Tag Archives: parliamentary-expenses

What I said to IPSA

My response to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority consultation:

Question 1: Do you agree that the CSPL’s principles, supplemented as proposed, should form the basis of the new expenses system?


Additional comments:

The public must have a right to know the specifics of expenses. This implied by “open and transparent” but MPs have for years insisted that the system was both of those things and that was clearly not the case. Therefore the principles need to include a public right to know.

Question 2: Do you agree with our proposal to concentrate on expenses rather than allowances wherever possible?


Question 3: Do you agree that there should be annual limits to the amount that can be spent from public funds on each of the main elements of our expenses scheme, except for travel and subsistence?


Further comments:

I believe that a lot of MP “casework” is in fact campaigning that is not central to their role as a legislator. I therefore believe that the scope of what support staff can and cannot do in helping with casework should be more restricted than at present. By contrast, I think expenditure on research should be more generous than at present – this would give backbench and independent MPs more ability to scrutinise.

Question 4: Do you agree with our approach to the submission of claims?


Question 5: Are you content with our proposed approach to the publication of claims?


Question 6: Do you support the idea of requiring MPs to produce an annual report on their use of public funds?


Further comments:

If MPs are to produce annual reports then it is crucial that their opponents are given a right to reply within the report itself. Perhaps the two parties or individuals who came runner up in the last election should be allowed space to respond.

Not including a right to reply would make it to easy for MPs to turn these reports into marketing documents and evade scrutiny.

Question 7: We propose that MPs are eligible to claim for accommodation expenses unless their constituency contains a station within London transport zones 1-6. Do you agree with this approach?


Question 8: Which of the following is most important in a long-term system for accommodating MPs:

Flexibility for MPs to identify properties that meet their individual needs.

Question 9: When should the payment of mortgage interest to existing MPs be ended?

In two years.

Question 10: Do you agree with our proposed approach to accommodation expenses for MPs with caring responsibilities?


Question 11: Do you agree with our proposed list of running costs for accommodation which might be met through public funds?


I don’t have a problem with MPs claiming for furniture. However, these items should be owned by the parliamentary authorities. When an individual ceases to be an MP they can either purchase any items they still want (at a price assessed according to depreciation) or give it back. If the latter, the items would be either disposed of or auctioned.

Question 12: Which of the options that we set out do you favour in providing assurance about claims for travel expenses?

Option 2 (We could ask that all claims for expenses be accompanied by details of each individual journey. MPs would need to list the date of each journey, its start and end, the distance covered and the reason for it.)

Option 3 seemed to be incredibly bureaucratic and hard to enforce.

Question 13: Do you agree with our approach to travel by public transport, including ordinarily travelling standard class?


Question 14: We propose to prohibit the use of public funds in the employment of family members by MPs. Do you agree with this approach?


Rather than banning all family members, I would prefer stricter rules on recruitment. Recruitment should be coordinated by Parliament according to strict equal opportunities guidelines, with the MP sitting as a member of the recruitment panel. There are legitimate reasons for employing partners (other family members, not so much), but this should be assessed objectively. This also avoids the problem of MPs “wife swapping” – i.e. employing each others’ wives.

Question 15: We propose that IPSA should prohibit MPs from renting from, or purchasing goods or services from, members of their families. Do you agree with this approach?


Question 16: Do you agree with our proposed approach to communications expenditure?


Question 17: Do you believe there should be any form of payment in the event of an MP leaving Parliament, either voluntarily or otherwise?


MPs should be entitled to statutory redundancy pay along with everyone else.

Question 18: What impact do you believe our proposals might have on the diversity of representation in the House of Commons?

Many of the claims that cracking down on expenses will discourage good people from becoming MPs are overblown. No MPs or candidates of my acquaintance are in it for the money. The bad publicity surrounding MPs’ expenses will certainly have put people off, but if the system is put on a firmer – and transparently more reasonable – footing the debacle will have long term benefits.

Question 19: Are there further areas we should consider which have not been referred to in this consultation?

