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Commons Confidential: Westminster’s housing problem

Tales of MPs reluctant to "slum it".

“Do you know of an available flat? We have a MP looking with [sic] for a flat with us – £150 reward!” is a Westminster Council bribe to owner-occupiers and landlords. The Tory authority’s housing arm stipulates in a flyer: “The flat must be under £335 per week, have central heating and be within 20 minutes’ walk of the Houses of Parliament.”

CityWest Homes, an almo (arm’s length management organisation) set up by Westminster to run the council’s housing stock, asks: “Is your flat becoming available this year? Are you interested in letting to this tenant? Or do you know of an available property? If we let a property to this sought-after tenant, because of your recommendation we will reward you with £150!*” Readers following the asterisk discover that “Terms and conditions apply”.

Sadly, the name of this “sought-after tenant” isn’t disclosed. He or she clearly isn’t prepared to slum it or suffer the inconvenience of a bus or Tube journey to work: £335 is the maximum claimable under Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) rules.

True-blue Westminster pimping for an ex-council flat to suit a favoured MP is municipal housing for the superannuated political class. The lawmaker may get a place when tenants are evicted under the social cleansing of the government’s housing benefit cap. The £335 MPs’ limit exceeds the proposed £250 ceiling for one-bed flats and £290 for two- (and just below £340 for three-) imposed on jobless, low-income and ill tenants. The MP could always help carry the ex-tenant’s furniture on to the street.

Wildly differing reactions in the shadow cabinet, I hear, to a presentation by the policy wonk Greg Beales on the responses of voters to Ed Miliband the memory man’s One Nation walk-and-talk. Private polling found that Ed Disraeli’s appeal soars when he speaks of breaking with Labour’s past. The leader was, of course, a minister for four years in the last government, the final three in the cabinet, but that is overlooked. My snout is tickled by the front-bench newbies Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves lapping up the new generation message. The informant swears he saw frowns flicker across the faces of the old hands Harriet Harman, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

Cameron’s pet northerner, Eric Pickles, is a Tory with hidden passions. The bass-shaped body of the Communities Secretary was spied in the Royal Opera House. He enjoyed Die Walküre and the nosh. This column’s eyewitness whispered that Wagner’s battle cry in “The Ride of the Valkyries” excited  Pickles. A fitting anthem for the minister’s ferocious assault on local government.

Denis MacShameless received texts and private calls of condolence from surprising figures when forced to stand down as an MP over fiddled expenses. Will they out themselves? I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Online sales are to be used to boost profits of the Commons gift shop. Mail order doesn’t include the men-in-tights.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.