The EU has again blocked the publication of MEPs’ expenses, with Euro-judges today quashing a three-year battle by journalists to get the documents published after the European Parliament itself previously refused to hand over any details. The judges in the ECJ’s sister court ruled that the Parliament was right not to publish the documents as it would enable the MEPs to be individually identified. That’s precisely the point…
Scandalously, MEPs will still be able to spend their annual €50,000 ‘General Expenditure Allowance’ – which they receive on top of their €100,000+ annual salary – without providing any proof of how the money of how the money was spent. MPs’ expenses were the political scandal of the decade in the UK – it’s just par for the course in Brussels…
So if the documents can’t be published because they would identify which MEPs are presently pouring your money down the drain, surely the EU will at least be making them available to the public in redacted form? Not so.
The European Court has blocked this too on the grounds that there wouldn’t be “any useful effect” in publishing the documents – precisely because they did not identify individual MEPs. Even Kafka’s worst nightmares can’t have come close to this…
Emma Dent Coad has come out swinging after being reported to the police by democracy campaigner Stuart Coster over her election expenses, telling the Standard: “These entirely baseless allegations make the erroneous assumption that one has to spend a lot of money to win an election”, and adding that she fought the seat “from my kitchen table with loads of volunteers”. Guido hopes she thought that line through…
This is Dent Coad’s election communication for the 2017 election. The imprint is personal to Dent Coad locally (not the national party), the content is fully local and can’t be considered national costs, yet the imprint refers to the printer “Sterling Press Ltd” which appears nowhere on the list of suppliers of her “Unsolicited material to electors”. A Labour source says Dent Coad declared a payment for her election communication to the Labour Party, which was then centrally paid to Sterling Press, in accordance with electoral law.
The leaflet also invites readers to order a poster (which a Labour source says was a Labour poster and therefore national spend), quotes a mobile phone number and refers to a web address – the costs for none of which during the regulated period are included in her return. Did she really only spend five grand on her entire election campaign?
Douglas Hogg, the disgraced former Tory minister who filed a £2,000 expenses claim to have his moat cleaned, has tabled his “Stop Brexit” motion in the Lords this afternoon. The amendment, backed by Labour and LibDem Remainers, seeks to allow parliament to control the negotiations, including extending the negotiating process and potentially keeping us in the EU indefinitely. It is a naked attempt by Hogg and other Remain peers to reverse Brexit. As he told the Lords: “At the very best Brexit was only an interim decision”. Left the Commons in disgrace as the poster boy for the expenses scandal, then tried to stop Brexit from the Lords. What a contribution to public life.
A senior Commonwealth Secretariat civil servant, who was forced to resign during the Baroness Scotland expenses scandal after being accused of leaking to the press, has won his claim for breach of contract against his old employer. Ram Venuprasad said he was “marked out” by Scotland after he complained internally about her shameless spending splurge, which Guido reported in detail at the time. Scotland refused to appear at the tribunal and the Commonwealth Secretariat will now have to give Venuprasad a huge taxpayer-funded payout, which could reach as high as six figures. Baroness Brazen blowing more of your money…
In the Guardian yesterday David Walker, Mr Polly Toynbee, bemoaned the abolition of the Audit Commission by Eric Pickles at DCLG and complained that there isn’t a quango to police councillors guilty of “fine dining at Le Caprice and the Ritz”. Oddly Walker forgets to mention that he was the six-figure Director of Communications for the Audit Commission before its abolition. Nor does he declare that he used taxpayers’ money to wine and dine other quangos such as the National Audit Office, socialising at taxpayers’ expense at the Reform Club, Footstool restaurant and the Ebury Wine Bar. Walker and his guests blew £1,766 of taxpayers’ cash on restaurant bills in 2009 alone, before he left and trousered a £30,000 payoff. The motto of the Audit Commission when Walker was there was “protecting the public purse”…
Belter of a story breaking over on the Jewish Chronicle – they’ve got hold of an audit into the conduct of Labour candidate and Jewish Labour Movement chair Jeremy Newmark, accusing him of deceiving the Jewish Leadership Council charity out of tens of thousands of pounds. The JC says the report alleges misuse of funds, misleading charities about the cost of projects and claiming inappropriate expenses, including claims that Newmark:
Put holidays and VIP transport for himself, his wife and their children on expenses
Withdrew thousands of pounds of unaccounted for cash on JLC credit and debit cards while failing to provide receipts
Paid his wife’s events consultancy firm more than £36,000
Leased a new BMW worth £46,000, to which he fixed his own personal number plate
Newmark denies the allegations.