There will always be pressure on MPs to abuse their expenses and staff to the benefit of their party until we have a proper system of party funding paid by the taxpayer. We must always be careful to avoid the “incumbancy protection creep” we have seen with the development of the Communications Allowance. Where MPs are to be funded to communicate with their constituents it should be a basic point of principle that their main rivals are given the right and opportunity to reply.

You have until 11 February to submit your own responses. It shouldn’t take you longer than 30 minutes.

Jo Swinson and The Telegraph: complaints, complaints, complaints

Thanks a lot to everyone for all the positive feedback I’ve had about my article this morning. By happenstance, Alix Mortimer has just asked:

Fucking disgusting. Can we get them on article 1 (accuracy) of the PCC code?

The answer, at least in my view, is yes, which is why I’ve just spent the last couple of hours writing letters of complaint to the Telegraph, the Guardian and the BBC. And I would ask you to do the same.

First off, the Telegraph. You can contact them via this page (under “What does your enquiry relate to?” select “Editorial”). My letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr Lewis,

With regards to your article “Tooth flosser, eyeliner and 29p dusters for the makeover queen” (page 6 of Daily Telegraph #47,888, Thursday 21 May 2009):

First of all, I would like to remind you of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice – of which the Daily Telegraph professes to follow:


“i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

“ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.”

The aforementioned article contains a number of misleading statements. A superficial reading of the article would lead the casual reader to assume that the record of Jo Swinson MP’s expenses claims demonstrate that she had claimed for makeup and dusters. However, a more careful reading reveals the following information:

1 – that although receipts containing those items had been submitted, there is no actual evidence that these specific items had been claimed for. Indeed, this claim is explicitly denied by Jo Swinson herself and no evidence has been brought forward to give us cause to doubt this whatsoever.

2 – furthermore, that in at least one case the items which had been claimed for were clearly marked by an asterisk. In the case of the eyeliner and dusters this was not the case.

3 – the claim that Jo Swinson is “known in Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance” is entirely unsubstantiated and innuendo-laden. There is nothing remarkable about a Member of Parliament not wishing to look unkempt; indeed they would be open to criticism if they did so.

4 – the headline epithet “makeover queen” is equally unsubstantiated. No-one appears to have called Jo Swinson this apart from the article’s author, Rosa Prince, herself.

5 – the page design is clearly intended to convey the idea that Jo Swinson has had numerous “makeovers” – yet the photographs provided are merely pictures of her looking slightly different over a period of eight years.

The article, ostensibly about MPs’ expenses, is clearly intended to convey the impression that Jo Swinson has been buying makeup and charging taxpayers. Given that the article itself contains no evidence whatsover to indicate that this might be the case, the article is certainly misleading. Including a denial by Jo Swinson does not go anywhere near to correcting this as it works on the “no smoke without fire principle.” Furthermore, nowhere in the article do you state Jo Swinson’s impeccable record in calling for MPs’ expenses to be published and for the system to be reformed.

The ultimate effect of this article is to smear an MP with a strong track record of reform with the same brush as some of the worst offenders. This is a complete distortion.

I must ask you to publish a retraction of the article, making it clear that there is no evidence that Jo Swinson MP has claimed the cost of her makeup on expenses. If I do not receive a response from you within seven days I will take the matter further with the Press Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

The BBC’s contact page is slightly harder to find, but can be accessed here. I wrote them the following:

jo090520bbcI am writing with regard to your section on MPs expenses, and specifically your coverage of Jo Swinson MP’s alleged claims (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8047390.stm#swinson_jo).

I have already written to the Telegraph about this story (see below). Your article goes significantly further than the Telegraph article. The Telegraph at all times are careful not to actually claim that Jo Swinson MP claimed cosmetics on expenses, merely that cosmetics had appeared on receipts that had been submitted to the Fees Office (nonetheless, I would still contest that this is highly misleading – and almost certainly mislead you).

By contrast, the BBC article baldly asserts – without any substantiation whatsoever – “The Dumbartonshire [sic] East MP, the youngest in the Commons, put a series of small claims on expenses, including eyeliner, a £19.10 “tooth flosser” and 29p dusters.”

