Tag Archives: MP expenses

Lies, Hobnobs, and Huhne

Chris Huhne MPChris Huhne in the Guardian yesterday:

First, none of this would have been possible without my own mistakes. I am no saint (but nor did I claim to be).

Chris Huhne was one of the Tory/LibDem Cabinet’s millionaires. He was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change: he is now European manager of Zilkha Biomass Energy, a transition from government minister to employee in the same field that is now so familiar its corruption wouldn’t make the headlines – except that Huhne spent some time in between in court and in jail.

Besides his wealth from his pre-Parliament career as a City of London economist, Huhne owned seven houses: the one he officially lived in, in London: his official second home, in Eastleigh: and five more rental properties.

As revealed in the MP expenses scandal in 2009:

He owns his second home in his Eastleigh constituency in Hampshire outright but regularly claims for its renovation. In August 2006 he was reimbursed for a £5,066 builder’s invoice that included having two coats of “red rustic timber care” applied to garden items, and two coats of green preservative for fences. On another occasion Mr Huhne submitted a handyman’s bill for £77.31, covering odd jobs such as “replacing rope on swinging chair”. Continue reading

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Michael Gove: Flipper

Michael GoveMichael Gove talked about people living beyond their means, and Labour spending too much on welfare, and claimed this justified the Tory/LibDem cuts cuts cuts workfare cuts.

Michael Gove used to work for Rupert Murdoch as a journalist at The Times, until he was selected as the new Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Surrey Heath in the 2005 election.

Gove and his wife Sarah Vine, had bought a nice house in Kensington for £430,000 in 2002.

Between December 2005 and April 2006, Michael Gove used the Additional Costs Allowance (meant for an MP to claim for their second home) to claim more than £7000 for furnishing this house:

Around a third of the money was spent at Oka, an upmarket interior design company established by Lady Annabel Astor, Mr Cameron’s mother-in-law.

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Iain Duncan Smith: the quiet man with so much to be quiet about

Iain Duncan SmithA universal welfare state is the essential bedrock of a civilised country. A civilised country ensures that no one goes without healthcare because they can’t afford it, no one is treated as if worthless because they cannot work, and that anyone who loses their job needn’t fear destitution for themselves or for their family if they don’t find another job instantly. A civilised country ensures that no one needs to work when they are too young or too old or too disabled or too ill. This is not a system that can be replaced by random acts of charity: to become civilised, we pay taxes and national insurance and we all benefit.

Iain Duncan Smith became Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in May 2010 – a role he has held ever since, despite efforts by David Cameron to unseat him in the 2012 reshuffle. He has virtually no further-education qualifications and spent several months on the dole after leaving the Scots Guards in the recession of 1981. But the next year he married a very wealthy woman, the daughter of a very wealthy man, and he and his wife and four children still live in a house rented from his father-in-law on his wife’s father’s estate: he became an MP in 1992, inheriting Norman Tebbit’s safe constituency of Chingford. Whatever Iain Duncan Smith’s experience of unemployment thirty-two years ago, it’s safe to say that in thirty years he hasn’t had money worries – except when he became Leader of the Opposition and it was discovered he’d given his wife one of those plum “assistant” jobs which used to be a bonus for the spouse or child of an MP.

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Mark Hoban’s message: Starve

Mark Hoban, Minister for Employment, Conservative MP for Fareham, announces in the Daily Telegraph that from Monday 21st October “there will be clear and escalating levels of penalties” for being poor:

For failing to do something required by a Jobcentre Plus adviser, the claimant will lose their benefits for four weeks. Every time it happens subsequently, they will lose their benefits for three months.

For the most serious rule-breaking, such as refusing to accept a reasonable job offer, or walking out of a job without good reason, they will lose their benefits for three months. If they do it a second time, they will lose their benefits for six months.

A third failure, at this level, is simply not acceptable and we will impose a three year penalty.

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George Osborne, chancellor of the dodge

Today, George Osborne got into a first-class carriage in a train to Euston, with a standard-class ticket.

