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Archive for the ‘expenses’ Category

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You really couldn’t make it up if you tried. Now Danny Alexander, bad (very bad) choice of replacement for trougher David Laws at the Treasury, has been caught avoiding Capital Gains Tax – you know, the tax he’ll be responsible for ramping up as part of his new job. Sorry, but Cameron has set a precedent, has a principle he must (and I think will) follow, and so has to fire Alexander too. There’ll be fewer tears over his loss I imagine than there were for ‘rising star’ and ‘genius’, David Laws.

Some will be asking why this is happening. It’s very simple really and it has nothing to do with homophobic witch-hunts, Labour sting operations (lol) or right wing, anti-coaltion smear conspiracies. That’s loony stuff. The reason is that while they were the no-hoper, hotchpotch third party that generally behaved like weasels in a sack behind the scenes (still do), during the expenses scandal they were basically ignored by the Telegraph in what was a target rich environment. There were only so many pages in the paper each day, and the editors rightly preferred to focus on the major players and the yellows got away with it, even to point where Clegg actually thought he could boast about it in the Commons! This is the hubris. Now that senior Lib Dems, to their huge surprise and thanks to a rare general election outcome, have found themselves doing real government jobs, they are subject to that delayed scrutiny. Moreover, it is all the more intense because they are being picked off one by one instead of en masse, as the Tories and Labour MPs and ministers were. So much the better.

It goes without saying – for me at least – that the Lib Dems fully deserve everything they get, and so the sight of senior MPs and some well known mainstream political bloggers defending one of them, often on the most ridiculous of grounds, is damn well nauseating. One good thing will come out of this new wave of expenses revelations, however: pretty soon, the Conservative government will run out of Lib Dems to put in the vital Treasury Chief Sec. role (they’ll be on the Sarah Teather human mouse pretty soon).

Then maybe the country will get the person it really needs in that job – John Redwood – and, I predict, with the coalition still more or less in tact.

Every “cloud” as they say…

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Shaping up as a half-decent, expensively-educated, millionaire Chief Treasury Secretary though he might have been, I’m awfully sorry, but David Laws’ political arse is grass. He can’t argue the case for public spending cuts when he, apparently, has been pretty happy to sponge off the state on behalf of his partner for the longest time.

So the only question to me is: who will fire him? His party leader, Clegg, or his boss, the Prime Minister?

My view? Cameron must pull the trigger immediately because what Laws did particularly is just the sort of troughing, fiddling, pocket-lining, venal rule-bending Cameron has been condemning in principle and often for over a year. He fought the election on that platform, for heaven’s sake!

Frankly, Laws fired himself the moment he chose not to reveal any of this as being a potential problem to his boss before he was appointed (I do not for one moment believe he didn’t realise or didn’t understand the rules – in fact it’s surely hard to believe that of a double first Cambridge economist – and it won’t wash regardless, even if he sticks to that lame line).

But who to replace him? Well, how about John Redwood? I think it’s high time Cameron picked someone like him for the cabinet anyway. Besides, he’s much smarter and more experienced even than Laws in many ways, and genuinely believes and can explain the Friedmanite solution to Labour’s debt crisis that we now so desperately need. He’d also be a handy bulwark against the economic mixed brew that is Saint Vince and his presence would vastly help to shore up the Tory back benches. A win-win scenario potentially, then, both for the party and, in my humble, for the country.

Oh, and sucks to the bloody Lib Dums. They can either suck it up and stay in government, or they can destroy this blessed coalition in a fit of indefensible pique.

I just can’t wait to see how Deputy Nick decides to handle this one.

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In tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times, two stories reveal just how venal former Labour ministers are. It simply beggars belief that these four, Geoff Hoon, Patricia Hewitt, Margaret Moron (sic) and Stephen Byers will almost certainly escape at the very least some form of criminal investigation for corruption.

