The word ‘bung’ (meaning everything from a back-hander to dodgy expense claims, and I use dodgy in its broadest possible sense) is one of the best words to have entered the mainstream of the language in the last quarter of a century. The OED gives four meanings: a stopper (first sighted,1140); a purse or pick-pocket (1597 in the latter case, in Henry IV pt. II, Shakespeare invented the sequel, really, didn’t he?); a lie (1882); and a bribe, finally, in 1958. Since bribes are meant to put a cork in the mouth of the recipient, it looks pretty plausible that the modern ‘bung’ is descended from the original one. But, despite its sighting in 1958, it only really caught on in the 1990s, when ‘El Tel’ Terry Venables, sometime manager of our national football team, found himself alleged to have revealed that some football managers liked to get paid in cash when transfer deals occurred. It was Alan Sugar who originally alleged that Venables had told him this, and Venables denied even using the word. But Sugar alleged that Venables had alleged that Brian Clough used to drive to motorway service stations for this purpose, and that ‘he liked his bung’. Clough duly also denied it. But from that moment on, the word has been used everywhere.
And of course, it’s being used now – Jon Snow himself produced it the other night – of the ‘second home allowance and other fiddles’ furore which is engulfing the government (or ‘parliament’, if you ask a member of the government). And sad to say, even Hazel Blears and Alistair Darling have been caught up in the allegations of troughing: and this only days after my saying that I admired Blears – not a popular opinion with my friends, by the way.
Doubtless every party in parliament has members indulging in the same process of claiming perks. It is, of course, all perfectly legal. It’s in its way no different from people claiming what they are allowed to against tax. But it looks what it is: shoddy. And now the edifice of the Labour government is really starting to totter. Lumley and the Gurkhas; second home allowances. There will be another catastrophe along in a minute. Once someone has used the word ‘bung’ in the context of you, you are pretty much doomed.
Perhaps the only crumb of comfort in the slow slide back to a Conservative government, and everything that goes with it, is that Cameron is not yet raging ahead in opinion polls in the way he should be. Traditionally it is a by-election which sends a government over the edge, or a sequence of them. It would be good if one came along in somewhere the Lib Dems could win, and put the cat among the pigeon-droppings. But that creaking sound you hear may be the noise of my clutching at straws.