Janet Street-Porter: I don't want MPs lecturing us about thrift

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The Independent Online

When I worked for the BBC, each corporate away-day resulted in a new buzzword. One year we castigated ourselves for being "remote". The next we confidently promoted programmes as "emblematic". Politicians are no different. A credit crunch has morphed into a recession, and now the Tories have appropriated the word "thrift" to describe the way forward. Thrifty advice has been commonplace lately but it's relative to how much you had in the first place. For some it might mean sending your kids to state school or getting rid of the cleaning lady.

David Cameron, once a PR man, is a master of the soundbite, but hijacking the word thrift is rich coming from a group of workers (MPs) still arguing about whether they should be allowed to vote on their own pay, and be reimbursed for second homes. Take Tessa Jowell. Her idea of thrift involved claiming £14,656 to furnish her office. She clearly didn't go to Ikea like the rest of us.

MPs might have a different notion of thrift, but they're not alone. The repellent annual Rich List claims that Robbie Williams is £25m "worse" off and Simon Fuller has seen his fortune shrink by £150m, so no doubt they'll be economising to cope.

Supermarkets also interpret thrift pretty loosely. According to The Grocer, more than half the 5,000 price cuts promised by Asda recently were worth just 1p an item – at a time when food price inflation overall is running at around 10 per cent. Supermarkets may claim to help us shop economically, but the end result is that our food and weekly grocery bill is higher.

Go into any swanky restaurant and you will find plenty of people willing to pay to eat out, and there's still a waiting list for the Fat Duck. Now, though, diners claim they're being "thrifty" by choosing two starters and drinking wine by the glass rather than the bottle. And drinking tap water might be environmentally friendly, but, conveniently, it's also cheaper.

So, sadly for Cameron, the word thrift has become utterly devalued. He talks of replacing a "spendaholic" Labour Government with one where thrift is the new mantra, but is he willing to lay off the thousands of civil servants, special advisers, quangos and consultants that surround government? If senior civil servants are ordered to save money and post all items of spending over £22,000 online, won't they just be trimming around the edges? Because cutting back on people is not only expensive in terms of redundancy, but also political dynamite. Do the Tories want to be seen as the nasty party of unemployment again?

The biggest wastage in government is nothing to do with people at all. Earlier this year a computer system for the prison service was abandoned at a cost of £155m. Now ID cards might never see the light of day. Last December figures revealed that government computer projects were running a combined 86 years late and £2bn over budget, and that doesn't include a controversial NHS system which is four years late and has doubled in cost to £12bn.

David Cameron talks about removing tax credits from the middle classes and implies that he will raise taxes, but why should ordinary individuals pay more when the waste in government and their inept attempts to harness new technology have cost billions?

Ultimately, thrift means living more simply, which most voters in this country understand only too well. It's how they manage to feed the family, pay their mortgage, run a car and buy kids' clothes. If a bunch of housewives were running the Government's spending we'd never have got in this mess.

So please don't patronise us and tell us thrift is the an swer to good government. It might be, but not in the hands of politicians and civil servants.

Before you know it, a lifetime's worth of fat...

Beth Ditto, lead singer with The Gossip, struck a blow for larger women when she posed naked on the cover of a fashion magazine recently, even if it emerged that most of the clothes she wore for the photos inside had to be specially made for her. Designers aren't interested in seeing their creations worn by anyone over a size 14, unless they are an iconic rock star.

Back in the real world, new research shows that by the time a woman is 60 she's eaten enough fat to last her to the age of 112! A "fat age" calculator uses information about age and diet to calculate how much over the recommended daily allowances we consume. By 40, the average women would have eaten enough fat to last her 66 years, which is enough to make me swap a piece of cake for a carrot. But not all fats are bad. Scientists have just announced that they hope to create a pill which would consolidate memories by utilising fatty foods – apparently they contain something which kick-starts the process of preserving long-term memory. Cup cakes on the NHS?

Wild garlic – it's free, it's in season and it tastes great

Foraging is central to thrifty living, and hedgerows and riverbanks are currently packed with delicious wild garlic. I was surprised to see that organic retailers like Whole Foods Market in Kensington don't promote such seasonal goodies when I visited recently. In the last couple of weeks I've stuffed lamb, made a great green sauce for chicken and whipped up pesto with wild garlic, and now the local foragers in Kent who supply top restaurants are publishing a recipe book called The Forager Handbook. I draw the line at nettle soup, though. No matter what they say, it's thin and pretty tasteless.

Ignorant of our own land

The other day this paper published a feature claiming that Dalston has ousted Hoxton as the hippest spot in London, but according to The New York Times the place to be seen is Deptford. It says the neighbourhood has "edge", whatever that is.

I doubt many plucky Brits will venture south of the river to discover Deptford's rough and ready delights, however. A poll of 3,000 adults reveals that on average we visit a grand total of 28 towns in a lifetime, and display a shameful lack of curiosity about our country's wonderful sights. One in five Edinburgh residents has never visited the castle, and a million Britons never leave their neighbourhood at all.