Saturday, 23 May 2009

Nadine - misjudged comments, from the wrong person

The story has shifted a little in the past 48 hours, led by Nadine Dorries whose public remarks resulted first in a reprimand from David Cameron and, overnight, to action by Withers on behalf of the Telegraph in respect of allegations made by her.

I will admit to liking Nadine Dorries, and I have every sympathy with her on a personal level. However - irrespective of whether there is any truth in what she says, she is saying it badly. She is also the wrong person to say it. Long on self-justification, short on humility. For Nadine, discretion would definitely be the better part of valour.

Her initial blogpost refuting the allegations on the evening they were to be published was garbled. Even to those like Cassius who would want to see the best of her, it raised more questions than it answered, and left the distinct impression that she didn't have a main home (and therefore could hardly be paying additional costs) - or (in the alternative) if she did have a main home it was somehow special and secret.

Nadine has now turned to attacking the way the Telegraph have handled the story. She should ask herself how else could they have done it? They have so far published about 200 cases. If they included them in one single edition, the highet profile would have suffered disproportionately and many lesser but important offenders would have escaped attention. The Telegraph is not an unpaid auditor for the fees office, which has itself been sitting on the information and could have published it. Every MP is privy to their own claims (they, after all, submitted them) - and each is free to publish their own in order and pre-empt the "unfair treatment" which she is complaining of. It's not as if there is a shortage of spinners and media managers at Westminster.

But worse still she is pushing the "allowance" line - which I have written about here before. She thinks she is being clever by pointing to the fact that divorce courts have taken the allowance into account (I think she might be wrong, of which more later), but ignores the perfectly obvious point that allowances are not taxed. This is the definitive measure of whether expenses are "out of pocket" or not, and these most definitely are. The rules are clear.

Whether MP's are paid enough or not is neither here nor there. What matters is that those elected to positions of public trust have used and abused a system, and gained at the public expense. I don't care if the fees office told them to do it, or the whips, or whoever else - the Electorate are entitled to expect better.

Our MP's are the lawmakers. We elect them to do what is right on our behalf, and in doing so we place them in a position of trust. They have breached that trust, collectively and (in hundreds of cases) individually. The only solution now is that they publish their claims immediately, and come back to the country in a General Election to ask us to trust them again. Many of them might be pleasantly surprised.

Nadine Dorries, like Gordon Brown, appears to believe that the people are in some way unqualified to be the arbiters of all this, and that the cleansing should be subject to some rules or process. This betrays a total misunderstanding of the role of an elected politician. An MP is not an employee, but a trustee - holding power upon a trust settled by every individual Elector in his constituency, qualified or not, rich or poor, academic or illiterate, Tory, Labour or noshow. The Voters right to choose the people in whom they trust is absolute and unassailable. Not only should they be allowed to decide, unhindered by investigation and spin from Westminster, but they are the only people who can decide.

Nadine should accept that sometimes it is better to say nothing, and turn to face her constituents. It is their personal support, and not her public protestations, which will determine her future.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Gordons greed could make Labour the third party

Carrying a torch and a pitchfork appears to have become the new qualification for entry to the Question Time audience - and last night the show was mysteriously brought forward to 9pm - perhaps, Cassius wondered, some of the audience had police curfews obliging them to be home? Or perhaps it was the MP's on the panel. So difficult to tell nowadays.

The most telling thing about the debate, apart from the obvious disgust with anybody representing the Government (in this case the hapless Ben Bradshaw) was the clamour from the audience to call an election now. More telling still was the fact that Vince Cable was forthright in his support for this - repeating time and time again that an election must be held now, and that this Parliament has lost the moral authority to Govern. For what it's worth I think apart from Bradshaw toeing the bunker line the panel was unanmimous on this point.

We have Her Majesty's Loyal opposition, together with the third party and certainly the majority of the british people calling for an election NOW. Yesterday the country suffered material economic damage as S&P placed it on credit-watch negative - explictly referring to political uncertainty and stating that a General Election would be needed before the decision could be meaningfully reviewed. It doesn't matter what you think of ratings agencies, the downgrade and the delay are making the economic slump worse.