It is wholly unacceptable of the BBC to republish – and indeed embellish – claims made by a commercial newspaper without seeking to substantiate them first. This isn’t journalism, this is engaging in a game of Chinese whispers. I would therefore ask that you publish a retraction to this story, together with an apology to Jo Swinson.

If I do not hear from you within seven days, I will take this matter further with the BBC Trust.

Yours faithfully,

James Graham

PS As an aside, I should point out that Jo Swinson’s constituency is called East Dunbartonshire and that photograph you are illustrating this story with is of Alan Beith and Diane Maddock.

Finally, the Guardian are the easiest to contact of all. The Reader’s Editor page is here. I wrote them the following:

Dear Ms Butterworth,

I am writing with regard to your table on page 6 of the Guardian dated 23 May 2009. On this you include a section “cheapest claims – claims that Britain mocked”. The first item you list is “Jo Swinson: Cosmetics included in her receipts. Because she’s worth it.”

In doing so, the Guardian repeats a misleading slur that was published in the Telegraph on Thursday 21 May. On careful reading, the Telegraph article does not accuse Jo Swinson MP of claiming cosmetics on expenses, provides no evidence whatsoever to indicate that she had and the fact that she might have done has been explicitly denied by Jo Swinson herself (link). It is therefore a non-story and I have written to the editor of the Telegraph calling for him to retract it (see below).

I note that the Guardian has chosen its words in an equally selective manner, merely saying that the cosmetics were ‘included in her receipts’ not that they were actually claimed for. Unlike the Telegraph however, you do not even allow Jo Swinson a right to reply.

That the Guardian should choose to pilliory a female MP for the crime of purchasing cosmetics is particularly galling. I was under the impression that the Guardian regarded itself as a champion of feminist causes. It is certainly tempting to join in with the anti-politics throng at the moment, but that does not mean accepting every article published by the Telegraph is accurate or free of pursuing a regressive political agenda; it certainly does not mean you have to uncritically go along with explicit misogyny.

I am writing to request that you issue a retraction of this report and an apology to Jo Swinson. If I do not get a response within the next seven days, I will take this matter up with the Press Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

While I hope reprinting these letters here will be useful, if you complain please do so in your own words – it will be much more effective that way.

As an aside, the Telegraph appear to have completely lost the plot. Dizzy reports:

Nadine Dorries has seen the blog part of her website instantly taken down after she made allegations against the owners of the Telegraph Group, Sir David Barclay and Sir Frederick Barclay.

Lawyers acting for the Barclay brothers, Withers, instructed the takedown to Acidity via mail last night, citing the Acceptable User Policy. The takedown will be bolstered by the Godfrey vs Demon precendent, where an order can be made and it will be done instantly.

This is quite remarkable behaviour. It is one of the few things they could have done to make me feel even a twinge of sympathy for Nadine Dorries. Furthermore, this isn’t just a nasty bit of bullying by a precious publisher to a blogger, but to a high profile (some would argue over-exposed) MP. This is going to be big news tomorrow.

What an utterly stupid act of fuckwittery.

Parliament, The Telegraph and Jo Swinson

winner-best-ld-blog-postOne of the advantages of being effectively out of action for the past month is that because I haven’t been able to even attempt to cover the expenses row, blow-by-blow, I can now afford to take a somewhat wider view. It has been a fascinating couple of weeks, revealing not just how Parliament works but how the media does too.

Were the Telegraph right to publish these expenses details given the fact that they were due to be published this summer anyway? On balance, I’m afraid I think they were. To start with, I am deeply sceptical that the fees office had any intention of actually publishing in July. They’ve been buying time for literally years now and I have no doubt they would have sought even more time then. Secondly, it was clear that they were falling over themselves to be helpful to MPs with embarrassing claims they wanted to cover up. By fighting the FOI requests every step of the way, ultimately the Parliamentary authorities have made the problem worse. To that extent then, the House of Commons as collective body, deserves everything it is getting right now.

But the problem with the data being in the hands of a single newspaper is that everything we get is transmitted via its own idiosyncratic political position. And the problem with this being an example of chequebook journalism, as opposed to the investigative journalism of people like Heather Brooke, is that the paper has to make good on its investment – and that means extending the coverage and the ramping up the salaciousness of it as much as possible.