Everybody knows what’s happened to the trains since they were licensed to private companies: impenetrable rules, incomprehensible fares, crazy fees if you have to make a short-notice decision. It has nothing to do with any “true price” for the journey, only the vast amounts they can get away with if you have no choice. Let’s be honest, it’s extortion. A medieval landlord could name his own tithes if people had nowhere else to go and East Midlands Trains is clearly inspired by those happy days.Victoria Coren

Osborne, if you want First Class services, you've got to PAY for them!Unfortunately for him, Rachel Townsend, Granada Reports Correspondent, was on the train with an iPhone and not afraid to use it:

Very interesting train journey to Euston Chancellor George Osborne just got on at Wilmslow with a STANDARD ticket and he has sat in FIRST CLASS. His aide tells ticket collector he cannot possibly move and sit with the likes of us in standard class and requests he is allowed to remain in First Class. Ticket collector refuses #standoff – Digital Spy

George Osborne earns £134,565 a year as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
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Maria Miller grinds slowly

Which member of the Privy Council is best qualified to be Chancellor of the Exchequer? It is not, obviously, George Osborne, who famously doesn’t even have O-grade maths and who is driving the UK into double-dip recession because he has no notion about economics beyond “tax cuts for the rich=GOOD”.

Oddly enough in a Tory Cabinet, it’s actually a comprehensive-school kid from Wales. Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities

Maria Lewis went to Brynteg Comprehensive School/Ysgol Gyfun Brynteg in Bridgend and took a BSc in Economics at the LSE. (When she married Iain Miller in 1990 she took his surname and has stood for election as Maria Miller ever since.) She isn’t a crony of Cameron from the Bullingdon Club (they don’t let girls in), she didn’t go to Oxbridge, she wasn’t privately educated, and she didn’t marry into the web of privilege: she will never be one of the Secret Seven. I imagine as a member of the Conservative Party since she was 19 she’s got used to that kind of thing.

Maria Miller has been MP for Basingstoke since 2005. As she was born in 1964 she’ll be aware that to David Cameron (born 1966), she has a useful life only to 2018, even if the Tories scrape a win in 2015: Caroline Spelman was sacked in the reshuffle for being too old at 54.
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The BBC’s idea of a balanced panel

David Dimbleby, former Bullingdon Boy, as chair. When are they going to invite him to retire?

Four men, two women. All white. All wealthy. All but two went to private schools: all but two got a degree at Oxford.

On the left, more or less:

The Labour: Harriet Harman. Privately educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and at the University of York back when tuition fees weren’t a consideration and maintenance grants were even enough to live on. Became a lawyer and then a Labour MP in 1982, and has been a Minister either in the Shadow Cabinet or in government since 1992. (And tried to exempt MP expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.)

The Comedian Steven Coogan. Born and brought up in Rochdale. The only person on the panel who neither went to a private school nor to Oxford University. Now reputed to have earned personal wealth of £5 million.

On the right, besides David Dimbleby:

The Conservative: Jacob Rees-Mogg. His wife Helena de Chair is the only living grandchild of Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton (1910 – 1948), only son of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam: Helena’s mother inherited approximately £45m from her father on his death. Besides his wife’s wealth (they were married in 2007) Jacob Rees-Mogg is a hedge-fund manager and the son of Baron Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times and life peer: the Baron Rees-Mogg was educated at Godalming and Balliol College, Oxford, the Hon. Jacob was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford. Were either of them members of the Bullingdon Club? They’re not listed as such anywhere. His sons of course could be: the de Chair money would put them into the qualifying category if they weren’t already there.

The Sustainable Livestock Bill 2010-12 aimed

to reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production in the UK. It would also amend the way agricultural subsidies are used to make them more environmentally friendly. It includes a duty to give consideration to supporting sustainable practices and consumption through public procurement of livestock produce.

The Bill also aims to reduce rainforest deforestation by reducing the use of soya meal in animal feed in the UK. It would do this by placing a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure the sustainability of livestock, and to give consideration to issues such as public procurement and agricultural subsidy reform.

The Bill was proposed by Robert Flello, Labour MP for Stoke on Trent: Jacob Rees-Mogg killed it with a fillibuster. What a charming fellow, eh? He’s also tried to shut down a spoof Twitter account for making fun of him and once plagiarised an article from The Sun. I’m sure his nanny loves him.

The LibDem: Danny Alexander. Educated at Scottish state schools in the Highlands, and at St Anne’s College, Oxford – back in the days before tuition fees: he may even remember when students still got grants. (I wonder if he’d honestly admit that £27,000 would have been an intimidating debt for him in 1990?) Talked a good deal on Question Time about how they were making rich people pay more taxes. Slightly forgot to mention that by telling the House of Commons his London flat was his second home, he got to claim the mortgage interest and furnishings and repairs on MP expenses: then when he sold the flat in June 2007 for £300,000, he didn’t pay capital gains tax because he told the Inland Revenue that flat was his main home. Enthusiastic about cutting more and more away from supporting the poorest and most vulnerable.

