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Staying course

Common sense, good judgement and honour should keep MPs and pharma on the straight and narrow

Compass Regulars will know the natural habitat of the Lilley is leafy Surrey. To be precise, it is Camberley, in Surrey.

A once elegant, military town boasting long associations with the armed forces, Ascot races and the Royals, it is now a sprawling dormitory town, home to flat-screen tellies and chavs.

The quiet, religious right-of-centre and their local churches have been replaced by a new conviction and place of worship. Primark is the cathedral and consumerism is the religion.

Camberley is home to an empty, new shopping centre, roads that look as though their repair and maintenance have been sub-contracted to the Zimbabwean highways agency and, the once pleasant 200-yard high street, on a Friday and Saturday night, becomes a river of vomit as the five clubs and pubs tip out their drunken punters to fight each other on the street.

It is not what it was.

Many of the residents are oblivious to the changes. They are newcomers, attracted by big houses with small gardens and the delights of middle class estate life. They shop in the more genteel Guildford and work in London. They leave their cars at Farnborough or Ascot railway stations (for an eye-watering £5.50 a day) as Camberley station has long since had its services emasculated. They pay £25 a day to stand on a train into London and back home, before flopping, exhausted, into bed, only to get up and do it all again the next day.

Weekends are spent ferrying their kids to music, ballet and gymnastics classes, visiting the garden centre and duplicating Delia's latest in the safety of their Moben kitchens and dining, at home, with friends.

Such is the life of the middle-management slaves, and for most in Camberley, but not all. There is one person who does not lead such a life. He is our Member of Parliament.

Fiercely ambitious, a journalist and TV performer, some say our MP earns close to £200,000 a year. He has a home outside the constituency and another one in London. Not for him the daily torture of Network Rail. He lives most of his perfumed life in Knightsbridge and Westminster, subsidised by the public purse.

The extent of his subsidy has recently been revealed in the Telegraph newspaper. So audacious was his expenses claim that even he has agreed to return the £7,000 originally claimed for, among other things, cake forks and a child's mattress. Obviously, these items were all crucially required to discharge his duties as an MP.

To account for his hubris he called a public meeting. Ironically, it was in a church; new territory for most that came. The meeting was packed with Tory supporters, outraged commuters and the Camberley old-guard of retired majors and captains.

The meeting was a masterclass in public speaking. The MP expressed regret, contrition, guilt and penitence. We had sorrow, distress and grief; he oozed sadness and threw himself into mourning. A polished performer, he glided, skilfully, over the issues and placed his woes at the door of the system.

Attacked by the hostile, he rode the punches. Praised by the Tory faithful for his 'honesty' in 'fessing up', he preened, blushed to order and wrung his hands to a point where I was convinced they would drop off.

What have we come to when a grown-up man tells a grown-up audience that he was confused and misled by a system that requires him to avoid the ostentatious and use it only to subsidise items that are wholly required for the discharge of his duties as an honourable member?

Furniture from a designer boutique, owned by a relative of the Leader of the Opposition, doesn't fit the bill, so to speak.

The vicar was pleased; he had a full house. The press were pleased - they had a story. The MP was pleased – he got away with it. The Tory agent was pleased – he'd got the right people there. The generally silent majority were pleased – they had found something different to do midweek.

Explosive issue
Expenses are a dynamite topic. They have laid waste to more than the political landscape. They very nearly, once, decimated pharma.

Thanks to the ABPI rules, pharma is prohibited from offering inducements or gifts or hospitality that might affect a doctor's judgement. So, tickets for a night at the opera that features murder, theft, deceit and conspiracy would be out.

However, a night at a pole-dancing club, for doctors to observe anatomy and the pursuit of personal fitness, flexibility and agility is OK? Yes, or no?

It's all in the interpretation. Be careful what rules you wish for. You may not get what you expected. The ABPI says that venues cannot be lavish. So, a conference on the sports injuries of soccer players held at Arsenal's fabulous new Emirates Stadium, using their stunning conference and physio therapy facilities, is out. Or is it?

What is missing is common sense, personal judgment and honour; a sense of proportion and a feeling for what is sensible and right.

Give me some rules, and I'll find a way to get around them. Give me a moral compass and I will know where the straight path to the North is.

Much like getting drunk on a Saturday night and being sick in the high street, you have the choice not to do it.

The Author
Roy Lilley is a (sometimes controversial) healthcare author and broadcaster.

23rd June 2009

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