In terms of the Telegraph’s politics, it has always and always will be the Conservative Party in print. They couldn’t have got away with just publishing the Labour and Lib Dem expenses details, but it is interesting how they have portrayed the Tory ones. The types of claim broadly fit into three categories. The first, which the Labour MPs exposed tend to fit into, are about mortgages, “flipping” and capital gains. They played the system to make personal profit. The second, which the Conservative MPs exposed tend to fit into, are about moats, duck islands and country piles. Literally, they fit into a different class. The third, which the Lib Dem MPs exposed tend to fit into, are about using the system to get the odd perk, be it a trouser press, an orthopedic chair or a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs.

They category that has captured the public imagination has been the second one. Hogg’s moat has achieved iconic status within just a few days. Yet the Telegraph has conspiciously attempted to portray all three as morally equivalent at all times. It held off publishing the details of Tory MPs for as long as possible, meaning that when they were exposed, Labour had already been buffetted for the previous five days.

I happen to think the house flipping and profiteering is as bad as the showering of cash onto country estates, but the third category most certainly is not. There is no question that the Conservatives have an image problem here and the Telegraph and the Tory press have done all that they can to mitigate this. They have been falling over themselves to portray Cameron’s leadership on the issue as dynamic and forthright despite the fact that, when you look at it in detail, it turns out he isn’t particularly interested in reform at all. He insists that his richer MPs must buy themselves out of the hole they’ve dug themselves but is keen for MPs to be able to continue to profiteer via the ACA. He wants a snap general election, something which would have the effect of scapegoating a handful of MPs in marginal constituencies whilst giving the ones in safe seats renewed terms of office.

A general election now, with the Tories still insisting that (aside from a bit of fiddling), the status quo must prevail, would be a white wash. Yet this is the Telegraph line, too. Fortunately, the Telegraph can’t entirely have its own way and the debacle has revived calls for real democratic reform. It may yet turn out that they have created a monster that they can’t actually control. We can hope.

But the other side that irritates me is the salaciousness of it all. It has started to stop resembling journalism and to start looking somewhat more like expenses porn, designed to titilate rather than inform. What has developed out of this debate over the past couple of weeks is a mood that any expense claim is bad. This is deeply pernicious. Clearly an inner London MP does not need to furnish a second home, but an MP representing a constituency further afield must (this is one of the reasons why I’m sceptical of the calls to scrap the expenses system altogether and replace it with an increased salary – great if you are a single man and have no real intention of representing your constituents, hard cheese if you aren’t). Are we really going to get precious about someone having a telly in their second home? The agenda of the Telegraph has been to convince you that yes, yes you should.

And finally, there is the innuendo. This is the single worst aspect of the Telegraph coverage. Many of the stories over the past couple of weeks have been rooted in the fact that the Telegraph have been able to get away with “X submitted a receipt which included Y” – thus implying that X claimed for Y whilst knowing that if they did say that they would be open to libel. Yet the suggestion is out there and before you can blink, half a dozen other media agencies are repeating the claim as a matter of public record. A lot of the stories they have covered have turned out to reveal nothing more than minor errors in paperwork, but that hasn’t stopped them from smearing everyone with the same brush.

The print version of the Telegraph article on Jo Swinson

The single worst example of the Telegraph coverage can be found in their story about Jo Swinson this week (declaration: Jo is a friend of mine, but I don’t accept this makes a word of what I have to say any less true). The online version of this story has been sanitised by the online editors, who were presumably too ashamed to publish the print version unchanged. The print version has the headline: “Tooth flosser, eyeliner and 29p dusters for the makeover queen” and contains no less than nine seperate photographs of Jo taken at various stages over the last eight years.

There are so many dreadful aspects of this story, I don’t know where to start. Let’s start with the misogyny. What Jo is being attacked for here is for wearing makeup. The epithet “makeover queen” implies someone who has had a lot of makeovers, yet Jo has never appeared in one of those articles about MPs getting glammed up or anything like that and doesn’t do the daytime television circuit. The article states that Jo is “known in Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance” yet I can find no media story which has remarked on this before this piece. Google “Jo Swinson” and what you find are lots of stories about her campaigns against excessive packaging, winning local constituency battles such as the one to stop a new prison being named after one of her local towns and the leading role she has played in fighting for Parliament to be more accessible and transparent. Is she a slob? Hardly, but since when did not being one become worthy of criticism?