[Danny Alexander] bought a flat in London in 1999. After being elected an MP in 2005, he declared the property as his second home to the parliamentary authorities and claimed expenses. He claimed more than £37,000 in expenses for the flat – and carried out some work to the property at taxpayers’ expense shortly before selling it in June 2007 for £300,000.

He did not break any rules, but used a tax loophole that allows the continued designation of a property as the main home for three years even after the purchase of another house – in Alexander’s case in Scotland – which has become the principal residence. It did not stop him from telling Commons authorities that the London property was his second home, for which he claimed not only for the mortgage but also for minor capital improvements, the Telegraph reported.

The Other Woman Because It Looks Bad To Have Only One Kirstie Allsopp. Claimed on Question Time to have gone to a state school: she actually went to ten schools, including Bedales and St Clotilde’s, neither of which are state schools. She’s the oldest child of Charles Henry Allsopp, 6th Baron Hindlip, former chairman of Christie’s. When Allsopp suggested that the “Bank of Mum and Dad” should fund their children’s house purchases, she was speaking from experience:

Her parents lent her £30,000 to buy her first property in Battersea, but she lays claim to an upbringing devoid of too many frills. Both sets of grandparents managed to spend “quite considerable fortunes” before they died, so Allsopp’s parents “didn’t inherit anything and had to earn their living. They certainly didn’t have enough money to give any to us; although they helped all four of us buy flats. You put a roof over your child’s head if you can possibly afford to do so, but that is where it all stops.”

The first Baron Hindlip was a 1886 creation for Sir Henry Allsopp, head of the brewing firm of Samuel Allsopp & Sons in Staffordshire, and Tory MP. Sir Henry’s son (portrait of his wife) also became a Tory MP: his grandson was a Unionist Whip in the House of Lords: and his great-grandson, Kirstie Allsopp’s grandfather, the fifth Baron, was a Deputy Lieutenant of Wiltshire. Kirstie Allsopp is very much part of the web of privilege.

[Update: Commenter Stubben says "@Gareth Snell, that is a picture of Hindlip Hall which has been West Mercia Police HQ since 1967, 4 years before Kirstie Allsopp was born." Swift check through Google Images says Stubben is right about this at least.]

So that’s the BBC’s idea of “balance”. Two more or less on the left – one wealthy man, one powerful woman. Three on the right: two inheritors of privilege, one grabber of privilege.

No trade union representatives: no one with even close to an average income: the only person with a working-class background was Steve Coogan, who hasn’t had to worry about the price of a pint of milk in years.

Can we see some balance, please? BBC Complaints

When are we going to see Mark Serwotka back on Question Time? Why not have a trade union representative every time? What do you reckon the chances are of Kelvin MacKenzie being invited back before any trade union leader?

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We pay more

If you live in Edinburgh and get a job paid at minimum wage, you would need to work for four hours to buy your return rail ticket to Glasgow.

Actually, you would have to work for five hours, because you probably wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a £3000+ annual season ticket.

Travelling by bus will take at least half an hour more either way (an additional hour’s commute time) but cost about 75% less.

A petition to renationalise the railways got 12,194 signatures before it closed on 4th August this year.

Research by the Scottish Greens [Yes, they looked it up on the Internet and everything] has found that the current cost of a 12-month season ticket between Edinburgh and Glasgow (£3380) is more than the cost of a 12-month ticket that gives you unlimited travel across the whole of Germany’s 21,000 mile network (£3252/€3990). After today’s announcement, the cost of this season ticket is expected to rise by £142 in January.

Edinburgh Fringe: A Beginner’s Diary:

I fly. I know; so bourgeois. I don’t feel good about it, but it was half as expensive as the train, and I am very poor. It isn’t me that needs to change, you guys. IT’S THE SYSTEM. It takes 50 minutes, and is ludicrously easy. I feel like I can begin to understand why rich people are always such thoughtless dicks about things.

Theresa Villiers, who seems to be getting referred to as “Rail Minister” a lot – who knew we had one? – last year called these fare rises “difficult” decisions and blamed the budget deficit.

The rises are part of the government’s agenda to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running the rail network.

