I was going to write this post twenty minutes ago, but thought I had better calm down. I had just spent nearly an hour doing a phone-in programme with BBC Radio Wales. I have never experienced an angrier group of people in any programme I have taken part in. Every single caller thought politicians were thieving, lying scum, and there was nothing I or anyone could say which would have persuaded them otherwise. I chuntered on about there being bad apples in any profession, but they all thought that every single politician had their snouts in the trough.
The other London based pundit was Sean O'Grady, economics editor of The Independent. He played to the audience and essentially agreed that they were all at it, and they all enjoyed 20 weeks holiday a year and hardly worked the rest of the time. I'm afraid I lost my temper. O'Grady used to work for the Liberal Democrats. He knows full well that the overwhelming majority of MPs put the hours in and when Parliament isn't sitting, they're to be found doing constituency work. He even seemed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to employ their own staff or have any second home allowance at all.
In all the interviews I have done over the last 24 hours on this, I have tried to be balanced and non partisan. This is not a party political issue, but it strikes at the very core of why many good people just won't go into politics nowadays. They just don't want to be tarred with the same brush of contempt which was so apparent in this phone in.
I almost feel as if I should be paid danger money for having the temerity to defend politics as a profession. It's a pretty thankless task at the moment - and it isn't made any easier by journalists like Sean O'Grady playing to the crowds. It happened last night too where I had to correct Stephen Nolan on 5 Live who had blithely stated as a matter of fact that MPs don't have to pay capital gains tax on their second homes. 'They're exempt', he said. When I challenged him on it he had the good grace to apologise.
But the trouble is, everyone believes this kind of thing, because they think it is entirely plausible that MPs are indeed exempt (I hope to God I was right!).
Politicians need to wake up and understand the level of contempt felt for them out there beyond London. Some of the younger politicians understand this very well. And they know that urgent reform is needed. This reform cannot wait until after the election. It needs to be discussed and introduced almost immediately. But the trouble is, while we have the existing Speaker and the existing roadblocks to reform in the House of Commons administration system, it just won't happen. Gordon Brown has neatly finessed the expenses issue by asking the Committee on Standards in Public Life to combine a report on expenses with one on second jobs. Because of work underway the inquiry won't even start until the autumn, and, guess what, it won't report until after the election. That is simply not on. Don't the 200 new MPs who may be elected in 2010 deserve to know what their terms of employment will be in advance?
Someone needs to grab this issue by the the throat. If Gordon Brown won't do it, perhaps David Cameron and Nick Clegg ought to have that long awaited conversation and come up with a joint solution.
And one final thing. Several producers of the programmes I have been on have been shocked at the reluctance of MPs to go on the air and defend their profession, or give their views on the system of expenses. "My colleagues would lynch me," one Labour MP told 5 Live. Doesn't that just about say it all?
UPDATE: In an unfortunate double entendre, bearing in mind the subject matter, Nick Clegg has just declared: "It's all getting out of hand." Exactly.