So why is Gordon Brown blocking an election which even 30% of his own voters want today? Because he feels a moral obligation to clean up and leave a better system for his successors? No such obligation bothered him when he tried to block expense publication in January. Because he feels that the miscreants in Parliament would be better punished if a year was allowed to go by and Parliament had been subject to scrutiny of more Quangos, more commissions? These are barefaced political lies. That he dares to utter them is proof enough, as if it were needed, of the moral bankruptcy of this administration.

Brown's justification for blocking an election is the same one which has allowed so many members of his cabinet and his party to profit personally at the expense of the taxpayer. To do so is "within the rules". A Politician with an ounce of sense of right or wrong would admit, as Vince Cable did last night, that moral authority was lost - but not our Gordon. This parody of a statesman can and will hang on to the office he never earned, so long as his jumped up ministers and unemployable lobby-fodder can continue sucking on the public teat for a year to come.

Gordon Brown and Labour are in power to the detriment of the country - not because they have a mandate, not because they are the best for the job - but because they, personally, want to be, and because they CAN. And, like his lies over the election that never was, this is something the public will not easily forget. If - as well may happen - a divided and discredited Labour become the third party behind the Liberal Democracts in a future Parliament, those charged with salvaging it will be able to look back at this week as the period which sealed their fate.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

UK placed on negative credit watch, look to election

Standard & Poors have placed the UK economy on Credit Watch negative.
This means that, if things continue as they are, we are likely to lose our Sovereign AAA rating.
They confirm the problem is compounded by "historically high" debt levels.

They state: "the parties intentions will likely remain unclear until the next administration is formed after the general election, due by mid-2010",

that we will lose the rating:

"if we conclude that, following the election, the next government's fiscal consolidation plans are unlikely to put the U.K. debt burden on a secure downward trajectory" but that "Conversely, the outlook could be revised back to stable if comprehensive measures are implemented to place the public finances on a sustainable footing"

The Worlds markets are adding their voice to the voice of the majority of the British people. If our credit rating drops, interest rates will be forced up and a recovery may be well nigh impossible. Only by cutting public debt, and setting out clear plans immediately can we convince the markets that we are fit for their trust.

Gordon Brown is not just abusing the trust of the Electorate, he is abusing the trust of the World's markets at our expense.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Nick Brown lets election date slip, BREAKING

Guido and Tory Bear have the scoop... Nick Brown (Gordon Brown's closest confidant and chief whip) has decided to use Twitter. He's not very good at it and he has just let slip that the new speaker will have "only a few weeks" to settle in before the election is called...

He must have fat fingers. Perhaps it is the £18,000 worth of food that he has consumed at our expense?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

It’s not the club, Gordon, it’s the Gentlemen

When oh when will Gordon Brown understand the problem before claiming he has solved it?

He has just given a particularly tortuous news conference in which he repeatedly claimed credit for "solving" the problems with the system which according to him have led to the devastating collapse in confidence in our democracy. Full of spin and bluster, of course – and (perplexingly) constant references to Gentlemen's clubs. He repeated that Labour MP's who had broken the rules would be cast out into the darkness. He has, he tells us, been thinking about expenses for a long time and had hoped to make reforms "before any revelations were published". Telling phrase, that.

When asked about the behaviour of his cabinet – in particular Hazel Blears – he said her behaviour was "totally unacceptable". So what is she still doing sitting in Government, Mr Brown? And what about Jackboots Smith and the other Ministers who have gamed the system and played the rules for their own benefit? Are they to continue in Government with him? At least Cameron has the decency to recognise that behaviour can be wrong even while falling "within the rules"

But the fatal error in Brown's thinking is to believe that the public care two hoots about the system. When the receptionist steals the petty cash, we don't expect her to stay on to fix the lock on the petty cash box. It is the honesty of the users of the system which the country wish to deal at the ballot box, rapidly and effectively. The Prime Minister told us two things today – first that, provided they have not actually broken the ridiculous rules, Labour Ministers and MP's will be allowed to continue drawing salaries and occupying positions of trust, and second – that once again his personal judgement is to be preferred over that of the Electorate.

