Eric Illsley went from Honourable Member to criminal in the half second it took to plead guilty. Three times he was forced to declare his guilt, admitting three counts of claiming parliamentary expenses dishonestly.
Separated from the outside world by the toughened glass of the dock at Southwark Crown Court, the still-serving member for Barnsley Central stared ahead impassively as a tawdry list of fiddles amounting to some £14,500 was read out. Council tax and telephone charges over-claimed from the taxpayer; utilities bills, too.
The bluff Yorkshireman, keen on caravanning and known to down the odd pint, should enjoy a drink while he can. In a few weeks’ time he can expect to follow that other ex-Labour MP, David Chaytor, to prison. Chaytor got 18 months; Illsley, who has admitted stealing less, can hope for a shorter term.
William Coker QC, his brief, served notice that he would attempt to secure a shorter stay behind bars for his client due to the ill-health of his wife.
Illsley, 55, who proudly proclaims his council house birth on his website, was one of those unspectacular backbenchers supposedly destined for a long and comfortable parliamentary career by virtue of a safe seat. Grammar school and university educated (in law), he worked as an administrator in the National Union of Mineworkers before succeeding Roy Mason in Barnsley, where Labour votes are weighed rather than counted. They weigh rather less nowadays, but Illsley’s majority was still more than 10,000 last year when, due to the lateness of the decision to prosecute him, he was allowed to stand for Labour in the general election.
The whip was withdrawn only in May when he was charged.