After all the ruckus over Parliamentary expenses, I thought the whole list of allowable extras had been pored over by the Fourth Estate, but one little item slipped through: the ability of MPs to claim for foreign language lessons. And we’re not just talking brushing up the French, German and Spanish here: the latest two troughers caught by the tabs are doing Hebrew and Mandarin.
That seat's a bit cold, Jeremy ... Jeremy?!?
And the latter is, to no surprise at all, Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary, who, in a stunt of significant cupidity (geddit?!?) has been discovered to have claimed well north of 3,000 notes so he can communicate more effectively with his new wife Lucia, despite having been married to her for three years already. Oh, and he reckons it helped him talk to the Chinese PM. Yeah, right.
That isn’t all, as the Mirror found out: now Nick Boles, another Tory MP, has been found to have claimed almost £680 to learn Hebrew, as his partner is from Israel (strangely, I never had a problem communicating with anyone in Israel, and apart from being able to identify the sign on the label that says the product concerned is kosher, I don’t have any facility in the language).
However, the Mirror at least didn’t take the gay-bashing route of the Daily Mail, which stressed that Boles’ partner was his “boyfriend”, before asserting that the Grantham and Stamford MP “is believed to be in David Cameron’s inner circle”, a level of subtlety that might test the oo-er ability of even Graham Norton. MPs who do not do traditional marriage are not the Mail’s Kind Of People.
Maybe the Mail is otherwise generous to gays? Well, no it isn’t: when they first went after Hunt last year – by lifting a piece from the Mirror and adding a few bits of their own to satisfy the dictates of the Vagina Monologue – they also couldn’t resist having a go at Lib Dem Mark Oaten, who is not only gay, but is also a Lib Dem, therefore meaning he is, to the Dacre press, totally beyond the pale.
And the latest revelations have put Zelo Street very temporarily on the same side as the appallingly humourless Matthew Sinclair, director of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, who takes a dim view of a Government minister charging taxpayers so that he can converse more effectively with his father in law. For most of us, this kind of request at work would be laughed out of court.
The amounts may not be as great as the sums Young Dave claimed for his mortgage interest payments, but neither Hunt nor Boles are in the poor house: both would do their image a whole lot of good by volunteering to pay the money back. Or of course they could explain to their respective constituency associations, and electorates, why they should enjoy a perk the rest of us can’t.
So how about it, guys? You know, before the press comes calling again?