Perhaps even more damaging are the allegations of a cover-up. The paper claims the JLC’s trustees, including Tory chief executive Mick Davies, kept Newmark’s alleged conduct secret when they found out. JC Editor Stephen Pollard writes:
“The trustees of the JLC took it upon themselves to bury all the evidence, going out of their way to keep it secret and ensure that the community was not allowed to know the truth about one of its most prominent figures.”
Following the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate the Remain campaign despite clear evidence of spending breaches, Priti Patel has accused them of bias and “double standards”. Priti notes that the Commission launched a full investigation into Vote Leave over claims of spending collusion – despite no evidence – and yet are refusing to look at BSE even though a whole dossier of evidence was submitted to them. Priti has a point – how can they investigate the Leavers when there is no evidence, but ignore evidence of Remainers overspending?
What is particularly concerning is that you decided on 20 November 2017 to reopen an investigation into Vote Leave Limited and Mr Darren Grimes, in spite of the fact that there is much less evidence of a common plan. As you acknowledge at  of the Review of Assessments – ‘there are no direct indications of the campaigners working together’ (my emphasis added) and that – as you state at  – that ‘the Commission is not aware of what any such communications [between Vote Leave and Mr Grimes] contained or whether it indicated a common plan or arrangement was in place’.
In other words – despite the fact that there is no evidence of Vote Leave Limited or Mr Grimes engaging in joint planning (even of an advisory nature) – you have been persuaded of the need for a full investigation. However, when clear documented evidence of the Remain campaigns coordinating specific messaging is presented to you, this is dismissed as ‘advisory’. This would appear to be a clear case of double standards.
Priti not unreasonably alleges the Electoral Commission have a lower bar for investigating Leavers than Remainers:
I have to conclude that the Electoral Commission appears to have used an extraordinarily low bar – arguably, far too low a bar— when deciding to open your new investigation on Vote Leave and other campaigners for Brexit, yet have set a very high bar when deciding to open an investigation into Britain Stronger in Europe.
The Remain campaign flouted Electoral Commission rules so it could overspend by up to £7.5 million during the referendum, a Guido investigation can reveal. Over the next few days Guido will be looking at how the various Remain groups coordinated their messaging, campaign plans, data, materials and donations, causing them to overspend by more than double the legal limit. Sorry Electoral Commission HQ, you’re going to have to come back early from your Christmas holidays…
The Electoral Commission rules are clear: if one campaign “coordinates [its] activity with another campaigner”, then they are “highly likely to be working together”. This definition of “working together” is important, because the Electoral Commission also says: “the lead campaign group must count all of the spending of all the campaigners it works together with towards its own limit”. Guess what… they didn’t.
Two books provide detailed accounts of a number of Remain campaigns coordinating plans and working together in the weeks leading up to the referendum. Tim Shipman’s All Out War reveals “[Craig] Oliver led an early-morning conference call for the media teams at 6.15am. At 7.30am there was a second conference call, in which Stronger In would tell Labour In, Conservatives IN and the Liberal Democrats about their plans for the day”. This clearly counts as “coordinating” and “working together” under the Electoral Commission’s definition.
In his book Unleashing Demons, Craig Oliver somewhat ill-advisedly admits to coordination between the various Remain campaigns: “I join a 7.30 a.m. cross-party call chaired by Will Straw. It’s designed to catch up with what the In campaigns for the various political parties are doing that day. I want to get across a blunt message: this matters. We failed on immigration yesterday, hardly anyone stuck to our line that we accept it’s a problem, but Leave’s solution of trashing the economy is no way to deal with it”.