One other thing is certain, unless the Tories get tough on this issue and threaten to seek prosecutions for what amounts to the worst sleaze probably in modern British history, we, the long-suffering public, will simply never know to what extent we have been comprehensively fleeced by the most corrupt and disastrous regime we’ve ever experienced in Britain.

Cameron, if and when he wins, had better be genuinely ‘whiter than white’ or I guarantee that this time around there will be bloody hell to pay. He needs to be concentrating on making sure any government he leads is unimpeachable by reviving the principles of collective and ministerial responsibility which have withered and died under Blair/Brown; that any future parliament is beyond reproach by making sure any pocket-lining MPs forfeit their office; and that the sins of the past, especially by these Labour criminals, are not simply forgotten, by resisting any pressure for an amnesty. I’m sure Gordon Brown would be pleased to return the favour given half the chance – but that’s not the point.

This should be one of the major focuses of a new Cameron government, and definitely not woolly headed, watermelon carbon taxes that will severely damage the economy, justified on the basis of a now pretty thoroughly discredited scientific theory, itself a trojan horse for a socialist agenda.

Nothing less will do.

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David Blackburn has just put an excellent question in his Speccy blog, concerning the case of Elliot Morley, one of three Labourist MPs (so far) now charged with stealing from the British taxpayer.

Sky’s Jon Craig’s asks one of those questions you wished you had posed: wasn’t Elliot Morley suspended already? Yes, he was, on the 14 May 2009 and with immediate effect.

As Blackburn reminds us, Morley was suspended from his party on 14th May 2009 “with immediate effect”. It looks like he was reinstated on the sly, however – hence the necessity to “re-suspend” him. Never mind the sneakiness of this – and contempt for public opinion that it shows – asks Blackburn: in the Labour party, what on earth do you have to do to get expelled!

There are three main points to make about this total, Brown-inspired fiasco, and Blackburn implies the first two. First, this Brown U-turn represents an unequivocal triumph for David Cameron, who has been steadfast in his leadership all through the expenses scandal and has gauged the mood of the British public quite deftly. He’s acted decisively throughout, and bravely run the risk of severe unpopularity among his own MPs as a consequence by forcing the worst Tory offenders to give up their seats, despite their not having broken any law per se. I still think he could have gone further and forced Brown into a general election last year. A still-bolder leader would and could have, but I guess that’s all water under Westminster bridge now.

Second, it further demonstrates just how useless, witless, rudderless and basically clueless Brown is when it comes to offering any kind of leadership on this serious issue (or any other, for that matter – but that’s just me, I suppose). That he’s been forced to climb down so humiliatingly and bow to Cameron’s pressure is very telling, coming so soon as it has after last week’s drubbing at the hands of Cameron at PMQs.

Third, there are these explosive Independent revelations by Andrew Grice three days ago, emerging from his coverage of a new book by another Labourist insider. The article’s title, in the context of today’s Morley mayhem, “Brown ‘didn’t care about expenses – only himself”” more or less says it all: all, that is, in the sense of what we need to know about why the Labour Party has been in such a God-awful, tail-chasing, directionless, perfidious mess from the start of the whole, sorry affair. The blame lies squarely at Gordon Dithering & Self-Obsessed Brown’s door. If you haven’t read it already, then I would suggest that you do. A taste:

Mr Price paints a picture of despair within the Brown inner circle at his failure to recognise the seriousness of the expenses scandal. He accuses Mr Brown of creating a climate of distrust within Downing Street and being cut off from the concerns of voters.

I simply cannot believe that Brown or Labour can possibly recover from this. It is the one issue that cannot be brushed under the carpet, or masked with the pathetically desperate fig leaf of a twelfth hour (and utterly wrong-headed, dishonestly motivated) referendum on the Alternative Vote system.

As Cameron said in what looks like an increasingly prescient PMQs last week, “It’s back to the bunker with that one…”

It also means, however, that Brown will now drag out this Parliament to the bitterest of bitter ends. Fair enough. It’ll just make victory in finally turfing out the worst prime minister this country has ever had inflicted upon all the more sweet for the waiting.