Secondly, the article is complete, unmitigated bollocks from beginning to end. Read it closely and you will find that the Telegraph isn’t stating she claimed for an eyeliner or feather dusters, merely suggesting that she might have done. There is an irony there in that if Jo had not issued them with as full a statement to act as a counter-balance, their legal team might have blocked the story on the grounds that it would have been clearly defamatory. This paragraph is particularly revealing:

At one point, she submitted a Tesco receipt for £22.67 that appeared to show that the MP or an aide went to the trouble of putting an asterisk next to three items, totalling £5.75, for which she intended to claim — a £1.75 chopping board, a “food saver” for £1.50 and a £2.50 sieve.

In other words, what she did claim for were basic cooking utensils. Nowhere in the article at any stage does it claim that a single item of makeup was claimed for – or even ‘asterisked.’ She is being criticised here, not for claiming an inappropriate item on expenses, but for allowing an inappropriate item to appear on a receipt.

jo090523guardianJo has of course rebutted all this, but that hasn’t prevented other media outlets from reporting it as fact, including the BBC (the cost of Jo’s makeup might not come out of your pocket, but the cost of repeating bullshit claims about her most certainly does – they can’t even be bothered to get her photo right) and the Guardian (in print but again, not online – funny how newpapers are afraid to put their misogynist crap on the web for all to see).

After a fortnight, this story has mutated from one about ministers playing the housing market at taxpayer expense to barefaced sexist lies being spread about one of the Commons’ champions of reform and transparency. Yes, the Telegraph have done democracy a service by breaking this story but never forget that they ultimately represent the forces of darkness.

UPDATE: I’ve written letters of complaint to the Telegraph, the BBC and the Guardian and would urge you to do the same.

URGENT – Help us to stop the plot to conceal MPs’ expenses (crosspost)

Defend the right to know about MPs' expensesI have crossposted this message from here and would urge people to do the same. More to the point, I’d urge them to carry out the action – we only have until Thursday!

Dear friend,

Today I had intended to write to you to encourage you to take part in the Convention on Modern Liberty, of which Unlock Democracy is proud to be a partner organisation. I had intended to write about what an inspiring event I hope it will be, the impressive lineup of speakers, the nationwide parallel sessions that Unlock Democracy is organising with NO2ID and its timeliness.

But events, as ever, have overtaken us.

On Thursday, the Government sneaked out the draft of the innocuous sounding “Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order.” This “statutory instrument” (not an act), if passed, will

“…change the scope of the application of the [Freedom of Information] Act in relation to information held by the House of Commons and House of Lords regarding expenditure in respect of Members of both Houses. This includes information held by either House about expenses claimed by and allowances paid to Members. Such information is no longer within the scope of the Act.”

In short, they intend to exempt the expenses of MPs and Lords from the Freedom of Information Act and thereby close them to public scrutiny. This is to be passed almost a year to the day after the Derek Conway scandal erupted, when it emerged that the MP had been paying his sons as research staff while they were at university, despite not being able to demonstrate that they had actually done any work for him. If the Government gets away with this, scandals such as this will be allowed to continue and we will not be permitted to find out about them.

It is completely outrageous that the Government should seek to do this at all, let alone in such an underhand manner. The Government is planning to put us all on a national identity database, force us to carry identity cards, keep the DNA of millions of innocent people on a database and to read all our emails, phone and internet records regardless of whether we are supposed to have done anything wrong. Their argument is always “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Why, then, is it one rule for us and another rule for politicians?

What’s more, when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, one of his first acts was to publish the Governance of Britain Green Paper which asserted that “It is right that Parliament should be covered by the [Freedom of Information] Act.”

