Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 15:32 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

There are some MPs who get it. And some who clearly don't.

Anthony Steen MP
Anthony Steen has apologised for the remarks

Take Anthony Steen, the Conservative MP for Totnes.

When news came that he had been forced to stand down at the next election, our enterprising reporter Becky Milligan cycled from home to Westminster at half past eight on Wednesday night.

Her instincts that there would be a good interview proved right. Mr Steen exploded with indignation in one of those moments which will come to define the current crisis. He was the one with the bill for lopping trees (not the moat or duck island, do try to keep up).

He told Becky: "I've done nothing criminal, that's the most awful thing, and do you know what it's about? Jealousy! I've got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral. It's a merchant's house of the 19th century. It's not particularly attractive, it just does me nicely." He then went on to blame the Freedom of Information Act: "What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None."

Our listeners didn't take too kindly to that!


Celia Irving emailed: "What gives the public the right to 'interfere' in Anthony Steen's private life? The fact that we have been funding it! If he didn't want that, he shouldn't have made his outrageous expenses claims. The arrogance of the man is stunning."

And David Cameron clearly agreed.

The Conservative leader told Shaun on Friday's programme: "That was an appalling thing to say. I gave him a very clear instruction after that interview - one more squeak like that and he will have the whip taken away from him so fast his feet won't touch the ground ."

He went on to say that any further remarks would mean that Mr Steen would be "out on his.....(Long pause....) Hoof".

Blaming the public does not exactly fit in with Mr Cameron's strategy.

Certainly on the Labour side, there are strong suspicions that there has been unfair treatment of backbenchers compared with the Cabinet

But have more traditional Tory MPs been made scapegoats while those close to the leadership are treated more leniently?

Anthony Steen, Sir Peter Viggars and Douglas Hogg are standing down. Andrew MacKay and Bill Wiggin are not.

Certainly on the Labour side, there are strong suspicions that there has been unfair treatment of backbenchers compared with the Cabinet.

'Totally unacceptable'

Peter Kenyon, a member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), told me that some constituency Labour parties were concerned that ordinary backbenchers were being dealt with more harshly than ministers.

While three backbench MPs had already been been referred to a new panel set up by the NEC to investigate claims of misconduct, Ms Blears was not, even though Mr Brown described her behaviour as "totally unacceptable".

"The perception out there in the Constituency Labour Parties that government members are being treated differently from backbenchers, that is going to have to be dealt with and dealt with quickly," said Mr Kenyon. "I have had numerous representations on that specific point and I have raised it with the General Secretary."

Former environment minister Michael Meacher also warned that it was essential that the rules were seen to be applied to all MPs equally.

"You cannot, given the shame which has been brought on the whole parliamentary process, then repair that damage by applying the rules to some and not others. It cannot be taking account of rank."

Whatever the results of the party's disciplinary inquiries (and it does seem that more MPs will lose their jobs) it's clear that a lot more radical action is required before people's anger begins to subside.

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