Up in Arms: Back Again Despite Being Twice Stripped of Pass,
Loophole Lets Lobbyist Back into Parliament for Third Time


On first impression the aims of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces – “to promote in Parliament better understanding of the UK’s armed forces, and their objectives and activities” – seem reasonable. Alarm bells start to ring when you look at the make-up of this particular cross-party group. Any organisation that has Lord “Cash for Influence” Moonie as its treasurer needs investigating…

So far all the group seems to have done is get some army officers drunk on the Common’s terrace. They deserve a beer you might say, but when you look at who is organising this whole jolly grouping, the true purpose of it all comes into question. The first meeting “agreed that the offer of the UK Defence Forum to provide support for the APPG and single service groups within it be accepted (subject to appropriate disclosures in the Register of Interests).” Now what would a group funded by a bunch of weapons contractors have to gain from pouring money into such a group, eh?

The background of the employee brought in to organise the APPG is laughable. Robin Ashby was subject of an exposé in the Indy two years ago. It was revealed this defence lobbyist had a pass sponsored by a LibDem peer. He was subsequently stripped of the pass. That didn’t stop him getting another one from Lord “Cash for Influence” Moonie in 2009. Again this was exposed, this time by the Telegraph and for a second time he was stripped of that pass. He now has a third pass, this time through the back door of an APPG of which Lord Moonie holds the purse strings.

Ashby runs the defence industry funded UK Defence Forum and owns lobbying firm Bergmans.* Bergmans, according to the Indy, do work “on behalf of more than a dozen large defence and aerospace companies including BAE Systems, Northern Defence Industries, UK Defence Forum, Boeing and Rolls-Royce, which has been criticised for its past links to the Burmese regime.” A nice bunch, and just the man we want mingling with law-makers.

In his secretarial role to the Armed Forces APPG, Ashby has been given a third new parliamentary pass and email address, and is once again free to roam the corridors of power and take full advantage of the parliamentary hospitality and entertainment, for himself and his clients. So embedded is Ashby that this morning he even signed off emails on behalf of an MP.  In what way does the group’s chairman James Gray think it acceptable to grant this arms lobbyist, who has twice before been stripped of passes, unfettered access to MPs and Lords when the rules about this are so clear?

UPDATE : Just got off the phone with Robin Ashby. He says he is more of a hobbyist than a lobbyist, his hobby being the UK defence industry which doesn’t pay him much more than expenses. He claims he is basically semi-retired, with an office and a staffer. The Millbank, Brussels and Washington office addresses on his website are all “rubbish” he says.  When Guido pointed out the obvious commercial advantages of having a parliamentary pass for someone who offers a parliamentary monitoring service he said he does that all online. All clear?

Here We Yeo Again

Tim Yeo is Chairman of Univent plc, on the board of Eurotunnel and the non-executive chairman of both Eco City Vehicles plc and AFC Energy plc. In his spare time he is an MP.

Yeo came to Guido’s attention back in Feburary when the Parliamentary Room Bookings records were released showing how green-fingered Tim had opened up the parliamentary estate to prospective investors in green technology firms. You may remember what happened when he was confronted about his mixing of politics and business live on Newsnight:

MPs are electing the Chairman of Select Committees for the first time. These vital scrutineers must hold ministers to account. Guess who is front-runner to take Energy and Climate Change? Step forward Tim Yeo.

Yeo’s dealings with AFC Energy are particularly interesting. As Guido reported before;

At the time AFC Energy plc were raising £2 million from  environmental investors, and for each of the following five months AFC Energy paid Tim Yeo £3,750 a month (up to a total of £18,750) until in December when they succeeded in raising the £2m they were seeking from environmental investors in a share placing.  Tim also got a bonus when the shares were placed with investors of 150,000 shares for his work.  All in all he made a total of some £80,000 out of the AFC deal from July when he hosted the Environmental Investment Network event until December when they sold the shares to investors.

MPs look set to elect a man completely tied up with an industry that he would be responsible for the checks and balances on. He would need cross party support to get the job. Perhaps members might like to take another look at their favoured candidate.

Danny Alexander’s SpAd Ordered to Pay Back Expenses

Sunday Sleaze

The former LibDem MP for Dunfermline, Willie Rennie, abused his constituency expenses and has been ordered to pay back £2,647 wrongly claimed from his Incidental Expenses Provision after the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon found he had over- claimed for office costs.

Despite this Danny “Beaker” Alexander (pictured) the newly appointed Chief-Secretary to the Treasury, has given Rennie a job as his SpAd after he lost his seat to Labour in the general election.  Willie Rennie was using a scam widespread amongst LibDem MPs, renting his constituency office off his local LibDem constituency party and shifting his campaign costs onto his parliamentary expenses. It is usually difficult to prove, Rennie was unlucky to get caught, it was only that his campaign team made canvassing telephone calls to Labour activists from a phone number paid for out of parliamentary funds that also appeared on his party letterhead that did for him.

Willie Rennie (pictured here after his famous 2006 by-election victory) was according to a report by Campbell Gunn in the Scottish Sunday Post (not online) renting the office space off his party, which meant that Commons expenses cash was going directly into the local LibDem coffers.  Effectively the local LibDem party was his landlord and taxpayers’ money was being used for LibDem campaigning. Not a frugal sign from the right-hand-man of a Chief Secretary charged with cutting public expenditure.

This scam is widespread among LibDem MPs and unofficially it is Cowley Street’s policy to manipulate the Commons expenses regime in this way.  When Guy News reported that Sarah Teather abused the system in the same way she sent lawyer’s letters demanding a retraction and threatening legal action.

