The continuing controversy over MPs' expenses has finally galvanised the Prime Minister into action. Gordon Brown wants MPs to vote next week to abolish their second-home allowance and replace it with a flat fee for daily attendance, and today Sir Christopher Kelly publishes the first findings of his committee's inquiry into Standards in Public Life.
Is it right, though, that MPs should vote on reforming how they are paid? Is any other profession self-regulated to this extent? It would be better if MPs' pay and allowances was decided by an impartial body, and based on market rates. Although all parties concede that the public are now deeply cynical about what expenses MPs claim, the need for reform goes deeper than eliminating the need to police bills for bath plugs, bathroom tiles, televisions and patio heaters. What about their holidays?
Earlier this week Harriet Harman announced that MPs would be enjoying an incredible 82-day summer break from 22 July, seven days longer than 2008. MPs' working year will have consisted of just 143 days in Westminster. Do you know of any other job that pays as well (£64,700) for so few hours and offers twice as much time off as most workers in the UK get? The extended summer recess comes at a time when many families have cancelled or scaled down holidays because of the recession.
If the Prime Minister gets his way and the new attendance allowance is in place, sending MPs back to their constituencies for three months might save money (although I doubt it – there is bound to be an extended period before it is implemented to allow second-home owners to streamline their property portfolios), but why should this particular group of wage-earners be granted such a huge vacation at the taxpayer's expense?
Contrast this gravy train with how 857,000 young people will be spending their time this summer. Known as Neets – not in employment, education or training – they spend every day lounging around not doing anything constructive or fulfilling, a reminder that in spite of Tony Blair's mantra about education, education, education, a higher number of young people than ever are languishing on the scrapheap.
In spite of government promises about new training schemes and apprenticeships, there are 75,000 more Neets than last year. And in spite of Blair's promise to create a "classless society" in 1997, there's little social mobility, recent research by the Government and academics revealing that the top ranks of many professions – the law, finance, the civil service, and the media – continue to be dominated by children from the highest income brackets.
Add to this the research that places the UK 24th in a European table of child wellbeing and it seems to me that our MPs have no greater priority this summer than to spend the bulk of their break on the front line of youth unemployment. They should go back to their constituencies and help to find kids training, apprenticeships, and work placements.
If they truly aim to serve their community and not just their voters, MPs are better placed than most to try and kick-start local schemes involving colleges and schools – which are empty for long periods over the summer – and they will know all the major employers and local businesses. This single issue should transcend party politics. We can't allow another month to pass with the next generation of voters believing that they are of no use to anyone.
Has Russell Crowe got some magic undies?
Over-the-counter diet pills went on sale yesterday costing £32 for a two-week supply, but the graphic description of unpleasant side-effects (flatulence and diarrhoea) on the Today programme almost put me off my breakfast.
A man who had shed 13 stone said that the fat his body couldn't process while on the pills "had to go somewhere", and I rapidly reached for the off button.
Russell Crowe, has been photographed looking pretty porky recently, and is clearly a bloke who doesn't watch his weight between jobs. But now he's started filming Ridley Scott's new Robin Hood film and the first stills show a miraculously toned hero.
I don't know if Russell is resorting to the "magic undies" I was recently forced into for my appearance on Gok Wan's new television series last week, but I'm not sure that his alleged diet of porridge, peanuts and apricots can be completely responsible for this new streamlined shape.
Sienna Miller was supposed to play Maid Marian, but rumours persist that she was replaced by Cate Blanchett because Russell didn't want to look too old and too bulky by comparison. Ridiculous. Cate Blanchett is surely as thin as one of Robin's arrows.
Restaurant league tables leave a bad taste
One food writer has defended the list of the World's Best restaurants, where most of the establishments cost around £50 a head, claiming that "the highest of haute gastronomy eventually filters down to what we all eat". I doubt that we'll ever see snail porridge or bone marrow sold as Marks and Sparks ready meals. More importantly, why do a self-important bunch of food critics (who generally claim their meals back on expenses so, unlike most punters, they eat for nothing) and restaurant owners (who need all the positive PR they can get in these difficult times) think these rankings are meaningful? It's just testosterone-fuelled rubbish, and does it matter if Gordon Ramsay isn't on the list? People eat out for fun, not to experience high art. Get a grip.
* My favourite television at the moment is the incomprehensible Damages, with Glenn Close reigning supreme in the cut-throat mix of law and politics, but closer to home, I was surprised I'd managed to watch an entire episode of Gardener's World without getting irritated. Toby Buckland presented an excellent report on peat-free compost, tackling the subject of environmental protection without being patronising. Nevertheless, ex-presenter Stefan Buczacki whinges in the Manchester Evening News that the show is "toe-curling" and lacks "credibility". These days the internet is packed with advice about how to grow vegetables and flowers, and shows like this are pleasant relaxation, not the font of all knowledge, for goodness' sake.Reuse content