BBC Finally Wakes Up to Snouts in the Trough

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, blogged yesterday that
The fact that MPs can claim expenses of £250 without a receipt has already been greeted with widespread incredulity. The fact we learnt today is likely to be greeted with even more. MPs can, apparently, also claim £400 a month for food without receipts.

Guido actually reported (MPs Get Fat on Your Taxes) the £20 per diem allowance back in October 2005. Do try to keep up Nick…

The above graphic from last December shows that MPs get £20 per day, no receipts required. That is 12 times as much as a fighting soldier has spent on him for food.

Can it be any clearer where their real priorities lie?

UPDATE : It is worth reading in full Sam Coates’ write-up of the Information Commissioner’s tribunal where the parliamentary resources director tries to justify not letting us know how MPs spend public money feathering their nests.

Tory Transparency Form Not Good Enough

Why not list every item? Businesses don’t put in VAT returns missing receipts for items under £250. There is a catch all “other” space on the new Tory “Right to Know” form. Guido wants to know which MPs have been claiming for food (up to £40 a day) while children in state schools are allocated 50p.

Ben Wallace MP was able to itemise all his expenses. The Hain excuse of being “too busy” is not good enough. Why should taxpayers have to account for every penny of income and expense yet MPs be taken on trust?

click to enlarge

We want to know who literally has been eating from the trough at the taxpayers expense…

Speaker Chooses Three MPs to Investigate MP Expenses

It beggars belief that as popular disgust with MPs is now near universal they decide to appoint three of their own to investigate themselves. When you find out which three MPs the Speaker has chosen to do the investigating you can only laugh or else you will cry. Guess what the result will be?

Monkey #1, Nick Harvey, a LibDem MP and former spinner for lobbyists Citigate Dewe Rogerson who still keeps his hand in as a consultant to parliamentary lobbyists Trimedia. Clearly the perfect choice to assess the shadowy influence of lobbyists given the tens of thousands he makes from the industry whilst a serving MP.

Monkey #2, David Maclean, the Conservative MP who tried to stop the Freedom of Information Act applying to MPs by using some very shifty parliamentary tactics. This provoked uproar and disgust leading to defeat after a few underhand shenanigans. Just the person to investigate calls for more transparency.

Monkey #3, Sir Stuart Bell, a Labour MP who hired his son Malcolm as a researcher. But unlike Derek Conway’s sons, Malcolm definitely used to turn up at Parliament. In fact, it was while working in Portcullis House that Malcolm broke into George Galloway’s office, stole his chequebook and made off with £2,000 from Galloway’s bank account. Which must have been the first time Galloway was the victim of a fraud. Young Malcolm Bell got 60 days in a young offender’s institute. So his father is just the person to look into whether MPs hiring members of their family can lead to fraud.

They must be laughing at us in the subsidised bars of parliament. Gunpowder is too good for ’em.

Suspicious Minds and Convicting Politicians

From Guido’s point of view the year has got off to a very good start. One Minister has fallen on his slush fund, a senior opposition MP has been exposed for pigging out in the public trough and his little piglets never again will suck on the public teat.

When Guido first started this blog he took the view that politicians were held in too high esteem, that they considered themselves to be the ruling class rather than public servants and that the media far from being feral was too tame in its treatment of politicians. That was part of the motivation for starting the blog. From time-to-time the Peter Riddells, Sir Michael Whites and Polly Toynbees of the world complain that it is impossible to report on politics well if you start from the position that they are all scoundrels and have no sympathy for politicians or the practise of politics. Sometimes they specifically addressed that criticism directly to Guido.

Guido never said all politicians are greasy-pole climbing, self interested scoundrels. He does however have a suspicious mind and this is basically his default view until proven otherwise. It takes a certain kind of egoism to want to be a politician. The louder they claim it is because they “want to make a difference”, the tighter you should grip your wallet.

The more you meet politicians, the more you realise that they are not as others. For the ambitious climbing the greasy-pole is all, life for them is a non-stop reality TV show, with power and all its trappings as the prize. Political self-interest is their supreme motivation. Policy is a tool of partisan self advancement, slogans are stepping stones to power and the public is to be manipulated for votes in a democracy of spin. These politicians are really dangerous.

For those who realise that becoming an MP is probably the upper limit to their achievements there are broadly two types; the good constituency MP and the porcine politicians.

The “good constituency MP” is the stuff of legend, furthering his voter’s interests, dealing with their problems with a staff well versed in welfare issues, righting wrongs and often acting as the counsel of last resort to people suffering at the hands of the massive bureaucratic state that politicians created in the twentieth century. They may take on non-partisan causes which are in the public interest – John Hemming’s work on child protection springs to mind, protecting children from social workers and legal indifference.

In contrast the “porcine politician” is contemptible. So long as they keep their local newspaper happy and don’t get caught shagging the intern they are a lifelong burden on the taxpayer and little use to anyone but the party whips. Generally they want a quiet life, the occasional junket to the West Indies to “study” efforts to combat global warming will suffice. If they are not the type to know their interns carnally they may employ the wife to supplement the housekeeping. Exploiting the car mileage allowance yet claiming for two first class return train tickets every week, claiming a second mortgage allowance despite their constituency being on the London Underground and charging the full daily subsistence food allowance (no receipt required) are all par for the course. If they are particularly greedy, helping out lobbyists can be rewarding.

Sometimes a porcine politician does good things, sometimes a usually decent constituency MP gets caught with his hand in the till or on top of a research assistant. These are of course generalisations.

