Monday, May 18, 2009

Surely renting is honourable?

Now that the weekend is over, I thought I would post about expenses stories, just for a change. First of all though, I need to declare an interest in what I'm about to say. Nadine Dorries is not just the Tory MP for Mid-Beds, she's also someone I consider a friend and is the MP in the neighbouring constituency to me, so no doubt whatever I write now will be considered rank hypocrisy by some.

To start with, I should say that I think Nadine's initial blog post on the story may not have been such a good idea because she was clearly very angry when she did it. Many of us have been there, and its very easy to hit submit. However, its the things that have been written about Nadine's housing arrangements this past weekend that have surprised me the most.

This was mainly because I already knew about them as Nadine told me a month or so ago. We had a chat over the phone one evening about allowances and expenses, during which Nadine explained to me that she rented a property in her constituency which included her office for her work as an MP, and this was paid for through the ACA.

She told me that she chose to rent using the ACA because she believed it was wrong to purchase a property on the taxpayer, especially during what was a rising market at the time she became an MP. Nadine felt that making such capital gains as some other MPs had done was not an appropriate use of allowances - an admirable position I felt.

We also talked about how her main Cotswold home, and the family reasons for that. Personally, I can understand why she chose to arrange things that way. After all, it would be good to rip your kids out of school and move them at an inappropriate moment. This I guess is what surprised me most about the reporting of her housing arrangements, because she was brought into the expenses scandal about a situation that, for me at least, seemed beyond reproach.

Added to this, I was surprised to see the Telegraph and others saying that if Nadine spent only weekends and recess at the house in the Cotswold it meant it wasn't really her main home. You see, the last time I looked there were 52 weekends in a year, which, based on a 30 day month across the board is just short of three and half months. Then, if you add the weekdays of Parliamentary recess it takes you well over the six months mark.

Seems to me that the place where your kids live; the place you spend more than half of your year; and, crucially, the place you'll be living if you were to say, lose your seat, is clearly your main home. Of course, the problem for Nadine has been that she chose to keep her personal family arrangements secret, which has led to an assumption about the properties in which she lives and the allowances that pay for one of them.

There are some I would imagine who would argue that if you're in public life then you can have no private life. However, in a situation with children, and a marriage breakdown, then can that argument really hold water? I actually think it's rather sad that Nadine has had to resort to explaining her post-marriage family life to everyone.

It's made especially worse by the fact that she's chosen to use her ACA allowance in exactly the way it was intended, but her desire for a little privacy for her kids, and her ex-husband for that matter, have resulted in her being accused of claiming "second home allowance" when only having one home, which simply isn't true.

As I said at the beginning, Nadine is a friend of mine, so no doubt some will say my judgement is being clouded or I'm being a hypocrite. The thing is though, as I said, I knew about her arrangements and decisions to rent so as to be seen to be coining it at the taxpayers expense, and yet here we are with her being accused of doing just that. Frankly it's seem absurd to me.

Note: In respect of the minibar and hotel room receipts, I'm not going to address them in this post but will shortly because I have a view on them which is actually part of a wider view about how some of this scandal has developed over the past week. Will try and do it at the end of the week as it's kind of a postmortem look at the whole expenses scandal thingy.

41 comments:

Aaaaargh said...

Dizzy

You are in a difficult position but well done for laying your position out clearly.

I'm pretty sure there will be 'innocent victims' in the fallout from the expenses debacle and Nadine may well be one of them.

The thing is though, these innocent victims knew what was going on around them and chose not to make it public.

Rightly or wrongly they now look like they are making excuses for themselves while covering up for others.

Innocent or guilty there seems to be a herd instinct among MP's of all parties when what we want is straight talk and honesty for once.

Nadine's best move now would be to come out fighting, state publicly that she is standing down as an MP to give her the opportunity to explain herself in a by-election.

I have no particular gripe with Nadine and she's not my MP....It would just be nice to see one of them break ranks and do the decent thing.

Tory Poppins said...

I personally like Nadine very much, but am disappointed by her involvement in this. I believe that one should expect to move one's family if one becomes an MP in a particular constituency.

I also believe that the whole 'privacy' issue has been blown out of all proportion. Other MPs have kids that no-one knows about. Why would the media focus especially on Nadine's children? Unfortunately she's using this as a smokescreen to justify her actions.

Scary Mary said...

"she believed it was wrong to purchase a property on the taxpayer, especially during what was a rising market at the time she became an MP."This does smell of bullshit I'm afraid...

dizzy said...