The collective sigh of relief exhaled by people up and down Britain the day after we are rid of him will be audible in France.

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I agree with Guido insofar as, if I understand him right, parliamentarians should be forced to make a choice upon their election: you’re either an MP (and therefore a public servent) or a corporate type on a promise (and therefore something else) – and never the twain shall meet. You must not, in other words, be connected to any private company in any way whatsoever for the duration of your office. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

As for secret slush funds and Brown denials, while I feel sorry for Tim Yeo – I think he really believes he did nothing wrong, at least in the sense of breaking any parliamentary interest declaration rules (and we all know how wonderfully immune to MPs’ fiddling parliamentary rules are, especially after the expenses scandal) – I certainly don’t for Brown, who, as always, with this secret and illegal slush fund, was only ever serving his own interests, which always take absolute precidence over those of his political comrades, parliament’s and everyone else in the entire country’s. And always have. Yeo might be reprimanded, though that should be up to the electorate. But Brown should be jailed!

Anyway, for those of you who might not know how to use YouTube yet, and will therefore have to wait until Monday for this feast of televisual Guidoese political gunpowder, I’ve performed the complex and onerous task of cutting and pasting the embed code to my blog, just for your viewing pleasure:

Seriously, though, I think this Guy News thing gets better every week.

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After the revelation that little Johnny Bercow’s beanpole wife (relatively speaking) is standing in local council elections for the Labourists in Westminster, today the Telegraph reports that he has spent a small fortune redecorating the Speaker’s grace and favour apartments. Cost to you and me? A cool £45,000. So the story goes, it was wifey Sally Bercow (you know, the prospective Labour local councillor) and not little Johnny who was the brains behind this latest bit of troughing. How predictable. The Telegraph then goes on to explain why this should be a major embarrassment to the wee man:

Emails reveal that Mrs Bercow compiled a lengthy “shopping list” of items that she wished to have changed in the Speaker’s historic official residence within days of her husband’s election.

The new documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, also disclose that Mr Bercow has spent almost £13,000 on entertaining and hospitality – including a three-night trip to Rome costing almost £4,000 – in just three months.

Mr Bercow had faced criticism over his use of expenses when he was a backbench Conservative MP, claiming the maximum amount permissible to fund another Westminster flat.

The new disclosures about Mr Bercow’s spending are likely to prove embarrassing for the new Speaker who was elected on a promise to restore trust in Parliament in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

During his campaign to become speaker, he said: “It is high time the House (of Commons) was run by professionals on a transparent basis, ensuring that we are accountable to the people who put us here.”

Michael Martin, his predecessor as speaker, had been criticised for his use of taxpayers’ money, including extensive renovations of the speaker’s official residence which ran to more than £700,000.

After succeeding him, Mr Bercow vowed to modernise Parliament and make it “accountable to the people” and transparent in its operation.

He pledged to surrender the MP’s second homes allowance worth more than £24,000. However, the new documents disclose, he has already ordered renovations on his new Westminster appartment worth more.

In August, the Speaker admitted that he spent just over £20,000 on refurbishing his official apartment before moving in with his wife and children.

However, documents have now revealed how the true cost was actually £45,581, as Commons officials agreed to account for extensive redecoration and other work as ‘routine maintenance’ which Mr Bercow did not declare publicly.

Mr Bercow is expected to be under pressure to release a breakdown of the work conducted as ‘routine maintenance’.

Should we be furious? Yes. Should he be punished? Yes. But how? Well, I would think the obvious measure would be first, when the Tories win the next election, he is removed as Speaker. He was, after all, placed in the role by a Labour government hell bent on hurting the Tories, not ‘reforming’ parliament and the expenses system – even though some might be moved to think that this strategy has backfired (Bercow, let’s be fair, has not been quite the full-on patsy I imagine Labour expected him to be). The fact that they thought he, a Tory MP (of sorts), was the man for that job speaks volumes about the man.