He knows what's best for us, he's Gordon Brown. Trust him.

A simple challenge for political bloggers

The Electorate are angry. The individual MP's they have elected have in many cases acted dishonestly, and in many more cases acted greedily. Whilst the system may have significant shortcomings - it is the users of the system who are to blame in the first instance.

The obvious answer to restoring trust in Parliament is to elect a new one, now. No matter how much that hurts our party leaders and their followers on all sides. Punishment by the electorate will be all the more effective for being immediate.

Listen to any phone-in and you will see that to many of the public this is so so obvious it barely requires discussion. For a party leader to deny the people their democratic right to sanction those they have placed in a position of trust seems, to me, sinister. A delay - even of a few weeks - implies that they "they know better", that the honesty of politicians takes second place to political ambition. To greed and shamelessness, they are adding unforgivabale arrogance.

So why - when the political blogosphere is finally gaining traction - do we not hear a universal call to go at once to the country? Is the blogosphere really the voice of the people, or is it the voice of a few political wannabe's who - like the politicians they write about - think themslves a better judge of what is good for the electorate than the people themselves. Is the will of the public relevant to these commentators only when it fits their party lines, or are they truly democractic.

So far - with a few notable exceptions - we have seen few blogs take up the campaign for an immediate election. They need not have waited for Cameron, but having done so, his intervention is no excuse for them to keep their counsel.

Bloggers - should Parliament be dissolved, immediately? And - if not - in God's name why?

A Question of Honour

And now we see the dreadful reality of it, from top to tail. A discredited Speaker turns to the Clerks for help, even as he desperately clings to the chair. He has been a straw man for Labour so long that he barely recalls the nuances of Parliamentary procedure – if he ever understood them. And why should he? The traditions of the place are ancient, evolved over centuries to ensure a level playing field – to allow men of honour, elected by the people, to hold the Government to account.

Where are these men of honour now? Not on the Government benches, that much is certain. Our Ministers are appointed by a Prime Minister whose similarities to speaker Martin go far beyond the shared roots of Scottish Labour. Unelected, the Prime Minister treats the electorate with contempt. He is a laughing stock, domestically and internationally. He talks unceasingly of his moral compass, of his childhood – and yet he has no shame. If this son of the manse retains anything from his upbringing it is hard to see it. Over 50,000 of the electorate are calling openly for his resignation and what are we told? "Complaints" – he says– "Will be dealt with in the usual fashion". This is not honour. This is Yeats "brazen throat", who:

"Were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours eyes"

Little wonder, with a shameless Prime Minister, that so many of those continuing today in Government with Brown - writing the laws which we are to live by - have been caught with their metaphorical hands in the till, helping themselves to public money by misrepresentation or even fraud. Little wonder, perhaps, that such behaviour has been widespread across a Parliament which has lost its way in the face of an overbearing executive.

For the point which is clear to everybody except the Parliamentarians themselves is this – the expenses scandal is not about the system, not about the second homes allowance or the fees office that pays it – nor yet about the level of MP's salaries. These are topics for another time. The public are angry and disappointed by the dishonesty of our Parliamentarians as individuals. We expect parties to organise along political lines – that is what "party interest" is about – but when push comes to shove we expect our MP's to put the public interest before their own, and to face the consequences when they fall short. If we do not have honour in Parliament, we have nothing. It is an empty place, devoid of authority, and – for as long as it continues – it brings shame and dishonour upon the country it exists to serve.

Sir Patrick Cormack referred yesterday to the Norway debate, and the parallels are striking. In 1940 the discredited Chamberlain – like Brown – tried to turn his own mistakes into a justification for clinging on to power. Having allowed the country to face a grave military emergency unprepared, he told them that this was "no time for a change". Relying upon his "friends in the house", in the Norway debate, he found that he had fewer than he thought. Parliament acted with honour, and Chamberlain was shown the door. If such honour existed in Parliament today, the Cabinet would already be half empty, and we would not have been treated to the unedifying spectacle we saw yesterday afternoon.