Why? Fact is she rented and didn't buy when she could have easily bought.

McKenzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I tend to think that an MP whose main residence is neither within commuting distance of Westminster (i.e the Cotswolds) or in their constituency is really an absentee MP and should have their salary withdrawn.

The Ludingtonian said...

Dizzy -

Ms. Dories isn't a friend of mine, nor, from what little I know of her having read her blog several times, would she ever be likely to be.

That said, however, I have to say that renting a second home, rather than buying it on the taxpayers' dime, is a wholly reasonable approach.

If a private businesses required an employee to be out of town occassionally, that employee would be provided with hotel rooms. If the employee were required to spend extended periods away from home, he would be given the use of a flat. That's what we and many other businesses do.

Other issues aside, I really can't see the problem in MP's claiming reasonable expenses for accommodation away from home, provided the MP doesn't benefit financially in the end.

Mark M said...

I quite agree with her on renting. I don't really see why MPs need to buy homes as they are likely to benefit financially from the taxpayer assistance.

Just while thinking about how you solve the problem of flipping without being so rigid as to not allow someone to legitimately change their mind, I was struck by the thought that Cameron's idea that ACA should pay only for mortgage interest, rent and council tax renders flipping, and therefore his ban on it, redundant.

Flipping is only a problem because taxpayer money is used to add value to a property, which was then sold and profit kept by the MP. If you can't use taxpayer money to add value to your property then flipping stops being a problem, and therefore doesn't need banning.

Anonymous said...

just to check something... has she technically broken the rules doing this, or not?

Not "but I can justify it" or "I was helping out the taxpayer". Rules... yes or no?

Not a trougher, but dishonest said...

Agreed she seems innocent on the second home allowance.

But what about defrauding her electorate by trying to pretend that she was living in the constituency?

"I never wanted my constituents to think that I had another prime responsibility other than Bedfordshire and Parliament"

Welldear, if you didn't want them to think that, you shouldn't have done it.

Just go. Now. said...

Nadine is unfit to be an MP, but not because of her expense claims.

On her blog she says that most MPs “live a normal, frugal existence and struggle to pay the bills”.

Cone off it love. Even if you aren't fiddling your expenses, you're still on £64,766 basic salary. That puts you in the richest 5% of the country.

She's lost all idea of what “normal” life is like - never mind frugality.

dizzy said...

@anon - my understanding is that she didn't break the rules.

@Just go now - I think someonetimes not knowing what "normal life" is true. However, I also think not knowing what life as an MP is like and its cost is also true.

Forlornehope said...

The type of situation which she describes, and I have no reason to think that it is other than she sets it out, is one where a good private sector company will try and support a good employee. Provided the arrangements were clear stated I would not consider her behaviour to be unreasonable. As a longer term arrangement, I'm not so sure. The ACA is really meant to support an MP's living arrangements in London and the constituency, not in some third location.

Scary Mary said...

Her reason for not buying sounds remarkably like Gordon Brown saying he didn't call an election because he would win.

dizzy said...

Are you saying that she's just made it up because of the story in the press?

Julian Gall said...

Let me get this clear. Is the allowance for:

a) accommodation near the House of Commons for MPs who live too far to commute.

or

b) accommodation in an MP's constituency for MPs who choose to live somewhere else.

Who paid Nadine Dorries' commuting costs to London? Did she claim for a second home and for daily commuting? Were her commuting costs higher because she chose not to live in her constituency?

dizzy said...

The allowance is caleld the "Additional Cost Allowance" and is for a second home. Where that second home is, as the flipping stuff has shown, is superfluous.

As was stated on her website, she spends non-parliamentary time at her home outside the constituency and parliamentary time in the constituency, so the commuting question is confusing me.

rita chevrolet said...

I am having some difficulty with this as at first sight I do not understand why, if she does not need to live in London and simply chooses not to live in her constituency either, she should be able to get the property there paid for.

I don't suggest she has done anything wrong or dishonest, merely that the rules which allow this are too lax.

Scary Mary said...

Has she ever gone on record before now, explaining that out of the goodness of her heart she decided not to profit from the property market?

dizzy said...

Did you read the post? Nadine told me exactly that back in March long before any of this started. So, and I hate to put it this way, but are you saying I'm lying?

David Titchmarsh said...

If any further proof were needed that the Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire is being less than open with her so called 'explanation', then the following is from her website, 22nd September 2005. It speaks for itself.

http://www.dorries.org.uk/Story.aspx?ID=14

Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Beds, and her family are to make their new home in Woburn.

