Conservative Diary

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As Julie Kirkbride continues to defend herself, will the MPs' expenses scandal put people off going into politics?

Julie Kirkbride interview It is now day 21 in the Daily Telegraph's investigation into how MPs used - and in some cases abused - their parliamentary expenses. The local and European elections are just seven days away and we obviously wait to see what impact all this negative publicity about politicians will have when the country goes to the polls.

Today, Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride remains in the spotlight, in the wake of her decision finally to break a half-term holiday yesterday and do a TV interview, before returning to her Bromsgrove constituency to hit the doorsteps today. Yet today more details have now emerged about her housing arrangements, with her effectively using taxpayers' money to part-fund an extension to her constituency home for her brother, who provides some free childcare for her son.

Miss Kirkbride has written a piece in today's Times in which she continues to defend her arrangements in the context of her being a working mother:

"Like millions of other working mothers I have put in place networks to ensure that my child enjoys security and consistency while I work demanding hours and do the best job I can. Let me make it clear: I'm not looking for sympathy. It was my choice to combine work as an MP with my life as a wife and mum. I am hugely fortunate to be able to do both, and I always believed that with military planning and organisation I could continue to do both."

She also defends remortgaging her house to build the extension:

"Because of the size of our home in Bromsgrove, Angus had been sharing a bedroom with his uncle. We felt that, as a growing boy, he would soon want his own space, so we remortgaged to build another bedroom. We could have sold the flat and bought a bigger property - at a greater cost to the taxpayer - but decided not to."

She concludes by raising her concerns that the attention paid to her over recent days may deter other women with children from entering politics:

"What effect will stories like mine have on mothers who aspire to be MPs? We want Parliament to be more representative and that includes women with school-age children."

You certainly couldn't accuse anyone of deciding to enter politics now as being in it for the money. And you might wonder, who exactly would want to think about trying to get into Parliament right now anyway, given the reputation politicians are currently enjoying.

Well, Iain Dale has heard rumours, as have I, that literally hundreds of people are seeking to take David Cameron up on his open invitation made at the weekend to apply to join the parliamentary candidates' list. Quite what the demographic make-up of these new applicants is remains to be seen, but it is at least refreshing to know that there are still people out there motivated to enter public life..

Jonathan Isaby


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