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.