This proposal is going to be debated in the House of Commons this Thursday – we don’t have much time. For this reason I am strongly urging you to do the following as a matter of urgency:

  • Write to your MP (use www.writetothem.com) and urge them “to sign the Early Day Motion “Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 (Jo Swinson MP)” – the text of this motion is below for your reference.
  • Phone your MP’s office (the main switchboard is 020 7219 3000) and ask to talk to him or her to ask them to oppose this proposal.
  • If you are on Facebook, join our group and invite all your friends to join – ESPECIALLY the ones not normally interested in politics.
  • Forward this article to everyone you know either by email or any social bookmarking websites you use.

Please, please do this as soon as you can. We can defeat this proposal if we put pressure on MPs this week. In 2007, a group of backbench MPs attempted to get a similar proposal passed. We beat them then and we can beat them again.

With best wishes,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy

PS Katherine Gunderson has written an excellent chapter on Freedom of Information for our book Unlocking Democracy: 20 Years of Charter 88. I would encourage you to buy a copy for yourself – and your MP!

PPS For more information about the Convention for Modern Liberty, please see the website.


Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009
Primary Sponsor: Jo Swinson (LD, East Dunbartonshire)

That this House notes with concern the provisions in the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 to exempt remove the expenses of Members of Parliament and Peers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act’; notes that this order will single out MPs and Peers in a special category as the only paid public officials who will note have to disclose full details of their expenses; notes with concern the regressive effect of this Order on Parliamentary transparency and the detrimental impact it will have on Parliament in the eyes of the public; calls on Ministers to block or repeal the Order in the interest of MPs’ and Peers’ accountability to members of the public.

Paul Flynn a victim of net censorship? Don’t make me laugh

Paul Flynn is crying foul over the Parliamentary authorities’ decision to force him to pay for his own blog. Prior to that, he had tried charging the costs to the taxpayer via the Communications Allowance.

Derek Wyatt has also joined the fray:

“They don’t get in the way of my letters or phone calls, so why do they want to interfere in what I put on the web? They only want me to publish anodyne videos that no one will watch.

“They have got it completely wrong. They don’t understand the net. They simply don’t get it. It is like 1984.”

1984? How does this in any relate to state surveillance and state-sponsored torture?

Let’s be clear about some things: not a single MP is being censored or told what they can and can’t say – the issue is whether they can use Parliamentary expenses to do it. Paul Flynn is apparently shelling out £250 for his not particularly impressively designed Typepad blog. Looking at Typepad’s pricing structure, I can’t for the life of me understand why he is paying more than $50 for the service – so what is the other £180-ish being on?

Peter Black
and Lynne Featherstone‘s blogs doesn’t cost them, or the taxpayer, a penny yet by all accounts is considerably more successful. Reason? They haven’t confused style for content. By arguing the toss over this, the only thing Flynn has achieved is to illustrate an example of the ‘sense of entitlement‘ that Sir Christopher Kelly was warning about last week.

In defence of Caroline Spelman

I don’t rate Caroline Spelman as a frontbencher. She has particularly annoyed me in the past by attacking the government for its proposals to revalue council tax (according to the Tories there is something magical about the year 1991 which means that all property taxes should based on the value of homes at that point). I question how someone who believes such nonsense can be said to be qualified to sit on the front benches of any political party. Sadly however, if you follow that logic you would have to get rid of most of all three front benches.

Regarding what will almost certainly be dubbed “nannygate” in all the Sunday papers tomorrow however, I am less inclined to criticise. I have watched both Crick’s totally unbalanced report and Spelman’s defence and am inclined to side with Spelman.

Let’s be clear; there is no doubt that her decision to employ her nanny to do some secretarial work for her after first getting elected in 1997 was in clear breach of the rules. But by all accounts it was an oversight, and one which was quickly corrected within less than a year. We are talking about what looks like a genuine mistake by a new MP, which was then corrected, and which happened over ten years ago.

Compared with, say, Margaret Beckett’s herbacious borders, this is very small fry, no matter what Crick and Guido might say. I’ve seen up close how bewildering and difficult it is for new MPs to get their offices up and running, and even to find out what they are and aren’t allowed to do. 2005 was the first year, as I understand it, that new MPs were given a formal induction. Such initiatives have always been resisted by whips who prefer to control the information their neonates receive so as to make it all the easier to keep them under control. Mistakes happen, and it is a very sorry state of affairs if we now seek to present even the slightest of cock ups by a politician as a sinister conspiracy against the public; not to mention highly delusional.