And in this – so far as it goes – Cameron is showing honesty where the other leaders dare not follow. By backing the popular wish for an immediate General Election, he is ensuring that all MP's (and many of his own will hate this) face their Electors with their sins fresh in the popular mind. He will lose some of his own friends in Parliament, but unlike Brown, Martin or Clegg he is publicly recognising that we need to address the individual honour of Parliamentarians, before we proceed to fix their bookkeeping system. He is willing to hand back power to the people when it really counts. It may, on balance, serve him politically to do so, but it is no less a service to democracy for all that.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Ten letters that will cost some careers

The Malik case, and this afternoon Nadine Dorries spirited and forthright publication of her own correspondance from the Telegraph, highlight the central issue which MP's on all sides seem to have forgotten in their quest to take public money from the fees office.

The Additional Costs Allowance begins with the word A-d-d-i-t-i-o-n-a-l. That is, the overriding intention is to cover costs which an MP incurs over and above the costs that he or she would have to bear if they were not an MP. Those costs must be wholly, exclusively and neccesarily incurred in the course of being an MP, and they must not be extravagant. Easy enough to understand, which is why the voters get it but the MP's still don't.

Our MP's are pretending to have read the detail and not the introduction. If you do not have a "main home" as that phrase is normally understood then it follows that you are unlikley to be incurring additional costs at a "second home". Likewise, if you choose to pitch a tent on St Stephens Green, rent a room from your Sister (Jackboots), share a dodgy subsidised rental with a constituency worker (Malik), occupy your wifes "second" home (MacKay) then you dont even get to base one for putting in a claim for costs on your additional premises. The fees office should not even have been troubled. The costs you incurred are the normal costs of living, and attempting to charge them to the taxpayer under ACA is a misrepresentation.

The Green book says that the location of the main home will normally be a simple matter of fact. Indeed it will. But it is not normal for a middle aged professional Cabinet Minister with a husband and a family to occupy a single room in her Sister's house. Such an arrangement is cheaper than the cost of a normal main home and, if made electively, can have only one purpose - to increase the net amount received from the Taxpayer. Likewise it is not normal for a man of Maliks undoubted talent and standing to live in a house rented for £100 a week (as alleged by the Telegraph) - never mind the the obvious concern that the discount might amount to a secret profit at the expense of the taxpayer who is paying the same Landlord for office accomodation.

However many times you hear it, the rules do not need to be changed to sort this out. The rules are already quite clear, and half of the culprits are Lawyers anyway. Additional Costs are what they say they are - and, incidentally, they fit perfectly with normal practice of out-of-pocket expenses which is to reimburse the Employee but never to put him in a better position than he would otherwise have been. That is why they are not taxable, and our MP's are very well aware of this.

ACA received by someone who is not, somewhere, already incurring the reasonable and normal costs of a main home is money which was wrongly claimed, wrongly received, and must be answered for.

It always was, and what's more they knew it.


Fisking Shahid Malik

Malik is a serving Minister of the Crown, what’s more he is a Justice Minister. Accused by the Telegraph of playing the system by designating as his “main home” a constituency house obtained at a discount from the a Landlord who receives public money for Malik’s office, he insists that he has done nothing wrong.

'I don't think this is a big story and I'm shocked that it makes the front pages. I have done nothing wrong.'

Good, but let’s just check shall we? I note that you are giving part of the cost of a Home Cinema to good causes, but not repaying it?

'If I thought it was incorrect for me to claim I would have given it back to the authorities. I will not be giving it to the authorities in Parliament because it is mine.'

Actually, more than £1000 of it was paid by the Taxpayer. Did that represent value for money, as required by the rules, and was it extravagant or luxurious (as proscribed by the rules). You might want to include your “massage chair” in your answer. Apparently you have a

“back problem”.

A “Giving it back” problem?

'I didn't make the rules,' he said.

No, and you didn't read them either – at least not the overriding principles (wholly, exclusively, necessarily, value for taxpayer, above reproach).

