Page last updated at 08:24 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 09:24 UK

Expenses: The MPs' story

By Becky Milligan
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's Expenses: The MPs' story

I was listening to Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, telling me what happened to him and his family during the expenses scandal.

Westminster
A feeling of distrust came over Westminster

It was a sunny afternoon on the Commons terrace.

He had found himself and his daughter splashed on the front page of the Daily Telegraph in May with the headline "Andrew George claimed for £308,000 flat used by daughter as 'bolt hole'".

He was clearly deeply shaken by the story and was telling me how his daughter had gone into hiding and was traumatised, how reporters climbed up ladders to peer in bedroom windows at his home in Cornwall and how his wife had received death threats.

He said there was nothing in this story but he had no means to defend himself and his family.

The human fallout from the expenses saga is one we have not heard before now.

MPs refused to talk about it, terrified of triggering more public disgust and fury, and with the knowledge that sympathy for them is in short supply.

"We are public enemy number one," Andrew George told me. "We're just not in the position to ask the public to reconsider their view of us at the moment."

Depression

The decision to do an interview was a very difficult one for him, and even now he has misgivings.

"I've still got my doubts about whether it's a good idea. From my recent experience I think that the retaliation will come. I will probably end up regretting it," he tells me.

You couldn't look people in the eye even people you'd known and befriended
Brian Iddon, Labour MP

His is not a lone voice.

I heard of MPs breaking down in tears, in serious states of depression and mental illness.

And some were shocked when they read what their colleagues had been claiming for.

Labour backbencher Brian Iddon told me he had considered resigning when the story broke in early May.

"A sort of feeling of distrust came over the place. You couldn't look people in the eye even people you'd known and befriended," he says.

Day-by-day the revelations escalated and the public fury showed no signs of dimming.

Public anger

I spoke to writer Joan Smith, whose partner is the Labour MP Denis MacShane. She told me about some of the e-mails they had been receiving.

One said: "What an unprincipled piece of filth you are, McShane. You and the other pieces of filth that infest Parliament are in for a big shock. We're coming to get you. There is a growing number that want to see the likes of you swinging from the lamp post."

After two weeks of expenses stories, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries wrote on her blog that some MPs were suicidal.

Denis MacShane
Denis MacShane received hate mail

She told me that she was unrepentant about her comments, saying that it is important to remember that MPs are people.

I spoke to her daughter, Philippa, who was also her researcher.

In a raw interview, she told me how terrified she had been, and that she had never witnessed such public anger. I asked her at the end of the interview if she wanted her mother to stop being an MP.

"Yes, please," she said.

I spoke to many MPs on and off the record about life in Parliament during this time.

They all spoke of the fear and mistrust, and their concern for the safety of their colleagues.

Many are still considering their futures. One told me that she had decided to resign but could not make that public yet.

None of the MPs who braved speaking out wanted sympathy - far from it, they simply wanted to tell their side of the story.

As one put it: "People were worried for other people's safety, in the knowledge that the public were probably thinking, 'If MPs top themselves, good, they deserve it.'"

Expenses: The MPs' Story will be broadcast on Tuesday, 21 July, at 0900 BST on BBC Radio 4. You can listen to it for seven days after that at BBC iPlayer



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