Here’s a thing. Relying on journalists to interpret the news is often a dodgy thing to do, especially when the journalists are claiming moral outrage at MPs’ pay and expenses.
Yes, the system is foul and open to abuse. Yes it needs to be changed radically. I am speaking of course, of MPs’ expenses, not those of journalists. Those should be reformed too, but that’s a different matter.
But if you are, like Carrie Gracie, a BBC news presenter on a salary of £92,000, don’t start fencing with Lord George Foulkes (Labour) is my advice. And if you are paid £92,000 (note ‘are paid’, not ‘earn’), possibly the worst thing to do is start griping to an angry interviewee (and an angry nation) about the fact you don’t claim anything for your phone calls or use the BBC phone system for personal calls. What?
Here’s a transcript of the (very waspish) interview today.
Carrie: I suppose what puzzles me is I suspect some of our viewers while they do value the important things and are very concerned about the important things, they will find it hard to listen to lectures about belt-tightening, about losing jobs, about all the savings that need to be made in the public services from people who are doing what we have seen over the last five days, MPs are doing in terms of their own expenses. Why should the public go short of healthcare, of education, of prison services just for the sake of somebody’s chandelier or second home?
George: What a lot of nonsense you’re talking. Of course there’s more money being spent on prison, on education, on healthcare. This is entirely…
Carrie: [Raised tone in voice] I’m sorry to interrupt you Lord Foulkes but do you think these people should pay back this money at this point?
George: You’re not at all sorry to interrupt me, you’re quite happy to interrupt me because you do it constantly. Every time an MP or a politician comes on you constantly harass them, you don’t allow them to finish and MPs are going around the country in their constituencies doing a great deal of work. You never focus on that. They’re paid £64,000. How much are you paid for coming on to television, harassing Members of parliament, harassing other people in this way? Could you tell me, how much are you being paid out of the licence fee?
Carrie: My salary…
George: Yeah, freedom of information, what is it?
Carrie: My salary is £92,000.
George: [Incredulous] £92,000? So you’re paid nearly twice as much as a Member of Parliament to come on and talk nonsense on television?
Carrie: Every single call I make I make from my own phone. I don’t even make a personal call from the BBC because I understand what public sector money is about.
George: And my understanding is that John Humphrys is paid hundreds of thousands of pounds. Jeremy Paxman is paid nearly a million pounds to come on television and sneer at democracy and undermine democracy. Look it is being cleared up and the vast majority of Mps are not abusing the system. The vast majority of MPs are working hard in their constituencies. The vast majority of MPs are being undermined by you and are devastated because of the kind of publicity you’re giving them and you’re paid a lot more than them.
Carrie: We’ll see what the public will make of it. Lord Foulkes, OK, thank you for joining us.