MPs’ expenses back in dock

IF SHAMED former Minister Denis MacShane was expecting sympathy following the first serialisation of his prison diaries, he is likely to be disappointed.

For, while the decision to detain the ex-Rotherham MP in the high-security Belmarsh jail for six weeks does not appear to be the best use of prison resources, his complaints – “industrial turkey (and) a tiny cocktail sausage with a bit of bacon and a smidgen of stuffing” for Christmas dinner – will only anger those who believe that Britain’s politicians are out of touch with his reality.

Prison is supposed to be a punishment and MacShane was deluding himself if he expected to be served the haute cuisine, subsidised by the taxpayer, that is cooked at the Houses of Parliament – or to treat his prison cell as a hotel where he can read books of his choice or having access to writing materials.

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“I ordered a tuna baguette – but this unpleasant white cotton-wool bread and fishy slush is horrid. I would give anything for some wholemeal bread,” writes MacShane on January 2.

MacShane’s observations will have to be seen in wider context – newspaper serialisations always highlight the most salacious extracts from a forthcoming book – and the one-time Europe Minister was clearly given access to writing implements so he could pen his diary.

Yet what sits most uncomfortably is his belief that his misuse of the Parliamentary expenses system was relatively minor in comparison to those MPs who actually profited from the system. This pretence is at odds with MacShane’s guilty plea for filing nearly £13,000 of bogus expenses and gives further ammunition to those who believe that Britain’s politicians are above the law. The only way forward is total transparency and absolute clarity about the rules so MPs know exactly where they stand. If this is unresolved by the time of the next election, it will be too late.

NHS is Cameron’s Achilles heel

THE growing belief that the National Health Service is David Cameron’s Achilles heel is highlighted by yet another study which places the quality of GP services further under the microscope. Experts say patients who receive a telephone consultation from their doctor are more likely to need care in the month rather than those people who are afforded the courtesy of an actual appointment.

On the day when a new poll suggests that older people are more fearful of developing dementia than they are of cancer, this is another reminder to David Cameron about the fragility of NHS services – the Royal College of General Practitioners says there will be 34 million instances when patients are denied an appointment because the number of doctors has not kept paced with demand.

With an ageing society guaranteed to place GP surgeries under even greater strain moving forward, the pressure is on Mr Cameron to implement the necessary remedies so this vital service is fit for purpose rather than trotting out a list of statistics at Prime Minister’s Questions which overlooks the day-to-day challenges facing doctors. While there will be instances when a telephone consultation suffices, it offers little substitute for a GP taking a patient’s blood pressure, for example, and being able to reassure the individual about their health.

If the Prime Minister doesn’t act, the knock-on effect will be even longer waiting times at A&E units – the most politically sensitive of NHS targets. Surely that is not Mr Cameron’s intention ahead of the next election?

Sportswomen shine by example

from a Yorkshire perspective, the Commonwealth Games could not have been a greater triumph. They have showed that the county’s sporting success at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics was not a one-off as Yorkshire outperformed Wales, Northern Ireland and a host of major nations.

Yet, while sterner tests will come at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, the Glasgow games afforded a significant number of young competitor – fresh-faced Pudsey gymnast Nile Wilson being a prime example – to introduce themselves to the world

and showcase their potential.

It was also heartening to see Yorkshire’s female competitors striking gold over the weekend thanks to the bravery of boxing pioneer Nicola Adams, the courage of Otley cyclist Lizzie Armitstead in the wettest weather imaginable and the prowess of Gabby Adcock who enjoyed badminton success with her husband Chris. Such successes can only help to further boost the participation of women in sport.