As we get closer to the general election, we are likely to see ever more instances of "pork barrel" politics, an invaluable US term to describe the use of government money for the benefit of ministers' constituents (derived from an old practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward).
Labour is pointing today to the targeting of rural fuel duty relief at Lib Dem seats in Scotland. Of the 10 areas that Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will announce will benefit from the rebate scheme (a 5p reduction in fuel duty), eight have Lib Dem MPs, including two in his own Inverness constituency. Here's the full list:
· Acharacle (Scotland – Lochaber), postcode: PH36 – Charles Kennedy
· Achnasheen (Scotland – Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV22 – Charles Kennedy
· Appin (Scotland – Argyll and Bute) postcode: PA38 – Alan Reid and Charles Kennedy
· Carrbridge (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH23 – Danny Alexander
· Dalwhinnie (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH19 – Danny Alexander
· Gairloch (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV21– Charles Kennedy
· Lynton (England – Devon) postcode: EX35 – Sir Nick Harvey
· Strathpeffer (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV14 – Charles Kennedy
As the FT's Kiran Stacey points out, this isn't the first time that Alexander, whose seat is being aggressively targeted by Labour, has doused his constituents with state largesse, "including funding for a tourist railway, a bailout for the London-Scotland sleeper train and tax breaks for ski lifts."
But Alexander has hit back this morning, declaring of the "pork barrel" charge: "That is total nonsense from the Labour party who refused throughout in their entire 13 years in office to recognise that in remote and rural communities is greater than in other parts of the country.
"The list of towns here are selected according to a series of strict and objective criteria which are based on what we think the European Commission will need to know about in order to approve the scheme – it would have been nice to have a longer list but on the other hand, what matters most here, is having something that we have a reasonable chance of being agreed and to make happen."