Cherie's £127,000 Changing Rooms
The Prime Minister's penchant for sofa government is well known. But critical MPs have pointed out that the Downing Street "complex" of flats and offices was already handsomely appointed with antiques when the Blairs moved in.
Questions to the Government have established that the money - nearly three-quarters of the price of an average house - has been spent on tablecloths, carpets, lamps and curtains. And the scale of spending on sprucing up the Grade I listed building has shocked MPs.
They question how tens of thousands a pounds a year could be spent on soft furnishings. Perhaps mischievously, they point out that high-quality Egyptian cotton tablecloths, large enough for the Downing Street dining tables, can be bought, on the internet, for as little as £15 each.
Last year almost £30,000 was spent on furnishings for Downing Street, according to a parliamentary reply from the Cabinet Office minister Jim Murphy, with a total bill since 1999 of £127,314. A Downing Street spokesman was reluctant to say exactly how many tablecloths or lampshades the money had bought. "The bill includes carpeting, curtains, lamps and tablecloths. It's a listed building. There is no more information that that," he said.
Norman Baker MP, who obtained the details of the budget, last night compared the bill to the lavish expenditure of Lord Irvine, the former Lord Chancellor, who spent £300 for a roll of Pugin-style wallpaper for his grace and favour apartment, eventually running up a total of £145,000 on curtains, carpets and upholstery.
"Its seems like Lord Irvine's wallpaper was just the start and ever since then it has been a spending spree on soft furnishings at the taxpayers' expense. There is no cheque Tony Blair won't spend at taxpapers' expense so long as it is a blank one," said Mr Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes.
Interior designers who might perhaps have liked a chance to offer their own expertise, yesterday looked over the works via a virtual tour on the Downing Street website.
Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister - better known to television viewers simply as Colin and Justin, the Scottish stars of such TV shows as The Million Pound Property Experiment and How Not to Decorate - are currently refurbishing a house with similar proportions in Glasgow. They broadly approved of the "classic" look achieved by Downing Street's decorators, though there were some things they would do differently.
"On the curtains [red and ruched with golden tassels], what they've done is sensible; it goes well with the scale and look of the place. They're not our style of drapes but if you look up to the ceiling you can see the work up there fits well with them.
"If we were doing them we would have done a straight-topped pelmet with a full drop of fabric. We wouldn't have gone for the tasselling.
"We could create something that looks the same for less money, but you've got to accept that there are some fabrics that cost hundreds of pounds a metre, in which case you are talking about thousands of pounds for each window.
"We've painted our rooms differently - white with an accent colour on one wall. What we like is being able to change with the seasons - then you only have to paint one wall. One of the big buzzes for us is seasonal adjustment.
"A house like No 10 swallows money. It swallows carpets and curtains. You're working with scale - it takes four or five times as much paint as a normal house. Nothing you can buy off the shelf fits. And it's like painting the Forth Bridge: as soon as you finish you're starting again.
"What we'd really like to get a look at, though, is the private rooms that aren't on the website. We'd love to see where Cherie puts on her make-up!"
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