Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has admitted getting the taxpayer to pick up the bill for two porn films watched by her husband last June.
On Sunday, the Daily Express revealed that amongst the expenses signed off in respect of Jacqui Smith’s (second) constituency home was a bill for £67 in respect of films downloaded from Virgin Media. Hidden in the small print were charges for two "additional features" – a euphemism for adult entertainment – at £5 a throw.
The Mutley-esque sniggering you can hear in the background is the sound of the Consenting Adult Action Network (CAAN) dabbing its eyes and offering an ironic lifeline to wacky Jacqui and her man.
There is no suggestion that the films were watched by Mrs Smith: the fact that she is now said to be "furious" with her husband and paid researcher Richard Timney imply that she was unaware of her partner’s solo late night habits. Smith has said she will now pay back the cost of the films, and presumably dock her husband's pocket money.
Comment has predictably divided on party lines. Tory MP Philip Davies has said that if the porn-movie claims were true, she would have to resign, whilst a Downing Street source said she had done the 'right thing' by taking steps to rectify the 'inadvertent mistake'.
Conservative Karen Lumley, who is likely to be standing against her in Redditch at the next election, commented that this merely deepened the disappointment already felt by constituents.
Speaking to El Reg, leading political blogger, Iain Dale argued that the Home Secretary was not fatally wounded – yet. He said "she doesn’t deserve to go over this: the allegations over her second home were far more serious. She may yet survive as Parliament heads off into recess next week, and the pressure will be off.
"However, if the net effect of these allegations is that she becomes a figure of fun, her position may yet become untenable."
More serious criticism was raised by Simon Carr, writing in the Independent this weekend. He compared the present culture of political expense claiming as little different in principle to benefit fraud: the only people who did not see the similarities were the politicians themselves.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions confirmed that although they would only usually charge individuals who had deliberately defrauded the state of £2,000 or more, every case would be looked at on its merits.
Meanwhile, El Reg dug a little deeper into just what "him indoors" might have been viewing. A forum discussion of Virgin Media’s adult channels contains several complaints that channels such as Playboy TV and Television X are a bit tame and don’t quite hit the spot.
On the other hand, Virgin Media also broadcast Red Hot TV (NSFW), which offers a slightly harder – but legal - range, including titles such as The Domineering Wife and Happy Husbands and Willing Wives. More seriously, for a politician who has made such mileage out of cracking down on adult viewing habits, they also offers categories such as "Pissing", which could fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act, "MILF" (don't ask) and "Just 18".
Sources within the Home Office were dismissive of this line of speculation. They did not consider the subject matter watched to be relevant to any other aspects of government policy on censorship of the internet or indeed of any other medium. They gave assurances that the channel watched was NOT Red Hot TV and that there was no aspect of the content that raises any further issues. It was, in common parlance, "vanilla".
They would not, however, give any more precise details of what was watched.
Last but by no means least, Clair Lewis, National Convenor for CAAN, has offered an olive branch to Ms Smith. In a letter to the national press, she writes: "as Home Secretary and as part of this puritan government, Jacqui Smith has done more than almost anyone to meddle with and regulate the sexual choices made by consenting adults in private. There is therefore a most delicious irony to find her hoist by her own petard."
Nonetheless, she adds a personal invite: "It may be a little late in the day, but if Jacqui or her husband, even now, are prepared to own up to the error of their censorious ways, they would be most welcome aboard the UK’s largest and fastest-growing campaign for personal sexual freedom." ®