Saturday, June 07, 2008

Can I expense that?

The world of expenses is yet again in the headlines. This week we've had three Tory MEPs caught spunging off the taxpayer, and now we have the news that Caroline Spelman used her expenses to pay for nanny. The official line from Spelman is that she paid her to do secretarial work and the nannying was separate, the nanny says she answered the phone in the house a few times.

Predictably, and understandably, there has been an attack from Labour about the Spelman issue. Kevan Jones MP for North Durham seems to have led that attack, telling the BBC, or are leading with the story, that "Clearly, old habits die hard in the Tory Party despite what their leader says." He is quoted in the Telegraph as well saying "David Cameron talks about honesty and transparency in public life. But Caroline Spelman has a big question mark over how she uses her expenses."

He's absolutely right about the questions over Spelman's use of expenses. I did find it amusing though to see that for some reason Kevan Jones prefers to fly at the taxpayers expense rather than drive have claimed over £10,000 in expenses in air travel last year. Ironic too that his voting record suggests that he is very strongly against a transparent Parliament.

It's a bit like being a heroin addict whilst calling for tougher criminal penalties for heroin addicts isn't it? For the leading attacker on the issue of expenses, which would not exist were it not for pressure on transparency, to be someone so strongly opposed to that very transparency is frankly taking the piss.

Alastair Graham, the former sleaze watchdog, has said that the expenses stories are damaging politics. That is not actually the case, what is damaging politics are the politicians that take the piss. That doesn't just include those with their snouts in the trough, but also the ones that oppose transparency and then jump on their soapbox and take advantage of transparency for political gain.

The Spelman line, given the evidence of the nanny, appears to be pretty weak, and bordering on absolutely pathetic. She should just put her hands up and say "yes, I broke the rule, punish me". Cameron must be decisive on this one or 'Ditherer Dave' might actually resonate. These sort of stories are not going to go away until MPs (and MEPs) get used to publishing exactly what they spend and realise that hacks, bloggers and anyone else can pour over the details and find scandal.

Let us be under no illusion here. This is not a party political problem. It is an endemic political class problem that goes from the highest places in the political system to the lowest. Take a look at your local Council and compare the allowance they get to their actual attendance at meetings. It's not just the MPs that rape the taxpayer daily, the lower echelons often take the piss even more.

I have been told about two Tory councillors who are very well connected centrally that receive their £10,000 a year but pretty much do bugger all to justify it. There are Cabinet members in the Labour controlled Greenwich who receive what are effective salaries of £30K that rarely turn up to meetings.

It is not politics that should be held in contempt, but the professional greasy pole climbers and the lazy bastards that people continue to vote for because of the colour of their rosette. They are the problem.


Unknown said...

You can imagine my reaction when he popped up on TV last night....

Barnacle Bill said...

Well said young Dizzy.
I would still like to know the number of MPs who had mortgages with Northern Crock just before it went belly up.
Also at what rate these mortgages were signed up for?

Anonymous said...

It's the expense system that is at fault Dizzy. MP's are human beings and human beings "fiddle" their expenses if they can get away with it.

The only way this will ever be stopped is to regulate every expense that an MP claims for backed up by receipts. The rest of the public sector operates that way, why shouldn't Parliament?

I am also not aware of any public servant other than an MP who is allowed to directly employ members of family at the public expense. They should be allocated constituency staff who are directly recruited and employed by Parliament, this could of course be the MP's family member if suitably qualified.

If an MP does not live in a Constituency when standing for Parliament, then that his entirely his own choice and he should re-locate at his own expense, with perhaps a modest moving allowance.

If the MP needs to be in London overnight for Governt business, then Parliament should provide him with lodgings at establishments they have negotiated contracts with to achieve good rates, needless to say the MP does not part with any dosh as the "establishment" bills Parliament directly. If the MP wants "extras" at his lodgings then he should meet these out of his own pocket.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that she only paid the nanny for a year, then changed arrangements under advice from the whip is pretty much an admission of guilt.