And it brings me to the second part of his punishment. He is no longer a Tory MP, sure, but he should be left in no doubt that he will never be allowed to be a Tory MP, or even a member of the Conservative party, again. That should just about do it. Yes, I think so.

Just in case you’re not convinced yet or you think that I’m being somehow ‘mean’ to the irritating, money-grubbing little scrote, read the rest of the report:

Emails show how Mrs Bercow, who last week declared her desire to become a Labour councillor in Westminster, communicated with Parliamentary officials over the refurbishment requirements.

“The existing wall paper is very office/board-roomy,” she wrote on June 30th.. “So, if at all possible, can the walls be redecorated.

“Can the TV be replaced with a larger one and moved into a more central location (like it or not, it will be a focal point for the kids!!!),” she continued. “I assume it will have SKY and we’ll need a DVD player too if possible.”

The work – initially estimated to have cost £23,400 by July 8th – had almost doubled in price by the end of the same month.

The emails show that Commons officials were becoming concerned about the spiralling cost of the work. However, they agreed to allow the Bercows to continue with the renovations.

One official wrote on July 1st: “My concern is that the list is getting longer, which isn’t technically a problem, but I know that you are very mindful of the costs and only wish to do what is considered as ‘reasonable’.

“The latest version [of the renovations spreadsheet] has everything included and I think that the best way to view it, is as a shopping/wish list. If any costs come out as excessive…we can always review the options and make the necessary decisions.”

An email discloses that the £45,000 cost of the work was split into two spreadsheets before the lower £20,000 figure was released in August.

Any redecorating which had not been done for at least five years was described as the ‘routine maintenance’ and excluded.

However, it can also be revealed how the costs of this routine maintenance doubled between an estimate in early July of £11,500 and the final cost of £24,922 just three weeks later.

A source close to the Speaker said that most of the extra work was to parts of the official residence which are not used as the family’s private living quarters.

He said that the £20,000 figure which had been released originally represented the additional cost to the taxpayer of the Speaker being someone with children.

“We tried to isolate the costs to the taxpayer of Mr Bercow and his family moving in,” he said. “A lot of the other work is beyond the control of the Speaker and is determined by English Heritage and other bodies.

“Mr Bercow has no plans to do anything, this is a one off.”

The new Speaker has also spent £12,812 on entertaining and official functions during his first three months. This is far higher than the amounts spent by Lord Martin of Springburn during his final three years in office.

Mr Bercow’s entertainment costs include £3,599 on a three night trip to Rome to attend a G8 Speaker’s conference. He was accompanied by three other people whose identities are not disclosed in the released documents but are thought to be officials.

He is the second youngest Speaker in history and the first in living memory to have three young children – Oliver, Freddie and Jemima, who are all under six.

The official speaker’s residence is underneath Big Ben in the Palace of Westminster. It was designed by Charles Barry and contains a state dining room and a canopied bed to be slept in by the monarch on the night before a coronation.

Mr Bercow has previously said that much of the renovation work was necessary to make the apartment child-friendly. For example, locks had to be fitted to the windows for the safety of his young children.

He previously lived in another flat in Westminster which was also funded by the taxpayer. He repaid almost £8,000 earlier this year after The Daily Telegraph raised questions about his lawful avoidance of capital-gains tax on the sale of two properties.

However, Mr Bercow is thought to have refused to surrender his gold-plated pension – which guarantees to pay half his income when he retires regardless of how long he remains in the job. As he is only currently aged 46, this is a very valuable perk.

In an interview to be broadcast on Sunday, Mr Bercow will defend his wife’s right to stand as a Labour candidate in next year’s council elections.

But he acknowledged that he could expect the mother of his three children to be portrayed as “a cross between Jerry Hall, Lady Macbeth and Eva Peron” because of her decision to get involved in electoral politics.

