MPs were last night accused of ‘insensitivity’ for throwing a private New Year’s Eve party on the Commons river terrace – so they can watch a spectacular end-of-the decade fireworks show.
After a year of scandals over their expenses, 340 MPs, peers and their guests are paying £10 a head for an exclusive celebration in the shadow of Big Ben.
As thousands of ordinary revellers in Central London stand shivering in the cold to bring in the New Year, MPs will bid farewell to 2009 by gathering in a marquee across the river from the free London Eye fireworks show.
The MPs, peers and some senior bureaucrats will be served by catering staff with canapes and drinks including champagne.
Professional party organisers said the market rate for a ticket to such a unique event would be closer to £100 a head.
The ‘Noughtie MPs’ bash, approved by Commons Speaker John Bercow, has sparked anger among parliamentary officials, secretaries and manual workers, who have been banned from the terrace on New Year’s Eve –one of their few annual perks – to make way for the partying politicians.
‘They’ll be lucky if the whole bill for the evening is under £3,000,’ said one official. ‘After all their antics this year, having a knees-up like this is the height of insensitivity-You’d think they’d be keeping their heads down.’
Mr Bercow says the party will raise money for charity, but one member of the Commons staff said: ‘If they want to give money to charity they can write a cheque out for ten quid any time they like.’
Traditionally, MPs are back in their constituencies by December 31.
Suspicions about an event for them were aroused last week after staff were sent a memo by Serjeantat-Arms Jill Pay banning them from entering the building from 6pm on New Year’s Eve.
The memo said access would be ‘restricted to Members of both Houses, their escorted guests and duty staff only’.
Then invitations were seen that declared: ‘The Pavilion will open from 10pm until
12.30am, providing Members and their guests with an excellent view of the public fireworks display over the Thames whilst they welcome in the New Year.’
A spokesman for Mr Bercow says the event will make a £2,000 profit, after staff costs, for Help A London Child. MPs would get one drink in the ticket price and then pay normal ‘ commercial’ prices for bottled beer, wine and champagne – not the taxpayer-subsidised rates they usually paid.
But Commons insiders disputed the figures.
They claimed the cost of 15 staff paid £16 an hour double-rate overtime for up to six hours each would be over £1,400. In addition, they have been promised taxis home for up to £30 – a total of £450.
Mr Bercow’s spokesman last night said the party would raise money for a good cause. Click here for the full story.