Four MPs, four poor families living in inner city tower blocks. It's Wife Swap meets Question Time. And very entertaining it is too. The MPs (Austin Mitchell, Mark Oaten, Nadine Dorries and Tim Loughton) have to live-in and cope on benefits.
Three are toe-curlingly awful. Austin Mitchell is, well, basically a twat. The kind of person for whom term-limits were invented. A fat, complaisant salary-taker who has clearly lost any sense of purpose.
Nadine Dorries is a hungry self-made Tory. Attractive and personable on one level but horribly self-satisfied too. Fifty quid from home sneaked into her bra didn't endear her to her Scouse host.
Mark Oaten is a strange one. How this tissue-skinned man ever through a selection meeting I don't know. He was clearly very upset when recognised by local youths in Dagenham as the bloke who shagged rent boys (referred to by Oaten himself as `affairs').
Tory Tim Loughton is the only one who came out with any credit. Low-key, unjudgemental, human, helpful and kind. He was the only one who attracted any respect from his hosts.
And what of the hosts? All were nuclear families with two parents and two or more kids. Few worked. Most were sympathetic on one level but were clearly held back by long-term worklessness and its associated problems. One woman spent a third of her £150 weekly shopping budget on cigs. She justified that on the grounds that MPs were also abusing their expenses. Fuzzy logic but it worked for her.
I came away a bit depressed. The MPs were low calibre and of limited character. Their hosts seemed hopelessly locked into stand-still lives on benefits. Their kids were wonderful but poignantly still unaware of the world they had landed in. Still happy, still open, like all kids. Seeing them sharing a box room with four siblings and eating only microwave food had my eyes pricking.
As an elected politican I felt a tinge of shame. Tower Block of Commons, although essentially soap, communicated something fundamentally true about the self-seeking nature - be it for money (Mitchell), status (Oaten) or advancement (Dorries) - of most MPs. And their inability - or lack of real interest - in representing the needs of society's most disadvantaged people.
A smaller Commons please.