“The decision was very much taken out of my hands by the kids” said Nadine. “They fell in love with the town and it didn’t matter where else we went they kept coming back to Woburn.

As any parent will know, a move is a huge thing especially 3 lively girls. It helps with the process when the children have a big say and feel they an input in to what is happening.

It also makes sense logistically. My constituency office is in Shefford and I am in the House of Commons four nights a week so it is manageable”.

Ed the Shred said...

Thanks Mr Thinks, your post has been most welcome. Basically as I understand the story, Nadine has her main home where she spends her own time with her family. She pays for this by herself. Since becoming an MP she has as her secondary home a place in her constituency (to be near the people she represents), which just happens to be in commuting distance to her place of work (House of Commons). For various good reasons she chooses to rent this secondary home and charges the additional costs under the, um, additional costs allowance scheme.

Seems all quite sensible and reasonable.

jd said...

It's one thing to argue that MPs need/should have financial help to have a second home in London in order to do their job properly.
However, using taxpayer money to fund a weekend getaway in the Cotswolds is something else completely (and whether the claim was for the Bedford or the Cotswold house, either way it's enabling her to fund two properties).

As for the Cotswold home being her 'first home' and the constituency one her second, if I got a job with a firm in Bedford, my new employer wouldn't fund my old home. I'd be expected to move, or if I wanted to keep a property in my existing area as well, to do so out of my own pocket.

It may be within the rules, but it stinks. This one looks like a clear test of whether C-M-Dave sticks to his rhetoric about the need to stick to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the rules.

Tom FD said...

I don't understand why the taxpayer can't own the property their money buys? Oh well.

Andrew F said...

This one really gets to me. People are acting as if Dorries' honour is a matter of ambiguity, when the reality is that she's quite clearly manipulating the system.

The purpose of the SHA isn't to allow MPs to live somewhere else if their constituency isn't near enough to the place they actually want to live. The idea is to make it cost-neutral for them to do a job that requires their presence in both London and a constituency.

Why on earth does anyone think that it is acceptable for us to . If you don't want to live a commutable distance from a place of employment, don't apply for the bloody job. Jesus.

My dad's a headteacher. He says he's going to move to Scotland and demand a SHA because he still wants to work in the South East.

Anonymous said...

Where your original piece fals down is that on Nadine's own words, she does not spend every, or even most weekends in the Cotswolds - far from it. And she says she spends her time abroad with her kids during the parliamentary recess.

So that kinds of demolishes your argument, I would have thought. The house where she spent the most time was clearly the constituency house, which she is claiming to be her second home, when in fact it is her first.

Never mind, try again.

dizzy said...

Right, so if you're an MP, and you live six months and one day in your main home, and the rest of the year in the second home, but you go on holidays for four weeks, then your second home is really your main home?

Never mind, try again.

Ronald said...

Whilst I don't believe that Nadine Dorries intended to do anything wrong, her arrangement does miss the point of the second home allowance. The second home allowance is meant to provide MPs with accommodation in London so that they can spend late nights working on Parliamentary business. That is why it exists. If MPs did not have to work in London it would not exist. Instead of using her allowance to provide accommodation in London Nadine Dorries has been using it to indirectly maintain a house unrelated to her role as an MP. Her actions seem to have been done innocently and she is far from the worst offender. Had she not had this Cotswold house, her decision to commute from Bedford and not maintain accommodation in London would have been highly commendable. However, her actions do breach the spirit of the law even if they do not breach the letter of the law and she needs to recognise this otherwise she may find herself in a lot of trouble and the reputation of a very fine MP may be shot to bits.

dizzy said...

Sorry Ronald, this is not a personal attack on you, but what you've just said is echoed by many and its starting to piss me off. The ACA is NOT for providing a home in London.

Additionally, Nadine has NOT been using it to "indirectly maintain a house unrelated to her role as an MP". The rented house in the Cotswold is paid for by her, not the taxpayer.

Ronald said...

You're right, the ACA is not specifically for providing accomodation in London. It's for performing parliamentary duties. However, as Parliament is in London that means, in practice, it is for providing accomodation in London. As I said in my original post, if MPs did not have to work in London they would not receive ACA, or no where near as much anyway. It's also the reason why inner London MPs do not receive it. If the ACA were there to provide MPs with a house to complete constituency work in, and then maintain a house elsewhere, inner London MPs would surely get it also.