But she should say "yes,.. punish me". Hmm... can't help getting visions of Python & the Holy Grail... 'we have but one punishment .... you must tie her down on a bed and spank her."

Anonymous said...

Spelman was stupid, and should apologise. Then we can move on from this. But Kevan Jones is a tool of the first degree. If I remember correctly, and I usually do, it was he who made all the fuss when George Osborne followed the professional advice he was given about the donations to his office. Jones also doesn't seem to know where he went to University or what qualifications he has. You'd think he'd be the one to know such pieces of information.

Alex said...

Not defending Spelman, but it is quite easy toi see how a live in nanny - usual rate is bed and board plus spending money, not a wage, in return for aboutr 20 hours work a week - could be told that she could earn some more by doing a little secretarial work. There is no reason to believe Spelman would try to bend the rules to get more cash for childcare because quite frankly that sort of childcare doesn't cost very much.

The Spelman issues are that she employed a secretary who didn't do very much, and she did not appreciate the point that the arrangement looks suspect even if it was bona fide. We should expect a little more wisdom from our legislators.

Anonymous said...

jd said: "we have but one punishment .... you must tie her down on a bed and spank her."

Hope I'm on punishmnent duty that day.

Anonymous said...

I take offence at the anonymous commenter's observation that "human beings "fiddle" their expenses if they can get away with it". It would only be true if it were preceded by the word "bent" If any of my employees had "fiddled" 1/1000th of what this woman has, I would fire her without a reference immediately. Cameron must do that or fail. And if it means 50 by-elections, now seems a good time to have them...

"They are all as bad as each other" is no defence of any of them. This particular example is prima facie fraudulent (sue me, Spelman if you disagree) and - Chairman of the Party or not - the stupid woman has left her Leader with no proper choice but to call the rozzers. As for senior party figures backing up her ridiculous story, it's political suicide.

Yes, it's true the denouncer is a hypocite. Yes it's true that it's dirty politics and that he was probably put up to it. Yes it's true that the Biased BBC is making more of a meal of it than bad stories about Labour. But the only correct political response is as above. Withdraw the whip and call the police. If I were Dave (assuming I were not on the take myself) I would then cheerfully watch the miserable, thieving mofo's on all sides of the House scramble to rearrange their financial affairs.

Incidentally, the same would be true for Brown and the Blairs if, as has been suggested, they overmortgaged their constituency home to contribute to the purchase of another, because the cost of the former was covered by the taxpayer and the cost of the latter wasn't. If that is substantiated, it would also be fraud. Don't expect the BBC to lead any bulletins with it though.

dreamingspire said...

Come, come, this happened in the last Millenium according to the report that I heard. I hope that the police, if called, would exercise their discretion.

Armchair Sceptic said...

Caroline Spelman is telling the truth. It is an attempt to hound out a woman MP who had to balance professional and childcare responsibilities and came up with a pragmatic solution that was criticised by the Chief Whip and, accordingly, the arrangement was changed.

The news agenda will quickly return to Labour’s latest - and ongoing - incompetence. Labour sleaze in the past 11 years has been chronic. The BBC is clearly trying to dig dirt, and it simply doesn’t wash.

Anonymous said...

"incidentally, the same would be true for Brown and the Blairs if, as has been suggested, they overmortgaged their constituency home"

Come off it Paine - do you really expect Brown Blair etc to get even the slightest telling off? Pompous words to compare with Spelmans trivia.

And to whoever it may concern ...
Spelman has done, if anything, a minuscule wrong, absolutely ages ago which was self rectified. Not rectified like Hain/others after he was found out.

WHY has the BBC suddenly become interested? Is not that the question?

And regarding expenses ... An MPs job involves having to pay for people to help them in a variety of ways within a small budget - their constituency may be a long way from their home and both a long way from Parliament.

The system is shite.

As are some of the people criticising.

Ted Foan said...

"Spunging"? What's that then? Does it involve some sort of new financial instrument?

Surely you mean "spongeing" Mr Dizzy?