It seems to Guido that the public has an innate wisdom, it knows this and it knows it is being spun, but is too weary of politicians to care. Too busy getting on with their lives to be bothered about politics. Unfortunately the politico-media nexus is too lazy or too embedded in the Westminster Vilage to try to change things for them. Imagine you are Sir Michael White, thirty years in the Lobby, having spent most of your writing career rubbishing good journalist’s stories on behalf of unattributable sources. Those sources are your claim on the front-page. You are not going to jeopardise them and tear up your meal-ticket to Shepherds. Therein lies the problem. Until the media changes from reporting what they are spun to always questioning the behaviour and motivations of politicians, we will be cursed with the political class we have. The current orgy of politician bashing is however a good start.

Newsnight seems to be on top of the zeitgeist, night after night Crick and Grossman have been unveiling political skullduggery, Hencke at The Guardian, Sam Coates on The Times and Chris Hope on the Telegraph and a few others seem keen to tell it like it is, so hopefully like sharks they will get a taste for political blood. Politicians will then out of self interest temper their ways.

It will require us first seeing a few politicians jailed pour encourager les autres. The people want it. Give the people what they want and it might even do wonders for newspaper circulation.

Poll : Should Conway Go?

Guido is running a poll until midnight in the right-hand-column. Should Conway lose the Tory whip?

Conservatives Want Conway Gone Away

Over at ConservativeHome the grassroots are united. Derek Conway should go. Many activists saying that they don’t want to be on an equal sleaze footing with Labour.

“The silence from the party leadership is deafening and very depressing” complains one activist, “There is no excuse for Conway’s actions I really will protest long and hard if Cameron does not withdraw the whip and call for his constituency party to deselect Conway.” The grassroots are looking for decisive leadership “David Cameron now MUST taken action to clean up the mess.” Mark Fulford summarises the attitude of many “David Cameron: the clock is ticking. Derek Conway is undermining trust in Conservatives and has to be thrown out, now. No ifs, no buts.”

Usually loyal Conservative bloggers are also giving Conway the thumbs down. Over on CentreRight, Alex Deane frames it not in terms of tactics or strategy, rather as a question of old fashioned right and wrong. Tim Montgomerie says Cameron is making the wrong choice. Shane Greer wants Conway to stand down. Conservative Party Reptile wants “serious measures”, A Tory Blog wants him to consider his position. Dave has to “show some cojones in contrast to Brown” says the Englishman, Letters from a Tory is disheartened and disbelieving. Loyally, Dale says he is not going to join in the public kicking of his friend. But he doesn’t defend Derek either.

Cameron’s office say that he will keep the party whip according to Ben Brogan, claiming the punishment is for the Commons to decide, washing his hands in the same way Gordon said it was a matter for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to deal with Peter Hain. Not good enough, show leadership, don’t dither. Politicians just don’t seem to get how everyone outside the Westminster Village is disgusted with their self-serving ways. They are their own judges and jurors. They are more often than not guilty of venality yet they almost always get off…

Cameron should dump Derek, not dither indecisively as more and more sleaze drips out, Conway is a repeat offender according to the Mail’s front page. The Tory brand risks becoming re-contaminated…

(Great headline in the Mail, where do they get their ideas?)

The view of Guido’s readers is clear, Derek Conway’s financial arrangements are unacceptable. If Cameron does nothing, it is a case of accepting politics as usual. Fiddling thousands of pounds off the taxpayers to finance your son’s education is not acceptable. Lawmakers can not be law breakers.

Cameron has the power to withdraw the whip from Conway, his constituency party have the power to withdraw their support for him as a candidate. What is it to be?

Incidentally, do you think we will see articles from Sir Michael White et al explaining that it is a trivial amount of money? Will we see those who have been writing apologia on behalf of Hain, Harman, Johnson and Wendy Alexander doing the same for Derek Conway? Don’t hold your breath…

Derek Conway Should Repay the £40,000

Tory MP Derek Conway has got caught out and he is being given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again. He paid some £40,000 over four years to his son to finance his way through university out of your taxes. There is not a scrap of evidence, apart from Conway’s say-so, that his son did any work in return. Nobody outside the Conway family is willing to back up the claim that the son did any work.

The Select Committee on Standards and Privileges is recommending Conway pay back some £13,000 that it reckons was over-paid. Reading between the lines they suspect, but have been unable to prove, that no work was done whatsoever. Can you think of another profession where if £40,000 was paid to a family member for nothing in return the police would not be called in?

UPDATE : Duncan Borrowman, LibDem candidate for Conway’s seat has written to the police demanding an investigation.

Daily Food Allowances :School Children, Armed Forces, Prisoners, MPs

Dizzy had a piece that struck Guido as demonstrating where our politician’s real priorities lie. Guido has turned it into an easy to understand graphic. Take a look at the average spending allowances per day on food as voted for

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Yvette’s First Class Package

A Labour party press release arrives in Guido’s inbox from Mrs Balls, headlined “Next Steps for Social Housing”
“Labour’s Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper, has announced a package of measures and extra investment to make social housing fairer and more effective.

[…]

+ READ MORE +

359 Lords-a-Fiddlin’

Sam Coates in The Times has another research based snouts-in-the-trough piece. The evidence is that at least 359 Lords, that is the majority of the them, are fiddling their expenses. The evidence whilst circumstantial is particularly compelling. Can it be

[…]

+ READ MORE +

MPs Expenses – A New Hero Emerges

MPs expense figures have just been released.* Philip Hollobone (Con, Kettering) is the least expensive MP coming in at under £44,551. Liam Byrne (Lab, Birmingham Hodge Hill) is four times as expensive at £178,116.

Guido called Hollobone’s office to try

[…]

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Ken Clarke tells the Ben Fellows trial:

“The idea that I would go strolling off in order to grope a man in an office is highly unlikely.”

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