There appears to be a steady delusion among Conservatives that if you pay taxes, you don’t travel by train.

Theresa Villiers, by the way, doesn’t seem to travel by train. Continue reading

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Our constitution, July 2012: Public ethics

“Code of Conduct / Public Ethics”

There are, according to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, seven principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.

I have to say – having taken part in many protests in Edinburgh over the years – that I have never felt afraid of Lothian and Borders Police. I warily arranged a phone contact before going to the SPUC OFF protest, because I did not know for sure that SPUC would stay non-violent and away from us and I wasn’t confident that the police would necessarily pick out the prolife aggressors over us feminist hippy weirdos with our hand-painted signs: but I was sure that so long as no one started any aggro, Lothian and Borders Police would simply allow both sides to have our peaceful protest. And I was very glad they were there at the BNP protest at Meadowbank.

But I have felt afraid on several protests in London – because I was part of a large crowd engaged in peaceful public protest, and the Metropolitan Police seemed by that to assume I was the enemy. They did not seem to regard any part of the crowd of protesters as the people whom it was their obligation to protect. We were, at best, there by their tolerance: and I only felt at risk in any crowd when I saw the Met Police in their riot gear.

I heard by unsubstantiated rumour that when the Metropolitan Police offered to send a detachment to Scotland to “help” police the G8 protest in 2005, the Scottish police forces gave the Met a joint dubious look, muttered “aye, that’ll be right”, and politely declined the offer, on the grounds that they wanted to keep the peace, not stir up trouble.

The UK Committee on Standards in Public Life was set up in October 1994 and issued its first report in 1995, under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It was established in order to investigate concerns about the conduct of members of parliament, after allegations that MPs had taken cash for putting down parliamentary questions. The Committee Report set out seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. The ‘Nolan reforms’ established a new post of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (see ombudsman) whose job was to maintain the Register of Members’ Interests and investigate the conduct of MPs; to set up a House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges; and to set down a Code of Conduct for MPs. In 1998 the Committee issued a report on the funding of political parties, which rejected calls for state funding. — Alistair McMillan, Oxford Dictionary of Politics

There is a Ministerial Code, which is – we discovered with Jeremy Huntharder to break than the Enigma Code. Apparently the unwritten “constitution” of the UK requires ministers to be accountable to the Prime Minister, not to anyone like the “independent” adviser on the ministerial code:

The current holder of this well-paid and undemanding sinecure, Sir Alex Allan, tried to convince the select committee that he would be proactive and would not be sidelined.

Giving evidence, he said he would quit if he were marginalised, and promised not to be anyone’s “poodle”. He even came up with proposals for how he could conduct inquiries more quickly than his predecessor, Sir Philip Mawer. But he was clear that the prime minister had no plans to change the fundamental tripwire: that only the prime minister could ask him to conduct an inquiry.

Arguably, constitutional propriety requires ministers to be accountable to the prime minister, and not to a Whitehall bureaucrat. But it is notable that neither the cabinet secretary nor the prime minister have been keen to pass any issue to the independent adviser. Indeed, David Cameron has never referred a single case, making one wonder how Allan spends his days.

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Our constitution, July 2012: Parliamentary privileges

“Protection of Parliamentary privileges, election of Presiding Officer, etc”

In April 2011, Ryan Giggs’s lawyers managed to convince a judge that Giggs’s girlfriend had had an affair with him for six months with intention of blackmailing him, and so ought not to be allowed to name Ryan Giggs in any interview, nor ought the UK media to be allowed to publish this, and the judge granted a superinjunction, which of course attracted the intention among the vast majority who didn’t care who Giggs was having an affair with. On 22nd May the Sunday Herald took advantage of its ambiguous position as a Scottish newspaper to identify Giggs to anyone who’d been following the story… but on 23rd May he was named in the House of Commons under Parliamentary privilege by John Hemming. The woman who’d been falsely accused of blackmail went on to clear her name in court, and the judge then suggested with remarkable meiosis that “There is no longer any point in maintaining the anonymity” though the gagging order wasn’t dropped until February this year.

Because of this incident, and because of the other more justly famous incident in the precursor to Leveson, when in November 2011 Tom Watson told James Murdoch that “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise” probably what most people know about “Parliamentary privilege” is that an MP speaking in the House of Commons can say literally anything and cannot be prosecuted for defamation or for breaking a superinjunction.
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