'I don't decide which my second home is, Parliament decides.

No it doesn't, Mr Malik - you nominate it. Your main home is the one where you incur the same normal expenses as any other Citizen. That's why they call it the Additional costs allowance. The clue is in the name.

I am as straight as they come

That’s what worries me…


We need “Clean Hands”

Dizzy reports that the Question Time anger continued in the text messages received on the show. Over 5000, apparently, more than double the usual number. There is no political solution – even getting rid of Martin is little more than a sop. If our Politicians really don’t want the BNP getting more votes because of their light fingers, why don’t they do the decent thing and go to the Country?

Bloggers and the blogosphere have been making a difference in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly they have caught the mood of the country better than either MP’s or the traditional press - perhaps now is the time for all of us to come together on one simple principal – that a General Election is held without delay, allowing voters to examine their candidates and choose whether to return them. We have had the Porcine Parliament, now – it’s the time for the “Clean Hands Election”.

Why Beckett & Co will never regain trust

To the observer, last night’s BBC Question Time was truly shocking. Facing question after question on expenses, Margaret Beckett, Theresa May and Menzies Campbell were repeatedly forced to defend the honour of MP’s. Individually and collectively, they failed. Beckett in particular was continuously booed and heckled by an audience who – it appeared – now hold her and her ilk in contempt.

The reason for this is clear. Despite seven days of revelations, and varying levels of political response, the politicians still do not understand the essence of the frustration of their electors; that an expense regime is only ever as honest as the people who claim from it. When abuse is uncovered, you hold the users to account rather than the system. Beckett keeps talking about the system itself – like an alcoholic promising to lock away the booze if only another chance is given, but such a measure does not rebuild trust – if anything, by abrogating individual responsibility, it ensures that trust can never be regained.

At one point Beckett was asked whether she thought that an immediate election was the answer:

Ms Beckett said no, because the Government wanted to get on with dealing with "the important issues facing this country. We'll see what happens, but we've got to deal with this mess, to steer the country out of its economic problems, which are much more serious than anything we've talked about tonight."

Ms Beckett, here is the news. Nothing, but nothing, is more serious than basic trust between the electors and the individuals they elect. You and your over-weaning and arrogant colleagues have - since 1997 - allowed this trust to break down just as you allowed the relationship between the Executive and Parliament itself to break down – a schism made flesh in the person of Speaker Martin – a man whose concept of public duty, if it ever existed, was apparently shredded like so many receipts.

You, and the Government you represent may “want” to get on with any number of things – but you no longer have the peoples consent to do so – and neither does the wider body of Parliament. If you believe that you do, you are lying to yourselves as well as the Country. You may want all you like, but read these words again – you no longer Govern with the consent of the electorate – as sure as any third world dictator relying upon the army and the police against the will of the majority, you remain in office only because the “rules” say you can, and because you wish to.

This has gone beyond a matter of politics. It is, in a real sense, a constitutional crisis. The Electorate are not interested in your plans for changing the rules, they have called time on you. They will not take lectures from you and your kind on what is important for the country – they already know what is important – that you and every single one of your colleagues pack up your London homes – whoever paid for them - and return to your constituencies to face the judgement of those who sent you there upon trust. Only then can democracy begin to be rebuilt.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

- -- Valentines Day Massacre moved to Friday? - -

The Telegraph has been promising us for a couple of days now what might be the worst relevations yet - claims of pairs of MP's who are couples (whether married or not, it seems). Clearly the potential for scandal is high. Rumours abound of injunctions sought and lost - but today's announcemnet that Andrew MacKay has resigned (he is one half of a Parliamentary couple) could be an indicator that the story we have all waited for is about to break at last.

Two Browns and a Morley - the real questions

The Morely revelations are cut and dried. No reasonable person upon seeing the story, and indeed hearing the reaction from Morely (first he has paid it, then he hasn't but he will) would be in any doubt that this was a matter for firing, and certainly that it merits investigation by the Police.

