Yesterday afternoon Jonah Brown visited Leyland Trucks in Leyland in the North West to support the South Ribble Labour MP. To those who follow Jonah’s travels is it no surprise that same night Labour were humiliated in the Leyland St Mary’s local by-election – a seat they once held. The result was:
A swing to the Tories from two years ago when they gained the council – recording 65% of the vote across the whole constituency. The one-eyed son of the manse is working his electoral curse at local and national level for Labour…
Overt Opera fan Nick Brown, the government Chief Whip, was well placed last night at the Royal Opera House in the front row of the stalls circle before 5 pm (yes thats when it started) for the new production of Tristan und Isolde. He was in a party with lobbyist Peter Bingle of spin merchants Bell Pottinger. Perhaps Gordon should have cause to worry that his Chief Henchman was watching a tale of the betrayal of King Marke by Tristan and Isolde in the company of a Conservative enemy.
George Osborne and his wife were sitting in the stalls on their own, presumably having paid for their own tickets. At four hours and fifty five minutes Guido would have paid not to attend…
According to Nick Robinson the Tory chief whip Patrick McLoughlin, gave the Wilshire the bullet. He is sticking to the “it was all within the rules” / “approved by the Fees Office” line.
In reality, like in so many other cases, the £3,250 a month in parliamentary office allowances to Wilshire’s company Moorlands Research Services was completely outside the spirit of the rules and the Fees Office was wrong to make the payment. Goodbye and good riddance.
The Reform think tank is inviting nominations for the “reformer of the year”. Looking down the list there is one candidate who deserves to win. Heather Brooke, the Freedom of Information campaigner who fought the Speaker and parliament to reveal the true venality of the political class deserves your vote. If it was not for her the troughing would still be going on unseen by the public today…
Tory MP David Wilshire has been paying £105,000 expenses to run a company he owns. He has referred himself to Parliamentary Standards Commissioner before Guido could. In due course the Committee on Standards and Privileges will let him off with a slap on the wrist and he will not be the first six-figure expense trougher to be let off. The Wintertons and Jacqui Smith got the naughty step treatment from the Committtee of fellow MPs and paid not a penny back. Crime without punishment seems to be the operating principle, probably because MPs are thinking “there but for the grace of God go I”.
There is a Latin legal maxim: “nemo debet esse iudex in propria causa”, meaning no one should be judge in his own cause. The idea that MPs can be trusted to follow “fundamental principles of propriety” and self regulate according to the Green Book is laughable and it is now seen by the public as laughable. This has to change. The forthcoming Kelly Report to the Committee on Standards in Public Life needs to resolve this with tough transparency measures.
Photo credit : a co-conspirator.
Just got off the phone a few minutes ago with Ed Vaizey. Guido called him via the Maitre’d of Scott’s of Mayfair. When he came to the phone he demanded to know which table Guido was sitting at. Alas Ed, some of us have work to do.
His lunch partner – Tracey Emin – must be very entertaining. Guido makes it that he is into his third hour of lunch since a co-conspirator alerted Guido. The call went like this:
Ed What table are you at? I was just bemoaning that MPs can’t get away with anything.
Guido You do know there is a recession on? Get back to work.
EV I am going back to vote.
GF Can you hear the division bell in Mayfair?
EV I know what time the vote is…
GF Look it is alright for me to take a three hour lunch, I pay your wages.
EV It was not a three hour lunch.
GF Get back to work.
Just another tough day in the life of a hardworking public servant…
Sir Thomas Legg has outlined his approach to expenses in a note to MPs which is now in the public domain. Legg confirms that payment of the second homes allowance under the Green Book rules was subject to “fundamental principles of propriety”:
The fundamental principles required MPs personally to ensure that their use of the ACA was: (a) necessary for the performance of their parliamentary duties; (b) not extravagant or luxurious; (c) in accordance with the Nolan principles of selflessness, accountability, honesty and leadership; (d) strictly in accordance with the rules governing the allowance; (e) above reproach; (f) took account of the need to obtain value for money; and (g) avoided any appearance of benefit, or a subsidy from public funds, or diversion of public money for the benefit of a political organisation. These principles together amount to a general requirement of propriety.
Quite a high bar for our porcine political class. Guido has heard a rumour – so far not denied – that Legg has asked for re-payment of the £108,000 wrongly claimed by those gold-plated troughers, the Wintertons. Back in June 2008 Guido highlighted their massive six-figure fiddle. The Standards and Privileges Committee ruled that they had wrongly claimed £108,000 in rent which they paid to a family trust on a property they had previously owned. They were the trustees of the trust and the beneficiaries were their children. Despite being found guilty of brazenly manipulating the system this was, as in the case of Jacqui Smith, another crime without punishment from their fellow MPs. The Standards and Privileges Committee did not require the Wintertons to repay a single penny.
The level of impropriety which anyone with commonsense can see has taken place is verging on grand larceny. When MPs say Legg is “acting retrospectively” what they really mean is that they didn’t expect to be held to basic, fundamental principles of propriety. They thought they would get away with it…
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Yesterday Sky News chased Sir Thomas Legg around Whitehall with a camera crew, trying to get comment from him. He politely demurred from giving them an interview or answering any questions. This is a mistake. It frustrates the broadcast media when they can’t get access to the players. Legg needs to fight his case in the media or the political class will succeed in doing to him what they did to Elizabeth Filkin, the former Parliamentary Standards Commissioner hounded out of office by Speaker Martin, aided and abetted by that ridiculous blowhard Sir Stuart Bell. MPs have got where they are by deviousness and their ability to crush opposition. Sir Thomas has taken on hundreds of these vipers…
Guido suspects that Legg is being overwhelmed by the backlash – as far as Sir Stuart Bell is concerned he clearly didn’t understand the brief given to him by Gordon Brown – he was supposed to produce a whitewash which illuminated only “a few bad apples”. He wasn’t supposed to hose down the whole porcine political class. They are squealing because you are making them pay for their years of troughing at the public’s expense.
