Janet Street-Porter: Hooray for Henry? Not bloody likely...

Thursday 07 February 2008 01:00 GMT

The rebranding of Henry Conway is in full swing. Dad Derek might be out looking for a new job, but his son has been very busy. Yesterday a short feature appeared with Henry's byline – a bit of froth filed from the New York fashion shows, with a closing tag declaring that Henry's fee was going to the Elton John Aids foundation. A worthy cause, but a touch melodramatic.

Henry is hardly facing criminal charges for trousering more than £52,000 of public money as a parliamentary researcher for Dad for apparently doing bugger all (while a full-time student), is he? And if he wants to apologise, then couching it in a description of hanging out at a fashionable restaurant in New York is not going to win him any new friends.

Meanwhile, in another paper, an outraged letter from the Chairman of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust on the Isle of Wight refers to "gross slurs on the very talented and creative" Conway junior, claiming a "tinge of homophobia" in the paper's coverage of this "genuinely flamboyant" fashion guru. Apparently, Henry curated a show of photographs of the Rolling Stones at the Trust's museum – and did excellent work promoting the local festival.

Doesn't it make you want to scream? To find someone a bit of a nelly-dresser doesn't mean you want gays imprisoned and pink triangles issued to unconventional young men. I'd be more sympathetic if Henry had taken off his designer sunglasses and considered how thousands of students in Britain – my own nephew included – owe around £20,000 apiece in student grants because they didn't have the luxury of having a father who was a MP with his snout in the trough.

But the very last people to recognise that their behaviour is totally out of kilter with public opinion are MPs and their families. It's weird how good they are at finessing intricate legislation, but when it comes to self-regulation, they are hopeless. The latest committee set up this week to review MPs' expenses in the light of the Conway débâcle hardly inspires confidence. The line-up put together by the Speaker, Michael Martin, has little credibility, containing such stars as Tory David Maclean, who campaigned to exclude Parliament from Freedom of Information laws, and Sir Stuart Bell, the member for Middlesbrough who employs his wife at a whopping £35,000 a year.

And then there's Harriet Harman, who took a £5,000 donation from the mystery businessman David Abrahams. Virtually the only member to remain untainted by financial controversy is Theresa May.

Mr Martin has never wanted the public to know the full details of MPs' expenses, and when he used a top lawyer to defend his reputation recently, the taxpayer ended up settling the bill. After the Conway scandal, and the battle between Cameron and Brown to be the most "transparent", you hope MPs might have some inkling of how out of touch they seem to the country outside Westminster. But they don't.

Since Derek Conway was shown the red card, more than 170 MPs have admitted employing members of their own families in jobs that aren't advertised, don't conform to Equal Opportunities legislation, and don't to adhere to any published pay scale.

The potential misuse of more than £87m of expenses might be a scandal in the world of business, but Parliament sees things differently. Mr Martin's committee will not report its findings until October. Astonishing.

How good can a stock cube be?

Unfortunate timing: as Marco Pierre White's rugged features are splashed across the press flogging chicken stock cubes, Tesco upsets animal welfare groups and foodies by promoting a week of "bargain basement" chickens at £1.99 each. Tesco calls it choice – but it's a choice I don't want to make, especially as new research shows that one in four broiler chickens has trouble walking.

It's hardly a month since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cried over his sad chickens on the telly – clearly a long time in retail. Marco says I must mash up a stock cube with olive oil and smear it all over a chook to get "delicious, honest food". A magic cube won't make a broiler palatable in my house.

* Ryanair has a robust attitude towards customers it doesn't want to carry. Wheelchair-users incurred an extra charge for travelling with the airline until a court judgement brought the practice to an end.

Now the members of the Caribbean Steel orchestra, based in London, have been awarded nearly £5,000 in damages after being thrown off a Ryanair flight from Sardinia. A passenger complained that the musicians were sitting separately after having waited together in the departure lounge. The same person alleged (wrongly) that the band's leader was pretending to be blind. Coincidentally, the band were the only black people on the flight.

Even though they were cleared by local police after 20 minutes, the pilot refused to carry them. Next day Ryanair flew them to Liverpool, where they spent the night in a bus shelter.

Another couple unlikely to be flying Ryanair are Nicolas Sarkozy and his new bride, who have won £45,000 in damages after the airline used their picture in an ad without consent.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in