So there is a lot of explaining to do this morning. We are told that the Prime Minister is "very concerned" now that the story has broken, and will meet Nick Brown before he meets with Morely this morning. The first question he should ask Nick Brown is why action has not already been taken, given that the Chief Whip himself has known for a week. Unless of course, as is likely, the PM already knows the answer to this. Perhaps the Speaker was not the only one hoping that the threat of a Police investigation might stop the Telegraph in it's tracks.

The Conservative allegations have been shocking and offensive, but so far there has been none sufficiently clear cut for a party leader to fire on the spot and call in the Police. As angry as Cameron is, summarily withdrawing the whip (ie.. whilst there is a plausible explanation that the rules were met) would be counter-productive. There is no suggestion that the Morely case meets this test. His plea that it was "a mistake", even if true, is offered as a defence to fraud and therefore can only be considered by the Police, the CPS, and the Courts. The Labour party have no more right to delay this process now than they have had to keep it under wraps for a week or more. The real question is why the two Browns did not deal with this immediately.

Update: Cassius has a dim recollection of meeting Morley once, long ago. He was addressing an assembled crowd "How nice, " he said (or words to that effect) "to be standing here drinking wine and eating cheese amongst all these bales of hay". It was straw, of course, not hay which would explain why Nu Labour sent him to agriculture.

Update 2 (11:50am): It seems that Cameron has found a sufficiently clear allegation, and has fired Andrew MacKay - against whom nothing has yet been published. Although Guido reports that the police are discussing Morley, the BBC have said this morning that Brown still needs "more facts". Why should Gordon have to wait for the police before taking action?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Carswell Motion is the first step towards rebuilding trust

Cassius has never been a fan of Speaker Martin. No Lenthall he – in November the man charged with defending Parliament against the Government threw open the doors and let in the enemy – and now, instead of rooting out those who have abused the electorate's trust he invites the same Police to find and arrest the whistleblower.

The Honour of Parliament is at stake, and like the greedy MP’s themselves, Martin seems to have read every sentence of the rulebook without a thought for the spirit of the Office he occupies. The Honour and magic of Parliament – enshrined in the role of the Speaker - may be difficult to define, but the obligations are real. The traditions may seem theatrical and quaint, but their purpose is serious . The Speaker must guide and be guided by Parliamentary Honour, and to do this he must neccesarily posess it. Being a "working class lad from Glasgow"is no excuse. Betty Boothroyd, once a dance hall performer, had an instinctive sense for the role, Dennis Skinner has it in spades. But Martin? He has none of it – like Macbeth - the original Scottish parvenu - his dress now seems to “hang loose about him, like a Giant's robes upon a dwarfish thief”. He has no sense of the body politic, he is in it for his political friends, and for himself.

At any other time this would be serious, but now – with a lame duck Prime Minister in charge of a failing Government, at a time of national economic emergency, and confronted by a catastrophic collapse in the relationship between the People and it’s Parliament it is vital that Douglas Carswell’s motion gets the support it deserves.

Speaker Martin has overseen the callous attempts to hide wrongdoing from the public and he continues to do so. Every MP should know that, whilst apologies are welcome, actions must follow – and a vote for the motion is the practical means by which honest MPs can demonstrate that their words are spoken in earnest, that they are prepared to drag this jaded politico from the Chair and replace him with a Speaker committed to cleaning up the mess. Doing so is the first step to rebuilding trust in Parliament - the first opportunity for MP’s to re-affirm their duty to constituents - to voters of all parties who, despite the kick in the teeth, might yet come out to support them at the General Election.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Woolas gaffe betrays the chippy Labour entitlement culture

When I lived in a corrupt African country one of our ongoing battles was to explain to staff that the 24 days of "sick pay" available were a maximum, a contractual cap upon compensation and not an automatic holiday entitlement. To take a "sick day" when you are well is dishonest, and you would be sanctioned for it. To the newly globalised employees of what was previously a (British) civil service culture this was a shock. No matter how much we emphasised it, explained it, gave generous holidays and pay, sent doctors out to care for those reporting sick - a hard core never really got the hang of it. To them, the limit on sick pay (which appears in almost every UK employment contract) was an allowance - a form of entitlement which they could either "use or lose" in each employment year. Needless to say, they were the worst employees in a more general sense and they didn't last long.