“My wife isn’t my chattel, she’s my wife,” he will say on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“She is a private citizen who has her own views and is an independent person. And it has long been known that my wife is a supporter of the Labour Party, so I don’t think there’s anything odd, embarrassing and certainly there’s nothing underhand about it.”

Grrr.

Bercow was no great loss to the Tory party. He will be no great loss as Speaker. Besides, then he’ll be free to do what all the signs seem to point to him wanting to do for so long: join the Labour party. At least that will put him in the Missus’ good books. She clearly wears the trousers, after all.

PS:
I know I was a bit slow off the mark with this one – been doing stuff. For a more immediate – and rather more violent – reaction, therefore, try Tangled Web. Great!

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A new take on the expenses scandal by Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail this morning certainly interested me. Briefly, from what he says, the majority of MPs are basically under-worked idlers leading cushy daily lives at the taxpayers’ expense – and that’s before their profiting from the long-abused old system of extra remuneration, particularly in the area of mortgage interest relief and house flipping, is taken into account. Even their passing, as, Alexander points out, various overpaid knights of the realm are hired ostensibly to get tough on abuses, will not impact on the soft furnishings and long holidays that is an MP’s current happy lot. The article itself has much more to say on these subjects than this, of course, and is rather more complex and nuanced than I’ve given it credit for in this little summary, so it is definitely worth reading it fairly closely.

The row over MPs’ expenses has gone from scandals to shambles in a few months.

Perhaps Gordon Brown and David Cameron really believed they could exorcise the abuses by calling in outside grandees.

But recruiting three knights from the ranks of the Great and the Good has led only to dispute and confusion.


Sir Thomas Legg’s examination of past expenses may have usefully highlighted some gross and even criminal irregularities.

But he has also formulated some odd, retrospective rules of his own, which almost make you feel sympathy for MPs.

We also have proposed new rules about expenses from Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life – some ideas sensible and some naive.

Our next knight, lawyer Sir Ian Kennedy, heads the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, charged with implementing the Kelly plan.


But he says that he has ideas of his own and will consult widely, even using Facebook – which is like looking for advice in a saloon bar.

Could the confusion get worse? Yes, it could.

A fourth knight has charged into the melee. Sir John Baker, formerly head of the Senior Salaries Review Board, thinks that matters could be sorted by increasing MPs’ basic pay from £65,000 to £100,000.

Do not fall for this, the most dangerous idea of all based on the scarcely sane notion that full-time politicians would improve our lives. Sadly, this belief has considerable public appeal.

Having observed MPs closely for 40 years, let me underline the basic difficulty about salaries and expenses. It lies in backbenchers effectively having two part-time jobs.

The first is as local representatives, which requires them to live in their area or have a second home there.

The second part-time job is as a legislator at Westminster. This need not be onerous, but does require MPs making themselves available on a difficult timetable.

A second home is thus a reasonable expense in a job that in any case is always at the whim of voters. Unfortunately, the system has been discredited by abuses.

Properly policed and, above all, transparent this need not be so. We do not need Kelly’s complicated plan for hotel costs or variations thereof.


Transparency is the key to containing expenses, not complex new rules. MPs know that abuses will lose them votes if publicised – as they now can be.

But once one has conceded the two homes difficulty, we should appreciate that the minimum requirements of MPs’ two part-time jobs still do not add up to one full-time job.

Those who believe that Members are overworked as legislators need only tune in to the parliamentary TV channel to observe acres of unoccupied green leather.

Tackle MPs on this and they insist that they are busy at other things, not least dealing with their postbags.

But this can be conscientiously dispatched in two hours a day. Moreover, MPs these days have an office and personal staff that can deal routinely with many problems raised by constituents.

We might also remember when MPs plead overwork that Parliament sits for only two-thirds of the year and that the working week there can be brief.

They are obliged to turn up on Monday, though often not until late in the day. They may well be away before too late on Thursday.

Helpful whips and the use of pairing arrangements make the week anything but onerous.

