of British politics by far right demagogues and hucksters, and it is they who stand responsible, along with the Prime Minister, for the disgusting abuses that are immigration detention centres and the officially-sanctioned harassment suffered at the hands of the Tory Home Office. They try and wash their hands of the misery they've caused, but it is they more than any other set of institutions who have whipped up anti-immigrant hysteria. They are the tools of divide and rule.

I'm not about to let Theresa May off the hook, though. By all accounts, when it comes to immigration sundry Tories are prepared to play cynical political games. Boris Johnson, for instance, is one of their vacant hypocrites who talks up the contributions waves of immigration have made to national life out of one side of his mouth, but carps on about controlling Britain's borders and nudge-nudge we don't want any more of the beggars here out of the other. But when it comes to the "right kind" of migrant, such as overseas students wishing to study at British universities, he and virtually every other cabinet member agree they should get special treatment and not be counted in the immigration figures. The only one who doesn't, the one who insists they too face the unremittingly hostile Home Office treatment is none other than the Prime Minister herself. For the others, anti-immigration posturing is a matter of opportunism. They're not so vulgar to actually believe it. For May on the other hand ...

No one talks about "Mayism" any more, but for a brief period between her assumption of office and calling the general election (a year ago to the very day, folks), it looked like a new hegemonic project was in the offing. i.e. A resetting of class alliances designed to buttress Conservative political dominance in the medium to long-term along with a new common sense that would be difficult to challenge and, as per Thatcherism's midwifing of New Labour into the world, ensure whatever came next would be committed to politics within the terms May sets out. However, it was a project erected on the most unstable of foundations. Her recommitment to One Nation Toryism sounded better than the dog-eat-dog idiocies of Dave and Osborne, but nevertheless its appeal was limited. Continuity Thatcher in some respects, the cut of May's authoritarian jib was never going to appeal to the newly important topographies of Britain's class landscape. Not that it mattered. After all, socially liberal youngsters never vote, do they?

You don't need to lather yourself with poststructuralist philosophy to know that a useful way of holding together a block of people is by uniting them against some alien "other". May, in her speeches about how wonderful her Britain is bound to be, waxed lyrically about insecurity. She understands, at least rhetorically, that a sense of dislocation and anxiety breeds disengagement and irreverence. To this she opposed a society (yes, there is such a thing as society) where everyone had a place and knew their place - in both senses of the term. And that means creating in-groups and out-groups. In are the fuzzily defined "British people", replete with some lip service to its multicultural and diverse characteristics. But in the outs were people who wanted to come here. May linked stability and senses of place with what we have, and made it contingent on severely limiting the numbers who might otherwise "threaten" it. Vote Leave with its "Take Back Control" slogan, which more than any other positioning won the referendum for Brexit, was seamlessly annexed to her project. Anti-immigrant Brexit voters found a willing ear and a comely xenophobic politics with Theresa May and her "team".

As such, from what May believes (yes, she does really hold a candle for this rebooted, anti-immigrant one nation Toryism) and the pragmatics of holding her declining coalition together, the Windrush families were always going to be double victims of her deliberate hostility to migrant populations. Double because her rules rendered them non-people as far as the state was concerned, and then treated them as such as they tried rectifying their residency status. None of this would have troubled her because she firmly believes you can never lose votes by being beastly to immigrants, and you can never gain them for helping them out, let alone being welcoming. Besides, the core of her coalition aren't going to care.

Not for the first time May has miscalculated. There is a hard core who won't countenance any immigration, but even among conservative layers of the population there is a residual (some might say grudging) affection for Commonwealth migrants, particularly those who arrived from the Caribbean. Unlike EU migrants and more recent arrivals, these are empire people who came to Britain because the mother country put out the call. They are, for millions of May's current supporters, part of the "in" team. To find out that they're not and have been subject to shabby treatment has certainly wounded May in their eyes - hence the apology, going cap in hand to visiting Commonwealth leaders, and trying to push the blame on to Labour in today's PMQs.

Might we be turning corner in wider attitudes to immigration? I doubt it, but there is no doubt this crisis has exposed the venality and heartlessness of May's government to many voters prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt, and that makes her already precarious position even more uncertain.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Jeremy Hunt: A Very Qualified Defence

No, I haven't lost my mind. And no, I'm not soft soaping his failure to register a 50% stake in his wife's property company. I mean, come on, who hasn't done this? Instead, it's the other story that has excited the press this last week: his expenses claim for a 27p car journey. Not only am I going to explain how such an apparently absurd claim is possible (the Indy notes another Tory MP put a claim in for 9p also), but I'm going to defend them.

The first thing to remember is MPs expenses are not what they used to be. Before the scandal blew up in 2009 the expenses system was used to supplement honourable members' incomes. There were all kinds of egregious abuses, the most notorious of which were expense submissions for duck houses and getting one's moat cleaned. In the furore following the scandal the system was overhauled and made much more transparent. Gone were the perks of getting the taxpayer to stump up mortgage payments for a Central London town house which you could then sell on for a tidy profit. Instead they started to resemble normal expenses you would incur during and at the behest of work. In the main, the £150ish thousand MPs typically claim covers office budgets. This includes staff, rent, stationery and IT, and travel. Using expenses to subsidise one's lavish lifestyle is much more difficult and can easily be called out by the transparency that has been introduced into the system. It's because of this we know the blessed Jeremy Hunt was paid his 27 pence.

Why the tiny claim, then? Is Hunt and sundry MPs that miserly? No. I recall the time my my former boss got stung for putting in a 4p claim. This wasn't because he was especially tight, rather it had to do with how the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority expects journeys to be specified when making an expenses claim. For instance, on a typical Friday he'd be picked up and conveyed to his first meeting of the day. Then he'd be off to another meeting or a morning surgery before heading back to the office. Grabbing something to eat, he would be driven to the next surgery around the corner in Stoke Library before going from there to yet another couple of meetings before a quick tea and whatever was going on that evening. Instead of putting expenses in for the total mileage, IPSA expects each journey to be broken down into legs and claimed for individually. Hence the absurdly low claims.

MPs could avoid embarrassing themselves this way, I suppose. But they are right to put in claims. In the first place, travel claims don't always go to the claiming member. In our case, Tristram was driven hither and thither by one of his staff. These were her expenses. Should modestly paid employees of Parliament subsidise their work's petrol? Absolutely not. The second, broader point, is being a MP is a job like any other. In the commission of their duties, expenses are incurred as parliamentary representatives. i.e. In work, not as private individuals. Therefore work should stump up the cash, whether it's for short hops in a car, a wreath for Remembrance Day, tea and biscuits for the office or whatever.

Work is work, and so Jeremy Hunt was entirely right to make his claim. But there is a broader point. IPSA and its expenses system is set up just for these sorts of press exposés, and to make the suggestion something dishonest and nefarious is going on. There are plenty of reasons to criticise MPs, but the present state of affairs benefits no one. It's time this farce was professionalised and the sting taken out of expenses.