Only a few months ago MPs from all sides were claiming they “did not understand the rules” and they were blaming their misdemeanors on “the system”. Now that Legg is enforcing the rules within reasonably generous parameters, they claim he is retrospectively changing the rules. The same MPs who only a few months ago claimed they did not understand the rules now suddenly have a detailed understanding of the expenses criteria. Bullshit.
They also claim that the Fees Office approved everything. The Clerks in the Fees Office had no authority to exercise fine judgement on the rules – MPs jealously kept that right only for themselves. The Clerks just rejected some of the most ridiculous claims. This argument is specious, MPs signed every month that their expense claims were made “wholly, exclusively and necessarily”. The Fees Office merely took them at their word and on their honour.
Public opinion is behind Legg. MPs still don’t get it: they should never have been claiming for groceries, moats, ironing, porn, duck houses, Sky sports, digital cameras and all the rest in the first place. If you want to stand at the next election, deliver the repayments.
Sir Thomas has one fearsome weapon at his disposal. If MPs won’t pay the public purse back, tell the public. You can name and shame miscreants. Do it to them before they do you in…
The blogosphere and Twitterati come out of this quite well. M’learned friends will have to rethink strategy. Guido will have more to say about the bigger picture tomorrow. It is time to take the freedom of the press into our own hands.
The full story is on the C4 News site here.
Raw (unedited) video for Guido’s interview:
Wikileaks still hosts the the Minton report which you are not allowed to see, by order of the Court, here. Suck on that Carter-Ruckers…
The FT’s Jim Pickard is reporting that representatives of the Tory 1922 Committee are meeting with representatives of Labour’s PLP to discuss fighting Legg and his letters. Proof, if proof were needed, that the political class looks after itself first, us second.
The sense of self-entitlement of a British politician is a marvel to behold, troughers like the ridiculous Sir Stuart Bell wander from broadcast studio to broadcast studio bemoaning the unfairness of being asked to justify the depths to which they sunk their snoughts in the trough. Sir Stuart incidentally employed his wife on some £35,000 – obviously on merit. Now the venal cross-party porker’s alliance is coming out into the open. Stop squealing start paying, you have been ripping us off for too long. Welcome to the real world porkers…
This just in* from a bit of Hansard that Carter-Ruck have not tried to injunct:
Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many hours were worked by each special adviser in his Department in each week between 8 June 2009 to 3 July 2009.
Mr. Straw: As working for me as a Special Adviser is, I am told, pure pleasure and stress free, my Special Advisers work exceptionally long hours, often at weekends and late into the evening without complaint, and have not therefore felt the need which they otherwise might to complete timesheets to show that I was sweating their labour.
*Paddy from Grayling was the tipster co-conspirator.
Guido is grateful to Newsnight’s David Grossman for revealing how it passed that Jacqui Smith’s investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and critical report to to the Committee on Standards and Privileges resulted in a mere slap on the wrist.
Guido has, for once, no complaints about Commissioner John Lyon’s report to the Committee. Paul Waugh says that the Commissioner “confided during the course of his inquiry that he has to “keep a keen eye on the blogs”. Government sources feel that Lyon believed he was under heavy pressure to do a tough report…” Good. It is fair to say that John Lyon and the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics were in correspondence from the outset – remember the Commissioner at first rejected Sunlight’s original request for an investigation into Jacqui Smith. Sunlight persisted, citing precedent and the existence of witnesses and he reluctantly began an investigation. (Sunlight’s correspondence was noticeably omitted from the final report.)
The former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alastair Graham, is shocked that despite the findings, which include that the former Home Secretary attempted to mislead the investigation as to where she spent most of her nights, the MPs’ Committee on Standards and Privileges ruled she just had to apologise. Guido has said it before; MPs judging MPs will always give them the benefit of the doubt, it is like selecting jurors from prison. In this case the composition of the Committee was disgraceful. One Tory, Greg Knight, was outnumbered by five Labour MPs, Andrew Dismore, Chris Mullin, Kevin Barron, Paddy Tippin and Dr Alan Whitehead. So despite being found to have wrongly claimed £116,000, to have mislead the investigation and broken the rules, her ‘honourable’ friends ruled she had to merely apologise. She was not ordered to repay a single penny. This is crime without punishment…
According to the Guardian, despite the 1688 Bill of Rights, it has been gagged from reporting a question to be asked in parliament later this week. The gag was obtained by Carter-Ruck. Wonder if it is this question:
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.
Note to Carter-Ruck – Guido’s publishers will only accept service as per the requirements of the Hague Convention. Come to Charlestown, the weather is fantastic…
UPDATE : Apparently Carter-Ruck are trying to suppress this report. Not doing a very good job of it are they?
Nick Clegg is repaying £910 that he spent on his roses.
David Cameron has been asked to provide more information about his mortgage.
Legg is kicking a few troughs over…