Yet many MPs claim to lead exhaustingly busy lives.

Some zealots do. But Parkinson’s law, about work expanding to fill the time allotted, applies in Parliament as elsewhere.

Put any group of politicians together and they can always busy themselves arguing, chatting and scheming – nothing wrong with that, but not something for which the taxpayer should be generous.

The notion that an ordinary backbencher’s job is other than part-time is quite a recent invention.

Cynics will note that the rising call for full-time pay has precisely matched the devolution of legislation from Westminster to Brussels – less work, more pay!

Outside work is not just possible but also desirable if Members are not to get even further out of contact with the real world.

There are many activities in which MPs can earn extra income, for example, journalism, law, business, accountancy and authorship.

If an MP tells you he can’t find work in any outside capacity, you have to wonder why he is fitted to be a legislator.

Unfortunately, there is a growing hostility to such work from Brown and Cameron – from Brown because the Tories get more of it and from Cameron because he thinks the public dislikes it.

However, both of them also have easier party management in mind. MPs with no trade or employment to fall back on if they lose their seats are simpler to control.

This unhealthy dependence is backed by Kelly, who proposes that Members should do outside work only within ‘reasonable limits’ and tell their voters about it at election time.

A more woolly-minded formula is impossible to imagine. It makes you wonder if we are really making any progress at all.

Fascinating stuff, but I disagree with at least one point. While it is certainly plausible for Brown’s Labour shower, given, for instance, his political vulnerability to critics from within his own party, I’m not totally convinced that the ‘easier party management’ argument entirely explains David Cameron’s acquiescence to the ban on MPs’ contract work for a couple of reasons. First, most Tory MPs had already agreed to stop contract activities long before Legg published his extraordinary report and seem if not comfortable then certainly resigned to Cameron’s new order; indeed, many fully accepted it appreciating that given the public outcry it needed to be done. The smart ones needed little convincing so the ‘easier party management’ outcome was incidental, at least for the Tories (not so for Labour, of course).

Second, it is highly unlikely that Cameron had an ulterior motive for bringing forward new rules for his party to obey. He was genuinely eager to clean up his party’s act and so he took the lead early on in the scandal and did just that, unlike Brown who has characteristically dithered all the way through and now looks the feeble, rudderless, dishonest and discredited “leader” many of us have known him to be for some considerable time. However, it is certainly the case that, as Alexander intimates, thanks to that dithering and because he is just too damn tribal and arrogant to listen to the leader of the Opposition, the resulting reforms to the way MPs must conduct themselves in public life – and the amount of work they are burdened with (or not, as the case may be) – the subsequent parliamentary reforms have Brown and his useless ministerial clan’s mucky fingerprints all over them. They are already starting to look like a typical, awful Brown fudge. If past experience is anything to go by, pretty soon they certainly will be a shambles as Alexander says – and a total, disastrous, Labour shambles to boot.

But this will simply be one more mess for the Tories to clear up after Brown’s trainwreck government is finally booted out. When Cameron comes to tackling it, however, he needs to make absolutely sure that his reform package includes one, key sentence: “MPs must earn, and be seen to be earning, taxpayers’ money”. The impression that while the rest of us work as hard as we can in our struggle to make it through Brown’s bust, our elected representatives remain pampered and lazy will not be removed by abolishing second homes for London MPs and the tearing up the John Lewis list. I also believe they should do what they have been elected to do, namely, serve as a Member of Parliament representing the constituency that elected them and not ‘advising’ private companies under any circumstances. The fact that we actually need these new rules to force them to do their jobs strikes me as a very convincing reason for why we desperately need a large influx of new and willing blood in parliament, too!

The main point for me, however, is that I believe Cameron does understand these arguments and frustrations. It’s one of the reasons why intend to lend him my vote at the General Election – and you should too. If he gets it wrong, we can always send him the way of Brown, after all. That’s what’s so good about democracy.

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