Guido refused to back off and still stands by the story…

Farm-Gate : Spelman’s Agri-Business, Bio-Tech Lobbying Past

On the campaign trail David Cameron said

“It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

This week Cameron appointed Caroline Spelman to be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Obviously he feels that nanny-gate is all water under the bridge. Spelman’s long history in agricultural politics and lobbying somehow makes her an ideal candidate for the job in his judgment.

Spelman spent her days before becoming an MP in the agri-business, with a lobbying focus mainly on sugar beet, one of  the most heavily subsidised crops in Europe. She was the Sugar Beet Commodity Secretary for the NFU in the early eighties before becoming  Deputy Director of the International Confederation of European Beet Growers. Seemingly well connected in the field, Caroline and her husband Mark went on to set up “Spelman, Cormack & Associates” in 1989 as a food and bio-technology lobbying company.

For over ten years the new Secretary of State, along with her husband, lobbied the very department she now runs. Caroline resigned as a director less than a year ago and conveniently transferred her share of the company to her husband.  The company address was also changed from her constituency home, for which Spelman claimed around £40,000 on expenses for cleaning and bills, to their million pound London flat. According to the company accounts last year, no rent was paid on this “office” subsidised by the taxpayers.

Mark Spelman, who was also a Tory candidate (unsuccessful), uses both his name and his wife’s maiden name (Cormack) on his firm’s letterhead – that won’t hinder business.  After all, the Minister who is now the number one target to be lobbied has her name on the company letterhead. Caroline Spelman lobbied for the industry and is now in charge of negotiating quotas, subsidies and price tariffs with the EU Agricultural Council. Her “family firm”  deals with bio-tech clients that the Secretary of State is now responsible for regulating in the GM foods sector.   As a result of anti-competitive EU regulations and industry lobbying British consumers are forced to pay prices for sugar which are massively inflated in comparison to the rest of the world. Did Cameron know that she was so recently a shareholder in a  lobbying firm focused on Defra before he appointed her to the position?  Because the whole thing taints politics and shows the far-too-cosy relationship between lobbyists, government, business and money…

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Ban The Bercow

The non-partisan online fund-raising site YouFund.Me.uk has raised thousands in small online donations to beat Ed Balls, hundreds to unseat Nadine Dorries and is aiming to raise even more money for Nigel Farage in his bid to unseat Bercow.  Guido will bet that a lot of conservatives around the country will be donating to get rid of Bercow.  The unprecedented “Friends of the Speaker” slush fund has ensured Bercow will be fighting for survival hard, so why not throw Farage a tenner to oust the troughing flipper…

Calamity Clegg’s Cab Cock-Up

Having sworn blind that Lord Rennard was not involved in the Liberal Democrat campaign, Cowley Street looks a little silly this morning given The Sun’s dossier scoop. In a blunder, Clegg’s spinner John Sharkey’s notes on debate rehearsals – including how Clegg is being coached to imitate, yet slam, David Cameron, were left in the back of a cab.

Lord Rennard’s role in manifesto planning and organisation is referenced and amusingly, true to form, he was keen on involving token women. Less funny is the fact that Cowley Street staffer Phil Reilly lied to Guido.  Yesterday he said categorically Rennard was in no way involved in Clegg’s campaign. Does he now want to retract that and apologise for lying to Guido?

Disgraced Rennard’s Return

Chris Rennard stood down as the CEO of the Liberal Democrats citing ill health. Nothing to do with the outrage caused by the £41,000 in expenses he claimed for his “holiday home” in Vauxall-on-Sea. Let’s not forget all those other skeletons in the cupboard too.

Well the rotund trougher is back. He was spinning for Clegg in Manchester and has been spotted going in and out of the Lib Dems Cowley Street HQ. When Guido put a call in to ask them what his official role in the campaign was the inept spinner replied “Oh I’m not even sure what his unofficial role is.”

So we know he is back but they have taken over an hour and still no response to what his official role is, how much he is being paid and whether he has recovered from the health reasons that saw him stand down… Still waiting for that return call.

UPDATE: So the official line is that Rennard was in Manchester in a “personal capacity” and “he is not part of our campaign team“. That doesn’t really wash given that the Manchester debate site was on lock down and someone would had to have cleared his pass. Is he also going in and out of Party headquarters in a “personal capacity”?

UPDATE: Cowley Street’s Phil Reilly has got himself into a right teenage rage with this one. He claims because he hasn’t personally seen Rennard in HQ he’s not been there, but that’s not what Guido’s witnesses say.  The line has also changed to Rennard being a “guest of a media organisation” in Manchester.  Everyone there was a “guest of a media organisation” – namely ITV who hosted the event.

Gordon’s Gangsters

The downfall of Steven Purcell, Labour’s disgraced former head of Glasgow council has opened up the lid on the rank corruption at the heart of the Labour Party. Three of their MPs face criminal trials and Purcell is now being […]

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School of Piglets

Just as the curtain is brought down on this rotten parliament, it seems the next generation of wannabes have taken a leaf out of their book. When the UK Youth Parliament were allowed to use the Commons for a debate, […]

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Sadiq Khan Facing Met Fraud Investigation

This morning’s Times is reporting that the Met are considering an investigation into the Transport Minister for a very dodgy receipt. Khan had his expenses claim rejected for birthday cards after the Fees Office  told him in no uncertain terms […]

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Labour Sponsored Whelan’s Pass

Finally we know how Charlie Whelan had free reign of the parliamentary estate:

Mr. Dunne: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood of

[…]

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Quote of the Day

Charles Clarke says Cameron is the most successful PM for over a century…

“Under Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives gained 99 seats. They lost 211 under John Major, gained one under William Hague, quickly and wisely got rid of Ian Duncan-Smith, gained 32 under Michael Howard and have so far gained 133 under David Cameron who, to the great surprise of many (including senior Conservatives), has turned out to be the most electorally successful Tory leader since 1900.”

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