I thought I had left his behind until I heard Phil Woolas on Radio Four this morning offering this explanation of why the (apparently misguided) public are so angry:

We have an allowance system that some people see as an expense system

My blood is boiling. Mr Woolas that is exactly what you do not have. You have an expense system which covers expenses wholly, neccesarily and exclusively incurred in the course of performing your parliamentary duties up to a maximum allowance of £24K per year, or whatever the relevant figure is. You do not understand the rules of the system you have been abusing. If you havent incurred the expense under the rules, you do not even begin to submit a claim. The "allowance" is a maximum, not an aspiration.

It is not independent auditors (at further expense to the taxpayers) that we require to sort out the system - it is a basic standard of honesty and integrity amongst each person who submits a claim. It isn't rocket science, and it occurs every day in every company up and down the land. They don't announce to shareholders that they are going to employ a whole new set of auditors to keep the employees honest - they just employ honest people. And fire those who are found to behave otherwise.

But I guess if a Cabinet minister does not even understand the rules within which he claims he is acting then the problem goes much deeper than expenses. At least Mr Woolas had the decency to apologise for what he had done:

- "I am sorry if I have caused embarassing headlines".

He said. What a dissapointing day.

Friday, 8 May 2009

For Jack Straw, the meaning of Dilapidations

This is the written excuse provided by Jack Straw when requesting that the taxpayer buy him new central heating.

gas fires, a gas heater (in one bedroom) which no longer works and has to be replaced, a storage heater, and a number of electric radiators....... I would like to replace the whole lot with a proper central heating system.

“On looking at the Green Book it would seem that both replacements come well within the category of 'making good dilapidations’. But before getting quotations I would be glad to know that this expenditure would be within the ACA [Additional Costs Allowance].”

The Green book mentions dilapidations five times, and it does so in the context of ensuring that only repairs are paid for and that improvements are not funded by the taxpayer. There is nothing in the Green book to define dilapidations, so we are left with the definition used by Lawyers every day of the week in every town in the country - that a dilapidation is an expense paid to make good items which have been damaged during the tenancy to a state of "good repair" .. anything beyond that is "betterment". Indeed, the Green book to which he refers says as much - it specifically excludes "The capital cost of repairs which go beyond
making good dilapidations and enhance the property"

Jack straw is a Barrister. He should be well aware of what dilapidations are, and what is betterment. The Green book to which he refers in his claim takes him no further. The intent is clear, and the claim (whether the fees office agreed to pay it or not) is not within the rules. To describe it, and the other conduct, as "made in good faith" shows him to be either a very poor Lawyer or an outright liar.

Lets begin with Mr Straw

From 2004 to 2008 (when, after learning that expenses were to be made public, he corrected the position) Jack Straw submitted written claims stating that he had paid between £807 and £943 a year in Council Tax. In reality he had not paid these sums at all. He had paid half the sum he later claimed, having received a 50% discount from the Council.

“I am sorry about this,” he [later] wrote. “I am afraid that the reality of life over the last few years is that I’ve often had to complete the claims in marginal time and without recourse to all the records.”

You know what Mr Straw? We are all busy, and usually we just fail to claim on expenses at all rather than making up the figures and taking the money. The reason we do this is that our employer would rightly have us fired and/or prosecuted for conduct such as yours. If you couldn't be bothered to look up the Council Tax bill you received, or the bank statement on which the true payment appeared then where exactly did you look up the figure (we note that the fictional figure changed each year, you didn't want to miss an increase!) . You ask us to believe that you ignored at least eight documents which you had in your posession, in favour of some other source? and that this was an honest mistake? Negligent, incompetent, careless, greedy, arrogant and cavalier might begin to address it - but an "honest mistake"?

"Its kind of normal thing that may happen not just to MPs. I have acted in complete good faith, and I have a certainly acted within the rules," he said.

