Monday, January 23, 2012
MPs Moan Their Soup Bowls Are Too Small & Their Subsidised Crisps Are 10g Too Light
I once was fortunate enough to be taken for lunch at the House of Commons’ swanky, subsidised restaurant The Terrace. I was working for a weekly paper at the time and a week before had been invited to a speech Brian MaWhinney was to make to the local Conservative Party.
I went along on that Friday evening, when I should have been in the pub, only to find that MaWhinney had had a change of heart and didn’t want any press there. Apparently, he wanted to give a less guarded speech, and got one of his lackeys to tell us the good news.
But, of course, I couldn’t just leave in case he said anything important, so I had to wait there for hours until he finished and then try to badger the local members into giving me a few snippets. When I approached MaWhinney afterwards, he cut me dead.
“You haven’t got a story,” he barked.
My editor - a deranged woman who once screamed “file copy” down the phone until she was so hoarse and exhausted she fell off her chair - was furious. She called the local Conservative Association, and screamed at them down the phone about why I hadn’t been allowed in the meeting, and threatened to make her reporters Conservative Party members to ensure they got into future events.
The Tories quickly tried to smooth things over, and as some sort of fig leaf, my news editor and I were invited for lunch at the House of Commons by Norman Tebbit's long-time secretary, Beryl Goldsmith. She was splendid company, filled with gossip about the Commons, which was all sadly off the record.
But the thing I remember most was just how good the food was - easily as good as most fine restaurants I’d been in at the time. But it was the cheap prices in Parliament that really blew me away. It was like a soup kitchen for hungry MPs. My salmon with hollandaise sauce was the price of a Big Mac. No wonder the plush restaurant was filled with MPs greedily stuffing their faces, and filling their pockets with sandwiches, so they wouldn’t have to eat on the way home.
Indeed you might think they’d be grateful in this age of austerity that the taxpayer shells out £5.8m a year so our hard-working MPs don’t have to pay the full price for food like the rest of the population.
But far from it. A list of their petty gripes published by the Daily Telegraph today after a freedom of information request shows what a whinging bunch of tossers they really are.
MPs and their aides dining in Parliament’s 28 eateries complained that their beer is too expensive, their chips are not arranged in jenga-style towers, their eggs are too watery, they receive change in coppers rather than whole five pences, and the crisp packets from the vending machine are ten grams too light.
According to a log of dozens of pedantic complaints from the restaurants' suggestions trays, one unknown politician in the Members’ and Strangers’ dining rooms wrote: “’The bucket’ of chips, while attractive to some and no doubt trendy, makes for soggy chips. The tower arrangement is better.”
Another pampered MP said eating in The Terrace restaurant - with its stunning views of the Thames - was a “dismal experience”.
“The room is gloomy with no soft lighting to make it more welcoming. My starter of beetroot and pumpkin salad consisted of one piece of beetroot in a puddle of pumpkin puree and was tasteless. My main course of fish cake was far too dry to eat and both main courses were far too salty,” he said.
Another miserly diner demanded an inquiry into the weight of a packet of Walkers Light ready salted crisps. “The normal weight for a packet of individually bought crisps is 34.5g (38p supermarket price), the packet I purchased from the vending machine was 24.5g (50p).”
Others moaned that the soup bowls were too small, that a tart came with too meagre a serving of couscous, and that a vegetarian dish arrived ‘”dredged in Worcestershire sauce [sic], which is not vegetarian (anchovies)”. Commons staff pointed out that it was, in fact, balsamic vinegar.
Someone else wrote: “Just wondered if you’re doing the scrambled egg in a different way now? Tastes kind of watery – not nice!” And another saw red over the kedgeree. “The boiled egg had been cut into THREE quarters – no sign of the fourth.... Petty and insulting way to save a buck.”
One MP accused staff of making them feel like “second-class citizens” because they had run out of breakfast at 10.30am, and there was fury that beer had hit £2.60 a pint - when it is nearer £4 in most central London pubs.
You might think they’d be grateful, given that they can enjoy pan-fried red mullet with carrot purée and a soft boiled quail’s egg for just £4.15, an artichoke and tomato salad with truffle dressing for £2.05, and braised pork belly with black pudding bonbon and apple salad for £2.70.
A rib eye steak with hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce sets them back a massive £7.80, chocolate and orange torte £2.05, and a selection of fine cheeses only £3.10 - which is almost as cheap as Antony Worrall Thompson gets them for at Tesco.
It’s appalling that they have the temerity to complain at all when many taxpayers are struggling to feed their families, and can’t afford luxuries like fresh fruit, let alone red mullet or rib eye steak.
It’s time these subsidies were axed to set an example - £5.8m might not seem much in the context of the billions the Government needs to shave off the deficit, but it’s the image it portrays of MPs being greedy, penny-pinching, self-important ingrates, especially when people are still furious over the expenses scandal, and are facing sweeping cuts to public services.
Talk about the Westminster gravy train and eating like a Lord, you only have to do the sums to see the injustice. A £5.8m subsidy for 650 MPs works out at nearly £9,000 a year per politician. When you consider they sit for 150 days a year, it works out at £60 per MP per day.
If Cameron and Osborne really want to make cuts the public can stomach, they should look down the corridor at the MPs gorging themselves on steak and halibut at the taxpayer trough. It goes to show how insulated Parliament is from the concerns of the real world.
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