Rumoured to be considering legal action against the producers of the West End play ‘The Duck House’, a political comedy about the expenses scandal, Robert Houston, Member of Parliament is visibly disturbed.
“I am deeply disturbed about all the publicity surrounding this so-called ‘play’, and I’m of the firm opinion that the best way to put an end to this publicity is to launch a libel action. I’m currently consulting my legal advisors, McAlpine, Archer, Berlusconi.”
This much-maligned public figure has suffered many heaps of derision since the expenses situation broke. The play was simply the straw that broke the er… duck’s back.
“I hope you understand I cannot comment any further. Other than to say that no one likes jokes being made at their expenses – er, expense – and I’m a great believer in freedom of speech, but it would be better for everybody and certainly healthier for the reputation of democratic government if this play were banned.
I’m not doing it just for me. It’s for all the MPs who were unfairly brought to book over their expenses claims. For instance, Tory MP Douglas Hogg is ridiculed for claiming £2,000 to have his moat cleaned, but let’s be honest, would the public really prefer he had a dirty moat?
As an MP, you’re a very busy man. What do you do to unwind?
It’s true, I am very busy. In fact, I’m just back from a Parliamentary fact-finding trip to Fiji.
What did you find out?
It’s got lovely beaches. But there was broad agreement that all of us in the G20 need to do more about our carbon footprints. And not fly to Fiji… quite so often. But when I’m not working on things like Fiji, I do manage to squeeze in some quality leisure time. One of my hobbies, or ‘guilty pleasures’ you might say, is philanthropy. It’s not something I like to talk about, as it can be misinterpreted as just blowing one’s own trumpet, but in my own quiet way I do an awful lot for charity and, if I can find the space in my diary, even more for good causes.
Is it true you are planning a charity swim of the River Churn?
Yes, the Churn is 16 miles long and I’m fully intending to swim a good mile of it. Just the part that takes me through the grounds of my own house near Cirencester.
For which charity?
I’d rather not name the charity. It’s a sad fact that today’s cynical media would interpret me as using the charity’s name for my own publicity purposes. Suffice to say, any sponsor who sends me money has my word of honour that the cause is a good one.
Is swimming your main form of exercise?
That and horse riding – although we don’t have the stables any more, after we converted them into my wife’s pilates studio, which was a perfectly reasonable claim, as the nearer to home that she can do her pilates, the more time she has to perform her duties as my Parliamentary secretary. So, let the media spin it as they will, the indisputable truth is that our stable/studio conversion actually saved the tax-payer thousands. I don’t expect you’ll print that.
You’re a member of the local hunt?
Yes, I’ve recently taken up horse riding with the Cotswold Hunt. It’s completely legal as all the foxes are imported from Argentina. And while the protesting types will say I’m doing it purely for my own pleasure, the fact is it’s a good way of having an informal chat with various members of the Cabinet. Hunting oils the wheels in a way much of the electorate simply don’t understand. Like a lot of our work, it’s unseen and, dare I say it, unappreciated.
Would you consider yourself a ‘town’ or ‘country’ man?
It used to be both, till I sold the flat in town. But nature is everything to me. I have long been of the opinion, an opinion which more and more people are now sharing, that the future of the planet is important. I know I’m at the head of the curve on this, but the best way to save the planet is to do what I do and keep bees. Because bees are dying. Every day. Wasn’t it Bono who said ‘every time you click your fingers, a bee dies’. I’m not sure of the precise science, but there can be no doubt that if all the bees perish, so will we. That’s why I have hives. And you get cheap honey.
I tend to leave it to our Russian housekeeper to visit our bee friends and fetch the breakfast nectar, but she tends to get badly stung. She’s saving up for a hat and outfit like mine, but saving money is tough on her wage. So every now and then I don my own hivewear and gather the honey myself.
You’ve never been a Minister. Which Department would you most like to have run?
The clichéd answer would be Chancellor of the Exchequer. And that would be my answer. I have a real understanding of money and how to spend it. I also would enjoy being Minister for Sport. Any sporting occasion, you name it, I’d be very happy to turn up and watch it. In fact, I’ve just taken up cycling. Inspired by the UK visit of the Tour De France.
Who are your favourite cyclists?
Tricky. I think I’d have to say, my top three are: Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Andrew Mitchell. All of them winners. Except poor Andrew. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for making cycling popular among the plebs.
* Mr Houston’s lawyers would like to make it clear that their client no longer owns the second home close to the Palace of Westminster which he owned at the time of the expenses crisis.
The Duck House by Dan Patterson and Colin Swash is at The Vaudeville Theatre until 29 March 2014. Booking: 0844 412 4663 or visit www.the-duck-house.co.uk.
Shot on location in a development by Landmass; short listed for Best Residential Property 2014 (www.landmass.co.uk).