Here is the news, Mr Straw. This is not the kind of thing which happens to normal people, and you did not act within the rules. The rules pre-suppose that your claim is an honest one, and that you have taken reasonable care to make it so. Normal people get fired or go to prison for making false claims (which, by definition, have been accepted as "within the rules" by their company cashiers, the equivalent of the fees office). In the Public sector benefit cheats are prosecuted over claims which were accepted at face value and, in the first instance, paid. They don't get away with saying that they were busy and that as a result though it would be OK to lie about their circumstances.

This line from the Government is a disingenous cover up, they will have to do better.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A letter to Charles Clarke

Dear Mr Clarke

It will not surprise you to learn that I am no supporter of your politics; so why am I writing to beg to put your name forward, by whatever means possible, to lead the Labour party?

Is it because I believe that a contest would trigger an immediate election? No. As much as I would like to replace the bunker brigade with an elected Government, I am not sure that an election would automatically follow. With luck we will find out, but that is not the reason for my request and it shouldn’t figure in your thinking either.

Is it because I believe you would make a better leader than Gordon Brown? On a political level I don’t. I detest your policies and I would cheerfully see you thrown out of office for one tenth of what you did in your time as Minister. Gordon Brown is the finest political asset the conservative party could have, and keeping him increases the chance of a massive majority for Cameron. But political advantage is not the reason for my request, and nor should it be a factor in your decision.

I am writing because I think you (and others like you) have a more important public role, a duty which transcends politics. I am writing because I believe that – by challenging - you can rally the more honourable members of the Parliamentary Labour party into an effective opposition before electoral disaster overtakes them. Some of those in marginal seats may even be able to retain them.

And most of all I am writing to you because this week’s events demonstrate that there is honour on the Labour benches and, to me, that provides a shred of hope for the future of British Politics.

Parliamentary democracy requires effective opposition. It is the safety valve which prevents power overreaching itself. At it's best it is the elected conscience of the Government of the day. Without it, members of the Executive become intoxicated – believing more and more in their own propaganda until, like the Emperor in the nursery rhyme, they are ultimately the sole remaining subscribers to their own deceits. That is what we see today in Downing St. and history may yet trace it back to the disastrous state of the Tory party in the years following 1997.

Gordon Brown and his people do not, cannot, understand the contempt in which they are held by the public at large. They rail at the criticism directed at them on the internet as if it were unrepresentative or unfair. At the extreme, they allude to some invisible right wing hand as if control were the pre-requisite of free speech. As sure as day follows night, each carefully planned fight-back fails - from the grotesque parody of independence that was LabourList to the ridiculous YouTube broadcast on expenses. And with each failure, we see and sense the familiar attempts to spin, to take credit, to salami slice and to evade responsibility.

In the face of defeats on the Ghurkhas and Expenses we are met not by humility but by self-justification and even now by the delusional Liam Byrne attempting to spin defeat as a “victory for firm government”. How stupid does he think we are? The corrosion of trust is such that, even if by some miracle the economy recovers quickly, the electorate will not thank this Government for it.

To Gordon Brown, truth is whatever he can get people to believe for the time being. The “right thing” is anything which justifies his decisions – and apologies are for those who get caught, rather than those who screw up. This is no basis for Government, and every single Labour MP knows that the electorate will tell him so as soon as they get the chance.

The true question is whether we will have the benefit of an effective opposition following the election, or a train wreck on the scale of the Tories in 1997. The behaviour of this Government in its final years of office has been bad enough. To hide below the parapet for personal and political reasons, whilst those in the bunker proceed towards their inevitable destiny would write a final chapter in the history of New Labour which it’s more honourable supporters do not deserve.

Senior figures such as yourself have an opportunity to prevent that, to put aside the selfish calculations of support and counter-support, and to hoist a banner around which honourable MP’s can rally. Together with them, you can demonstrate - faster and more certainly than expense reform ever could - that it is Public interest and not self-advancement that forms the hearbeat of the Labour movement.

Please do not shirk this chance.