LIKE a dinghy navigating a tempest, David Mundell MP yesterday braved the public opprobrium that has been raining down on politicians and their lavish expenses.
"Shoot the buggers," was the verdict of Marlen Jones when the shadow secretary of state for Scotland ran into her at a coffee morning for the ex-standard bearers of the St Ronans Borders Games at the Vale of Leithen Social Club.
"If it was somebody in one of the local mills had been caught doing what they've been doing, they would have been put out of work," Jones went on. "It is just terrible. Mothers and fathers are trying to bring up kids to tell the truth and the people who are supposed to be running the country are diddling the country. It is diabolical."
Public outrage had clearly reached the quiet village of Innerleithen, near Peebles, in Mundell's constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, the kind of anger Labour MP Diane Abbot was talking about when she said voters wanted to see "dead MPs hanging from lamp-posts".
Even though Mundell has not been caught up in the scandal, every person he met yesterday wanted to vent their feelings. And Mundell knew he had to face the public as well as the music. "Politics is about getting out and about. You can't hide away just because the public is unhappy," he said before he was confronted by yet another constituent.
"Ordinary working people are finding it hard to survive at moment," said Anna Smith. "Then we learn about this. MPs should be taken to court and made to pay all the money back. I'm just glad that they've been found out."
There was no escape as Mundell moved into the High Street. "I think it is disgusting," said Irene Lindsay, who was off to lunch. "Everyone I speak to feels the same," she added.
"I agree," said her friend Suzanne Kernan. "I travel to work in Edinburgh with Scottish Widows every day and I don't get any expenses – not even for parking. Then you hear of these people being chauffeur driven around their constituencies. It is just terrible."
Wearily, Mundell admitted that his trip to Innerleithen to press the flesh ahead of next month's European elections was unlike any other canvassing expedition he had been on before. "At every door that we've knocked, the people have mentioned it – that's very unusual," he said. "The only other time you experience that is when there is some big local issue. People are very unhappy about this and I think the reputation of the political classes is at an all time low."
Earlier, Mundell faced more wrath as he knocked on doors in the Well's Brae area of the village, where the Tories are fighting against the Liberals for votes.
"It's disgraceful," said the male occupant of one house, with very little prompting.
"I think it's important to find out what people are thinking," Mundell said.
He soon found out. "In Innerleithen, I would imagine that 60 per cent of the population are all below the national minimum wage," Mundell's constituent said. "I'm disgusted with what's happening at Westminster and I'm not sure if I'm going to vote in the local election."
Mundell persisted: "David Cameron is trying to sort it out..."
But his words had little effect. "Poor working people aren't able to claim money like that," the man said. "Not many people around here have moats," he added before closing the door.
Norman Donald, a Conservative supporter, and his wife Sally were prepared to overlook the damaged reputation of politicians and invited Mundell into their house.
"It is absolutely shocking," Donald said. "I work in the knitwear trade in Hawick and I have just accepted a 10 per cent pay cut – again. So this is a very hard pill to swallow."
As the anger mounted, Mundell admitted: "Clearly, you shouldn't claim for clearing a moat. You can't justify that."
"We haven't got a moat," said Sally Donald. "We've only got a fish pond."
"And I clean that myself," added her husband.