Thursday, May 28, 2009

Servants' Quarters In Woking


A typical Woking scene


Via the Major, Tyler happens to know a good cross-section of well-heeled Wokingonians. Quite a few of them live in houses that would be described by the Mirror as stockbroker-style mansions. A number even employ cleaners and gardeners. And yet, none of them - not a single one - has live-in servants.

What is it with these Tory MPs? According to Sir John Butterfill (surely a direct descendant of Sir Talbot Buxomly above):

"I purchased a house in Woking in ­derelict condition. I gutted and rewired it. I extended the living room, I extended the kitchen, and made a family room off the kitchen... The mistake I made was that, in claiming interest [from the expenses allowance] on the home, I didn't separate from that the value of the servants' … er the staff … wing."
We're trying to identify the house, although Sir John has long-since moved on. In the process, he made a £600 grand capital gain on which he paid no tax.

And WTF did Butterfill buy a house in Woking in the first place? For the last 23 years he's been MP for Bournemouth West, which he describes as "a wonderful place to live", and where he has his "main home" (a £56 grand flat which he says he did up with bits from B&Q). At no stage has he been MP for Woking.

On Newsnight, he said it was because his wife didn't want to live in London, and Woking has excellent commuter links.

OK, that's true - in fact, Tyler used those very links himself for over 20 years. But Woking is not quite the transportation idyll Butterfill suggests, as a journo resident explained in this classic FT article from 1994:

"Woking has one of the biggest colonies outside the capital of that semi-troglodyte sub-species - the commuter. You see us in the twilight hours at either end of the day flocking on to dirty trains to Waterloo station and the City where we grub out our high five-figure and sometimes six-figure salaries.

Pallid features, furrowed foreheads and greying temples are the hallmark of unfettered slavery, resigned adherence to the worship of work as the only source of keeping the head above water.

Filing off the train with all the other commuters at Woking railway station any evening of the working week, it would be easy to conclude from the vacant, fatigued expressions that you had joined the ranks of the living dead."

So was Sir John among those ranks? And did those feet in ancient time shuffle onto the 7.17 sardines express to Waterloo?

I doubt it somehow. Apart from anything else, Parliament doesn't get going until about mid-day, by which time you can grab an entire First Class compartment for yourself.


PS During the Newsnight discussion, Lord Fattersley said he was intensely relaxed about Tory duckponds and servants' quarters - after all, everyone knows that's what Tories do. We're pretty relaxed about them too - just don't ask us to pay.

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