Yes, but her Bedford house is paid for by the taxpayer, which allows her to pay herself for the Cotswolds house. If she had to pay for her Bedford house as well, then she may well not be able to maintain a house in the Cotswolds. Thus, the fact that the taxpayer pays for her Bedford house allows her to have her house in the Cotswolds.

In all honesty, Nadine, as with other MPs, does seem to work very hard and it could well be argued that she deserves to have her constituency house paid for. Additionally, claims of her being money grabbing etc. are obviously delusional. However, whilst this arrangement may once have been appropriate, being witin the ACA rules, it now is not.

dizzy said...

It;s for performing duties as an MP rather than just Parliament, ergo constituency is covered too.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy,

I originally posted at 06:27.

We have to stick to known facts. All we have to go on at the moment is Nadine's own words. Let us recap what she said.

Whilst parliament is sitting (33 weeks?) she lives in the constituency home during the week.

Some weekends she stays in the constituency home, others she is in the Cotswolds, but the balance in that period is more skewed towards staying in the constituency home. But even on a 50/50 basis over 33 weeks assuming she spends 3 nights in the Cotswolds that's no more than 50 nights - but as she says, it's more Mid Beds than Cotswolds, so in practice it's less.

She then claims to be abroad with the children for the whole of the parliamentary recess. It sounds a lot more than the 4 weeks you gave her, to be honest, as well you know, but as you're heavily into politics distortion's the name of the game - you only have to see their expense claims to realise that.

Only Nadine knows the whole truth, and she is being deliberately vague and relying on cheerleaders like you to do her bidding. She could clear it up in an interest if she chose; the fact she doesn't and heavily moderates her blog to remove dissenting voices suggests only one thing.

Except of course her Cotswold neighbours will know. Maybe they can cast some light on things and give us some independent reassurance on the matter, after all, they exposed Jacqui Smith's banal generalities and hopefully they will soon do the same for James Purnell.

John said...

A couple of thoughts occured to me regarding MP's expenses and Nadine.
Nadine's predecessor, Jonathan Sayeed stepped down in 2005. A complaint was made against him for irregularities with his ACA.The compliant was passed to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.Apperently Sayeed had signed expense claims for work done on his Bedford home and also his London one.He admitted wrongdoing and paid back approx 12 grand. I believe he had been suspended whilst investigations were carried out,I think he then stood down. The Committee remarked that they would have suspended him for a further period had he still been a Member. Interestingly, members of that committee included Ben Chapman, Andrew MacKay and Nick Harvey,all players in the Telegraph's investigations.
So,my thoughts: if it had not been for Sayeed's false expense claims, we in MidBeds would not have been so fortunate as to have Hadine as our MP. Also, despite the constituents knowing about Sayeed's false claims, they still overwhelmingly voted a Conservative in again.

TWOTREES said...

Where do all these people live? They dpn't seem to have much idea of practical geography. I've spent many years living in Bedfordshire and working in London and to my mind, as well as to the minds of my colleagues in Leicester and other outposts of the empire, Bedfordshire and London are one and the same place. Ergo Nadine's constituency house is a London residence as far as far as I'm concerned.
I should declare that I'm one of Nadine's constituents and, although I've never had any direct contact with her, I find her to be a totally satifactory MP.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Tim Ireland's latest on this subject? He doesn't think he'll have time to look at any other MPs. Talk about a personal vendetta. What a sad loon.

dizzy said...

No doubt my libertarian attitude towards comment moderation will get me in trouble for that one.

jd said...

Two Trees... just don't. I'm tired of trying to convince relatives that by living in Northamptonshire I don't live in London.

Anonymous said...

Two Trees - why do you completely ignore the point at issue, which is where is to do with where her main home is.

As it's in Beds she shouldn't claim the ACA on that property.

TWOTREES said...

The whole point is that her constituency/London area house is her place of work/secondary property.
When she manages to stop working, she goes home to the Cotswolds.

dissilusioned said...

As Forlornehope points out

The ACA is really meant to support an MP's living arrangements when their main home is in either London or their constituency, not in some third location.

And this is the point that most people seem to ignore. Whether she rents or buys is irrelevant and her defence sounds disingenuous. Now your support for her as a friend makes me doubt your impartiality.

Joe public said...

Despite repeated requests, Nadine still refuses to say why she thinks Taxpayers should pay the £2,100 that she claims her landlord owes her.

Let her justify the claim she submitted.