This reveals clear coordination between Remain campaigns both in terms of messaging and campaign plans for individual days. It would have allowed numerous Remain campaigns to provide a unified message on key issues, as well as adapt their individual campaign activities to complement those of other Remain campaigns. Remember the Electoral Commission rules: “the lead campaign group must count all of the spending of all the campaigners it works together with towards its own limit”…
The combined spending of The In Campaign Ltd (Britain Stronger in Europe), Conservatives IN, Labour and Liberal Democrats during the control period was £14,496,806. Given the clear evidence of coordination between these campaigns, this means that Britain Stronger in Europe looks to have breached its spending limits by up to £7,496,806, more than double the legal limit allowed under Electoral Commission rules.
There has been a lot of attention in the Remain media about alleged coordination between the various Leave campaigns, yet no focus on Remainers breaching the rules. Imagine what the Electoral Commission would have done if they discovered that Vote Leave, Leave.EU and UKIP had a daily morning call to discuss campaign plans. Guido has a lot more to come on this. Stay tuned…
A classic of the expenses genre north of the border from STV. They’ve caught SNP health minister Maureen Watt claiming £4.68 on expenses for a 0.9-mile taxi journey to give a speech, wait for it, on the importance of physical activity. Watt ordered a cab from the Scottish parliament, travelled five minutes up one street to Meadowbank Sports Centre, where she spoke promoting the “benefits of physical activity” for people with learning difficulties. Classic Nat hypocrisy.
What remained of Baroness Scotland’s credibility lies in tatters after the IPSO press regulator threw out a litany of complaints she made about stories exposing her expenses shame. Last year the Mail titles, as well as Guido and other outlets, published a series of shocking revelations about Scotland’s expenses based on documents leaked by concerned whistleblowers. The Baroness denied everything and filed a vast number of complaints to IPSO about the stories. Today, after a nine month IPSO investigation, Scotland is left humiliated…
Baroness Scotland claimed she was the victim of a “partisan campaign” by the Daily Mail, that the paper’s articles about her were “distorted“, inaccurate and that the Mail had published knowingly false allegations against her. IPSO rejected all of this and threw out every single one of Scotland’s complaints against the Mail.
Baroness Scotland claimed reports recruitment rules had been bypassed to hire her friend Lord Patel’s company were untrue. IPSO found the standard recruitment process had been waived – the reports were true.
Baroness Scotland denied reports her spending figures, published every three months, had not been released on time. IPSO found they were not released on time, the reports were true.
Baroness Scotland claimed reports she had “brought in” interior designer Nicky Haslam were untrue. IPSO found Haslam had indeed been brought in by Scotland, the reports were true.
Baroness Scotland denied Haslam had “partly overseen” the planned renovations. IPSO found this was an accurate description.
Baroness Scotland denied that her advisers were “left-wing political fixers”. IPSO found they worked closely with the Labour Party and Labour figures and the reports were accurate.
Baroness Scotland denied reports of plans for a “swanky new dining area” in her Mayfair residence. IPSO found there were plans to relocate a chandelier to the dining room so this report was accurate.
Baroness Scotland denied reports staff had received a “sinister” notification from her office warning their communications were being monitored. IPSO found the reports were accurate.
Baroness Scotland claimed it was misleading to refer to Lord Patel as her “partner in crime”. IPSO found Scotland had herself referred to him using those words.
Baroness Scotland denied she had been “dubbed Baroness Brazen”. IPSO found that a Conservative MP had indeed dubbed her Baroness Brazen.
Baroness Scotland claimed newspaper reports suggested she had paid her sister for advice. IPSO found the reports made clear she hadn’t paid her sister.
Baroness Scotland claimed there was no evidence to suggest the Queen was “embarrassed” by her. IPSO found a well-placed Royal source said the Queen was embarrassed.
