Oh dear! Just as the right-wing blogosphere is getting ever so excited at the knowledge that an elected Tory can make a good speech, along comes another elected Tory to provide something that Conservative Home admitted was a 'trainwreck'!
I missed the BBC's Question Time last night, so the first intimation I got that Tory Chairman Eric Pickles had hit the rails was a text saying concisely that he'd just been 'destroyed'. And they weren't wrong. It seems that Pickles ran into trouble when trying to explain why MPs claimed second home allowances. Now there might not be an easy way, in the current political and economic climate, for any MP to explain why they should have financial perks, paid for by the taxpayer, that are not available for others. Possibly the best approach is to hold your hands up and suggest that perhaps there should be an inquiry. Possibly the worst approach is to try and explain that they're absolutely essential because, if you live 37 miles away, you have to get up at 5.30 am in order to attend a committee start time of 9.30 am. Guess which approach Pickles took.
What is annoying so many people about his comments is the way they seem to encapsulate the insularity of the Westminster world. A 9.30 start?!! There are people living much further out from London who have to start work at 9, or 8.30, or 8. And is the Central Line so poor that it takes four hours to get from Brentwood and Ongar to central London?! The world of Pickles is clearly not the world of most workers. I have already referred to Andrew Rawnsley's article last week in which he suggested that the debate on public services was now moving towards the value that they give, since the pressure to justify public spending in the depths of recession is becoming ever greater. Eric Pickles, to the obvious dismay of fellow panellists who included Lib Dem MP Ed Davy, may have inadvertantly struck another blow for the cause of reigning in MPs' allowances. Certainly, for a newly appointed party chairman charged with getting the Tory message across to voters, he cannot have boosted confidence much back at Tory HQ. Maybe Dan Hannan will be promoted more quickly than he could imagine.