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When it comes to trust in politics, David Cameron should sweat the small stuff

By Peter Hoskin
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There’s a small item in today’s Sun that ought to make big waves. It concerns the subsidised food and drink in Parliament, and how certain politicians are working to block price rises. Apparently, MPs are insisting that the costs remain frozen, for reasons including that, “breakfast in the Commons would cost more than ‘nearby commercial venues’”. That means fillets of sea bass for £3.50 and glasses of white wine for £2.35 from here on in, all funded by the taxpayer to the tune of £6 million a year. Take that, commercial venues.

Stacked against a debt burden of £1.4 trillion, that £6 million may not add up to much – but, symbolically, it’s important. Not only is it an affront to the unsubsidised general public, at a time when supermarket prices are rising and wages stagnating, but it’s also a reminder of the pocket-lining tendencies that contributed to the expenses scandal. After Chris Huhne’s resignation, you’d think politicians would be especially alive to that little ideal called ‘trust’. Sadly, not all of them are.

I mention this as preamble to a point I’ve made before: that David Cameron should concentrate more heavily on restoring trust in politics. It’s true that his Government has done much to make Westminster more transparent, but much of the initial urgency has dimmed. Since giving a speech about sweeping away “the subsidies and luxuries that sit so uneasily with public service,” before the election, the Prime Minister has barely mentioned it since. It’s almost as if he believes the matter has been resolved, although he must know it has not.

Of course, Mr Cameron can’t always act against an unyielding Parliament. But he can use the prime ministerial bully pulpit to speak out against politicians’ most egregious habits and to shame the perpetrators. Besides, if he doesn’t do it, you can be sure that Nick Clegg will. As the next election approaches, the Lib Dems are likely to cast themselves as the ones fighting the system from within, as they have done so in the past. It would be unwise to allow them a free run across that ground.


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