The biggest joke is Crick pointing out that the ex-nanny doesn’t mention the small bit of secretarial work she did on her Facebook profile. At around the same time I was doing temping work for the Legal Aid Board but I think Crick will struggle to find that on my Facebook profile either; that doesn’t “prove” I’m a liar for admitting I did it. I also like the comedy voice he put on when “quoting” the nanny, by way of demonstrating she must have been lying (as opposed to trying to recall a minor incident in her life ten years ago). I know what those Crick phonecalls are like having been on the receiving end of one myself; if a gobshite like me can be intimated, I’m not surprised she comes across as a little hesitant and nervous.

Of course, if it turns out that Spelman paid this woman for a longer period of time than she both she and Crick appear to agree she did, it might be a different matter. Otherwise it is a non-story and an act of scraping the very bottom of the barrel.

Now a piece on James Gray on the other hand…

Derek Conway: shades of Gray?

Pity those poor Conservatives who seem to be suffering from family breakdown at the moment. I can’t help but think that James Gray, Andrew Pelling and now Nigel Waterson would not be facing the problems they’ve been having if only the government offered all married couples a £20 a week tax bribe.

But I digress. Now that Ditherer Dave has done the decent thing and had Conway put out of his misery, the question must hangs in the air: why not James Gray? Gray, you may recall, dumped his wife while she was recovering from cancer and subsequently found himself in a selection battle. What I had forgotten until being reminded over lunch is that he too was caught out paying his estranged wife from his expenses months after she had ceased working for him.

The compassion Sir Philip Mawer feels for him in his letter (pdf) is admirable. I wonder though if anyone caught out by, for example, the tax credit system has ever received such sympathetic treatment. Fundamentally, he ended the marriage and he fiddled the system. Since Ditherer Dave has taken a hard line on Conway, why is Gray still a Conservative MP?

Comical Tommy’s War against Information

Via Iain Dale, I come across Tom Watson‘s spirited defence of his decision to back the Freedom from Information (none of your fucking business) Bill. Apparently, the Tories Made Him Do It. But, for a bit more detail, here is his argument point-by-point (I’d comment on his blog, but he banned me years ago):

1. If the speaker had not guaranteed that MP’s expenses will continue to be published, I would not have supported the Bill. I repeat – you will still be able to see the expense tables like you have been able to for the last three years.

This is a mischevious half-truth. The fact is there are currently numerous appeals to the Information Commissioner calling for MPs to disclose more detailed information. The Commons’ expenses disclosure isn’t even close to the Scottish Parliament where literally every single invoice is available to view online.

Note that he says “you will still be able to see the expense tables like you have been able to for the last three years” – in other words the detailed information about travel expenses published earlier this year as a result of a case brought forward by Norman Baker would be the first to go.

2. Despite people saying that there is protection under the Data Protection Act, public sector bodies are still revealing the private correspondence between them and MPs regarding constituents.

If it is illegal now and yet people are doing it, it follows that it will still happen if this new Bill is passed. How does passing another law stop people who are already breaking the law? The issue is enforcement – yet the government forces the Information Commissioner to get along with a shoestring budget.

3. This Bill was put forward by the former Tory Chief Whip. Don’t be fooled by the disingenous comments and synthetic outrage of Iain Dale and his chums. Incidentally, he seemed to know how many MPs from each party had voted on the Bill yesterday afternoon – before they are made available in Hansard. He can only have got this information from a source in one of the Whips offices (I’m certain the parliamentary clerks would not help him). This suggests to me that he is part of a Tory spin operation – understandable but funadamentally dishonest in regard to this piece of legislation.