Baroness Scotland claimed there was no whistleblower, as there was nothing to blow the whistle on. IPSO found it was accurate to call the concerned source a whistleblower.
Baroness Scotland claimed it was misleading to say Downing Street had refused to give its confidence in her. IPSO found Downing Street would only give confidence in the role of Secretary-General, the reports were accurate.
IPSO ordered one minor correction, changing a headline in the Mail on Sunday about the sums paid to Lord Patel. This was the only breach found out of all the complaints made by Baroness Scotland against three titles. Her claims of inaccuracies, media lies and a vendetta against her have been exposed as fantasy – after such an unequivocal humiliation it is laughable that she can continue to hold public office…
Welsh government politicians, special advisers, private secretaries and press officers have billed the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds to fly around the world on more than 30 foreign junkets in the last year. Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones blew more than £10,000 chartering a plane for him and his private secretary to France to watch the football last summer. Why are taxpayers paying for this?
The itinerary of the Welsh cabinet and their flunkies would put globe-trotting A-listers to shame. Expenses documents show Jones spent nearly £50,000 on another two trips to the US, taking in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington DC at a total cost to the taxpayer of £47,992. Economy Secretary Ken Skates and his private secretary also went to the Euro football: they attended matches in Toulouse and Paris over five days, total cost £3,232. How did they manage to spend that much?
He and an official also went to Chongqing and Shanghai at a cost of £17,842. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething was also accompanied by an official on a trip to Enetbbe, Uganda, charging £16,582, to mark the “10th Anniversary of Wales for Africa“. Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths and policy official enjoyed sunny Dubai at a cost of £6,563. Who are these people are why are spending our money?
Welsh politicians have long been on the take and get away with it because no one in the English media cares about what are essentially local stories. At a time when Welsh Labour are breaking their tuition fees promise, their politicians and staff are flying around the world on jollies. How can they justify spending this much on going to watch the football?
Craig Mackinlay, 50, of St George’s Square, Pimlico, central London, charged with two counts of making a false election expenses declaration.
Marion Little, 62, of New Road, Ware, Hertfordshire, and Nathan Gray, 28, of Red Oak, Hawkhurst, Kent, each face three counts and one count respectively of making a false election expenses declaration.
MPs will be banned from hiring their wives and husbands at the taxpayer’s expense after the next election. Taxpayers will however be disappointed to learn that the rule change only affects new hires, meaning the 150 “connected parties” currently paid by the taxpayer at a cost of £4 million a year will be allowed to keep their jobs. Good news for the likes of £45,000-a-year Mrs Bone.
Guido has found one other amusing rule in the new code. MPs who shack up with their secretaries – and there have been a few in this parliament already – will only be allowed to employ them for two years “after the point at which they become connected parties”.
Guido dreads to think how they determine at which point the MP and his secretary become “connected”…
Interesting timing for the new BBC documentary on the House of Lords. The choice quote is from Baroness D’Souza:
“There is a core of peers who work incredibly hard, who do that work, and there are, sad to say, many, many, many peers who contribute absolutely nothing but who claim the full allowance. I can remember one occasion when I was leaving the House quite late and there was a peer – who shall be utterly nameless – who jumped out of a taxi just outside the peers’ entrance, left the engine running. He ran in, presumably to show that he’d attended, and then ran out again while the taxi was still running. So I mean that’s not normal, but it is something that does happen and I think that we have lost the sense of honour that used to pertain, and that is a great, great shame.”
That would be the same Baroness D’Souza who infamously billed the taxpayer £230 to keep a chauffeur-driven car waiting for four hours while she watched an opera a mile from Parliament. As well as another £270 bill to keep the meter running while she had lunch with the Japanese ambassador. And another £738 to keep a Mercedes parked while she attended an event at Windsor Castle. D’Souza also spent £4,000 of taxpayer cash on flowers for her office and £1,120 for drinks and a trip to the ballet with a delegation from Russia. “We have lost the sense of honour and that is a great shame…”
John Bercow had representatives from the authoritarian regimes of North Korea and Vietnam round for tea and charged the bill to the taxpayer, Guido can reveal. On 16 July 2009, the Speaker hosted a reception on the parliamentary estate for the vice chairman of Vietnam’s national assembly, at a cost of £81 to the taxpayer. At the time the Vietnamese press reported:
“Vice Chairman Luu held a separate meeting with the newly appointed Speaker of the U.K. House of Commons John Bercow in which he delivered Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong’s congratulations on Bercow’s election and an invitation for him to visit Vietnam soon.”
