The Compassion of the Tories

Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, asks on Twitter:why do people “refuse to understand” that the Conservative party stands for “compassion and social reform”.

Peter Luff won his seat in the 1992 General Election. He is a founder member of the Parliamentary Hunting with Hounds Middle Way Group which is said to be a front for the hunting lobby. In January this year Peter Luff was invited to “a day’s shooting” in Gloucestershire (approximate value £1,500) by Leo Quinn, CEO of Qinetiq, paid for by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). I’m sure that had nothing to do with the plan to kill buzzards to protect pheasant shooting.

Peter Luff is one of the MPs whose second home flips. He has a house in Worcestershire, and a flat in London.

From the Telegraph’s report on his expenses:

In the months before he switched the designation of his second home from Worcester to the capital, he paid for more than £5,000 of decorating and repairs, including the £53.71 cost of having his Aga cooker fixed.

Six months later, he switched his designation to a small flat in south London, where he spent more than £3,000 decorating the bathroom, kitchen, sitting room and hall.

In March 2005, when furnishing his second home, Peter Luff

attended a meeting with fees office staff, who told him that his claim for a £1,583 dining room table and chairs was considered excessive. He was paid £750.

A few months later, Mr Luff contacted the fees office again to explain the purchase of a £625 china service. He wrote: “Since buying my flat seven or more years ago I have muddled through with such items from our family home, but so many have broken that it has become essential to restock.

“I have taken advantage of the end of the January sales and obtained an effective 25% discount on a standard but not luxurious household range of china.”

Less than three years later, he purchased another china set for £367. A note on his claim form made by an official read: “Discussed. Decided against further action but slight concern regarding purchase price of china.”

The shopping list that Peter Luff apparently considered to be essential to perform his day-to-day duties as an MP from his family home in Worcestershire included:

  • Kettle £29.99
  • China service £367
  • Cookware £18
  • Bread bin £18
  • Cafetiere and bed linen £48.48
  • Pillows (6) £42
  • Bed linen £20
  • Bedspread £100
  • Bed linen, incl: duvet cover (1) pillow cases (4) valance £255.50
  • Towels (2) £14
  • Ironing board £14.99
  • …and three loo seats. I don’t want to know how that helped him work as an MP, okay?

Though he was earning over £50,000 a year as an MP (and he and his wife rent out a couple of other residential properties), Peter Luff said: “I don’t remember claiming for three loo seats, and if it is true it would be extraordinary. I cannot afford to maintain two homes out of one income and need to claim the full cost of every item in my second home.”

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist:

“I think Europe is headed to a suicide…There has never been any successful austerity program in any large country,” the former World Bank economist told a panel discussion in Vienna late on Thursday.

Austrian radio on Friday broadcast some of his comments, which chime with a growing backlash in Europe against the German-led push for more fiscal discipline as the way to end the debt crisis.

“Decreasing growth is causing the deficit, not the other way around. I think that austerity approach is going to lead to high levels of unemployment that will be politically unacceptable and make deficits get worse,” Stiglitz said.

Rick Ungar, Forbes:

Numerous British economists had warned against the deep budget cutting, arguing that the government was heading down a dangerous path with potentially severe consequences. Steve Benen over at Maddowblog cites the advice of London Business School economist Richard Portes who warned one year ago, “My view is that we are in serious danger of a double-dip recession. This is going to be a cautionary tale.”

A cautionary tale, indeed.

The question that remains is whether our nation’s conservatives will get the message or continue to fervently pursue the austerity agenda that, while playing nicely to their base, would threaten to send this country spiraling into yet another recession as it has done in the United Kingdom.

If the insistence of those who continue to try to persuade us that supply-side economics actually works is any indication—despite the endless reams of evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it most certainly does not—I would not expect much change in the conservative approach. While the results of the British experiment should shed endless light on the mistaken path the GOP would put us on, in the mind of the Republican Party, there is no substitute to the appeal of peddling a message that produces votes—if not actual prosperity.

Today, a report from the Parliament’s official auditors reveals that HMRC failed to follow their own strict rules whilst negotiating deals which allowed corporations to withhold billions of pounds in tax.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee, said:

“With billions of pounds of tax at stake it is extremely worrying that the department [HMRC] failed to involve its own specialists in the final negotiations and follow its own rules by settling for less than it could have won in litigation. These deals have sent a message that it’s one rule for big business and another rule for everyone else.

“Given the department’s failures in these cases, the whistleblowers were absolutely right to be concerned,” she said.

The report was ordered after the public accounts committee questioned the way Goldman Sachs was let off up to £20m in tax on a handshake with the permanent secretary for tax, Dave Hartnett.

Oxfam’s report today on poverty in the UK says that while the recession caused by the 2008 banking crash flattened out gains for the rich for a while

But there has been a short, sharp entrenchment of inequality in the past two years. Last year, the earnings of FTSE 100 executives went up by 49%, while the annual pay of waiters and waitresses fell by 11% and those of cleaning staff by 3.4%. The average director at Britain’s top 100 companies now earns 145 times more than their average worker.

“On current trends, by 2035 this inequality will reach levels last seen in the Victorian era,” says the report, at a time when the authors say the UK has “weaker protection for those in work than Mexico”.

It also notes that the government inherited falling unemployment but has seen jobless numbers rise to their highest level for 17 years. Oxfam warns benefit levels have steadily been falling since the link with earnings was broken in 1980. Unemployment benefit has dropped from one-fifth to one-tenth of average earnings.

Oxfam’s director of UK Poverty, Chris Johnes, said: “Despite the government’s rhetoric about making work pay, having a job is no longer necessarily enough to lift someone out of poverty; more working age adults in poverty now live in working households than in workless ones. The government is justifying huge cuts to welfare support for people on low incomes by saying this will incentivise work, but there simply aren’t enough decent jobs available.”

The result is that plenty of people working full-time (or required to work part-time) need state subsidies to get by. (Shanene Thorpe, a working single mother, had to claim housing benefit to pay her rent in East London – a story Newsnight opted not to cover.) The number of housing benefit claimants in work went up steeply between November 2008 and February 2012 from under 450 thousand to 878,000.

Food prices have gone up by almost a third in the past five years.

Minimum wage has gone up by 12%. And it’s perfectly legal now to employ people at “apprentice wages” or make them work for nothing, don’t forget.

Oxfam warns that

rising unemployment, involuntary part-time working, pay freezes and cuts in benefit levels are leading to the “biggest real-terms fall in incomes since the mid-1970s”. It says the median income will drop by 7% between 2009-10 and 2012-13.

But the Tories are the party of “compassion and social reform”. At least to Peter Luff.

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Filed under About Food, Housing, Poverty

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