This is worth looking at because it is simply hilarious. Like Iain Dale, I was following the debate on Hansard, which now has less than a three hour time lag. I certainly agree with Tom that the Tories were equally complicit, but I don’t extend that criticism to individuals like Richard Shepherd, John Redwood and, yes, Iain Dale, any more than I do Labour rebels like David Winnick. For Watson to try to blame the Tories for this Bill when Labour has a majority and three times as many of them voted for the Bill as Tories is just eye watering, Comical Tommy stuff.

4. Finally – If Menzies Campbell thought so strongly about this Bill, why wasn’t he there to speak and vote against it?

Because like most MPs he usually has constituency work on Fridays. We can’t all lounge around in Westminster ready to serve as government lickspittles at a moment’s notice.

If I wanted to sum up everything that I truly find deplorable about the Labour Party, it is Tom Watson. A dirty tricks campaigner par excellence, a House of Lords abolitionist (and simultaneously supporter of the status quo), anti-electoral reform, pro-compulsory voting, bemoans the civil liberty implications of RFID tags while voting enthusiastically for ID cards, die-hard Blairite loyalist right up until he can detect the wind has changed whereupon he attempts to orchestrate a coup for newfound best friend Gordon Brown, friends of even bigger moron Sion Simon… what it all adds up to is a nasty little man who is just a little bit too much in love with totalitarianism.

Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, join the Protect Freedom of Information Facebook Group.

Credible Politicians

I was on Five Live’s Julian Worricker programme briefly on Sunday, making my nomination for most credible politician as part of their Political Awards (the piece was on at around 12pm, so about 2 hours in if you want a listen).

My nomination was for David Howarth. I have to admit, I struggled with this category (cynicism can be quite disabling at times), but I nominated David because of his work in exposing the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Specifically, I interpreted ‘credible’ to mean a good Parliamentarian.

It was a shame therefore that much of the discussion on the programme was concerned with linking ‘credibility’ with the idea of being a good constituency MP, i.e. doing casework, listening and representing constituent’s concerns. The rise of the community-focussed MP has gone hand in hand with the diminution of local politics. As local government has been centralised and sidelined, so MPs have adopted the role of super-caseworker at the expense, it seems to me, of actively taking an interest in the work of Parliament itself. This has been helped by the anti-politics prejudices of the media, which has a confused notion of wanting to see MPs being both the proxies of the communities they represent while at the same time berating them for being mindless automatons.

The problem is, no individual can ever represent the diverse range of views to be found in even the smallest of rural constituency. Yes, I doubt that even the Western Isles has a Fascist Hive Mind – and the fact that it’s a hotly contested two-way marginal would tend to support that view. So, representing the community’s view is simply an impossibility. What we have instead is, at best, an MP that works to represent the views of a vocal minority.

And yes, I do accept that the Lib Dems share a large amount of responsibility for this sort of corruption of parliamentary politics. I don’t blame ‘community politics’ a concept which, at least in the Greaves and Lishman sense, I strongly support. I do however blame the way this idea has become the abiding strategy of the party and has influenced a new generation of politicians, particularly people like Grant Shapps. The key problem is, what is a perfectly laudable aim of involving people more in decisions that affect them has, via our political system, become a zero-sum race to the lowest common denominator.

There are two policy outcomes we ought to consider about this. The first is, but of course!, proportional representation (specifically STV in multi-member constituencies). No-one would advocate creating a system which abolished constituencies altogether. Indeed, my own preference would be for just 2 or 3 member constituencies in the Commons. Even just having 2 member constituencies would have a massive impact in terms of bringing an interest in political principle back into the Commons.

The second, more controversially, would be a massive curtailment of how much MP’s can spend on carrying out their constituency work. This has grown massively in recent years, yet all it does is replicate (undermine even) local government and the customer relations side of public services. Worst, it has created incumbency protection into our system, giving MPs a platform which they can use to help their re-election campaigns.

I’m a supporter of state funding of political parties (or at least incentive based mechanisms such as matched funding), and I’ve noticed that many of the critics of such proposals are in fact broadly supportive of existing funding mechanisms; nopublicfunding describes the existing financial relationship as “sensible and necessary“. The more I’ve debated with such people, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that the status quo does indeed need rethinking. Apart from anything else, it would stop the hypocrisy of politicians setting up Chinese walls between their constituency and partisan work.