John Lanchester on MPs' expenses
Right from the start of the MPs' expenses – sorry, ‘allowances’ – scandal, I think we’ve all had personal favourites. The multiply-flipping Labour ministers may edge the contest in terms of the outrageousness of what they’ve done, but the Tories have had the upper hand in terms of vivid details. The wisteria was good, the manure was better, the moat-cleaning was better still, and then best of all was the £1645 floating island for Sir Peter Viggers’s duck pond. (Incidentally, it’s not clear whether Sir Peter got the money: according to the Torygraph, the claim had ‘not allowable’ scribbled beside it. But he did successfully claim more than £30,000 for ‘gardening’ over three years.) The model of duck house is called a ‘Stockholm’, apparently because it’s based on a building in Sweden. It’s five feet high. I don’t know why ducks like it or need it, I don’t know why it floats, I don’t know how they manage to make it cost £1645 but I do know that the the whole story just feels magically right.
But wait! Just when Labour were beginning to look uninterestingly, routinely venal, up surges work and pensions secretary James Purnell with his claim for Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, David Willetts’s Modern Conservatism, a business book by Jim Collins called Good to Great, a £223 digital camera, and 3000 flexible fridge magnets. Eh? Who needs 3000 flexible fridge magnets? ‘Promotional magnets as an off-beat alternative to business cards’, apparently. At a cost of £247, which seems cheap, not much over 10p a magnet. I know little about the world of flexible fridge magnet costing but that price looks competitive. From the Times: ‘A source close to Mr Purnell said the magnets were intended to publicise his website. "I’m not sure it was the greatest innovation in political communication but it was a legitimate claim,” he said.’
Three thousand flexible fridge magnets. It takes the whole idea of an advertisement for yourself to a new level. It has the satisfying completeness of great art.