Vietnam is a communist one party state. Human Rights Watch says“Vietnam’s human rights record remains dire in all areas”, with no democracy and routine use of torture by the police. Bercow charged the taxpayer to have them round for tea.
On 28 March 2011, the Speaker had representatives from the North Korean regime round for tea in the Speaker’s House. A Freedom of Information response shows Bercow hosted a party of four including the “Speaker of North Korea”. Human Rights Watch says “North Korea remains among the world’s most repressive countries. All basic freedoms have been severely restricted”. Bercow’s team insist they met “to tell him candidly what they thought of the conduct of his regime”. Yet he won’t extend an invite to the leader of the free world…
You might want to sit down before you read this. Denis MacShane has written an opinion piece for CityAM laying into politicians who fiddle their expenses. Yes, that’s the convicted expenses fraudster Denis MacShane. Criticising politicians who cheat the taxpayer. You couldn’t make this up.
“The revelations that Francois Fillon has been using parliamentary funds to pay his wife and family are now getting so strong and so reeking that it is hard to see how he can continue. Fillon portrayed himself as Monsieur Irréprochable, France’s Mr Clean, and now he has been infected by the English MPs’ disease of putting wives, sons and daughters on the parliamentary payroll.
But Marine Le Pen has similar problems. Yesterday, the European Parliament demanded she pay back €300,000 she took in parliamentary expenses and used to pay two associates who did party political work. She is up to her ears in dodgy loans from Kremlin controlled banks and any spotlight on exotic political money changing hands catches her in its beam.”
“Reeking” misuse of parliamentary funds? “Infected by the English MPs’ disease“? “Dodgy” deals and “exotic political money changing hands”? Is MacShane on a wind up?
The disgraced crook was jailed for making £13,000 of bogus expenses claims – he got away with fiddling even more. He was guilty of filing a total of 19 fake expenses receipts. At the Old Bailey Mr Justice Sweeney said of MacShane’s crimes:
“The dishonesty involved was considerable and was repeated many times over a long period. The deception used was calculated and designed to avoid suspicion falling on your claims.”
And now this convicted fraudster is shamelessly writing lofty newspaper columns lambasting expense fiddlers? Next week – Rolf Harris on childcare…
Millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond claimed £90 from the taxpayer for “smashed phone screen repair”, his expenses reveal. Hammond is one of the wealthiest members of the cabinet with a fortune estimated at more than £8 million. The claim was made under “office costs” on 26 September last year. It is not clear if the phone is Hammond’s or belongs to one of his staff. At least it was dropped rather than thrown…
Shamed former Tory MP David Ruffley, who was forced to quit parliament in disgrace at the election, has failed to pay back wrongly claimed expenses almost a year and a half after he stopped being an MP. IPSA say Ruffley double claimed a £144 house removals bill – they have tried again and again to get Ruffley to reimburse the taxpayer but have now given up. Guido sees Ruffley walking through Westminster every now and then, he still lives in SW1 and it’s a five minute walk from his flat to the Commons to hand in a cheque. Ruffers has an ex-members’ pass allowing him access to the corridors of power, the authorities should suspend it until he pays up.
Baroness Scotland charged the taxpayer £307 for a new loo seat in a bathroom in her Mayfair home which cost £24,000 to refurbish. She has also admitted spending thousands to paint six rooms with top-of-the-range Farrow & Ball paint, despite previously dismissing reports as “outright lies, half-truths and innuendo”.[…] Read the rest