Claiming Memorial Wreaths
First up, we have two Tory MPs—James Gray, Chairman of the All Party Group for the Army and the man who left his wife (who was being treated for breast cancer) for his researcher, and David Munell, Shadow Scottish Secretary (fulfilling the Scottish stereotype)—who claimed back memorial wreaths on expenses.
TOP Tory MP James Gray is exposed today as a greedy skinflint after claiming for Remembrance Day WREATHS on expenses.
Astonishingly when this perk was finally stopped he had the nerve to COMPLAIN to the Leader of the House.
But Gray wasn't going to let that stop him bleating. He then declared it was UNFAIR that the Prime Minister's office paid for wreaths laid by the Premier at London's Cenotaph when he, now a humble backbencher, had to pay for his. The row in 2004 led to an outright ban on MPs' poppy wreath claims.
Last night—as another top Tory, Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell, admitted claiming for a Remembrance wreath—Gray, 54, was unapologetic. But he said: "I now do four Remembrance Sunday wreaths for which I pay £30 each.
Needless to say, this is appalling and, just to rub salt in the wound, the News of the Screws contrasts their claims with...
... SELFLESS hero soldier Major Phil Packer-who lost the use of both legs in a Basra rocket attack- completed the London Marathon on crutches after a gruelling 14 days to benefit Help for Heroes.
Oh dear, oh dear...
Lord Rennard's second home: not within the rules
Next up is LibDim CEO, Lord Rennard, whose second home is... well... not his second home.
LIB DEM campaign guru Lord Chris Rennard has pocketed £41,000 expenses on a holiday home—against House of Lords rules.
For peers to claim for second homes, their main residence has to be outside London. But we can reveal that he spends almost all his time in a house just TWO MILES from Westminster.
Lord Rennard—said to earn £90,000 a year as his party’s Chief Executive—claimed the £41,678 cash over six years from 2001/02.
House of Lords rules state peers can only claim overnight subsistence allowance—their version of the MPs’ second home allowance— if they live most of the time outside Greater London.
But Lord Rennard’s neighbours in Eastbourne, Sussex, say he seldom visits the £230,000 flat he acquired in 2007 after selling a pad in Wokingham, Berks.
One said: "We only see him a few times a year. We call him the Holiday Home Man."
A former advisor to the Lib Dems revealed: "His colleagues know he lives in Vauxhall — and has to, to do his job."
This is most definitely not "within the rules" and is a case of outright fraud. Full stop.
It appears that Guido might have more on the noble Lord Rennard too...
Guido will be returning to Lord Rennard in the near future. His troughing dishonesty doesn’t end with this, nor does his personal morality bear much scrutiny.
I shall look forward to that.
Baroness Thornton: also a second home trougher
Baroness Thornton is a minister in the Labour Whips' office, and has been making ludicrous claims about where she lives.
A GOVERNMENT minister is claiming up to £22,000 a year in expenses by saying that her mother’s modest bungalow in Yorkshire is her main home.
Baroness Thornton, a Labour minister in the whips’ office, has lived and worked in London for more than 30 years and has a £1m family house near Hampstead Heath.
However, Thornton has claimed about £130,000 since 2002 by designating her mother’s current bungalow and, before 2005, her mother’s previous home as her main residence.
Let me just make this very clear: this is not "within the rules" either. The rules are pretty fucking lax, but designating your primary residence to be somewhere where you do not actually reside is, quite obviously, not playing "within the rules". It is, therefore, straightforward fraud—no two ways about it.
Hazel Blears: conning the taxman
Hazel Blears "flipped" her main home and then lied to the taxman about it when she came to sell her second home.
Cabinet minister Hazel Blears says she understands why people "hate" MPs' expenses amid questions over the sale of a London flat.
She told the Commons it was her second home - on which she claimed expenses.
But when she sold it she did not pay 40% capital gains tax due on properties not classified as a "main residence".
Blears apparently made a £45,000 profit on that sale, thus defrauding the Inland Revenue of some £18,000. Any ordinary person would be in severe trouble—and possibly imprisoned—for fraud on this scale. Strangely, for a man who claims that businesses who use legitimate tax avoidance are defrauding the Treasury, Richard Murphy doesn't seem to be too bothered about MPs doing the same thing (well, he has published nothing on it, so I can only assume that he isn't bothered).
Let me stress that much of the outrage over these claims is because MPs—who make the laws—force the general public to obey one set of rules whilst specifically exempting themselves from those same rules.
As I have pointed out innumerable times, the rest of us are not allowed to buy a second home on expenses—because that would be, not an expense incurred in doing one's job, but a perk—a benefit in kind. And businesses and individuals have to pay tax on benefits in kind (because they were seen as a way to conceal true salary payments from the taxman): MPs, by contrast, have a specific exemption, from the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) from paying tax on benefits in kind.
It is, literally, one rule for our lords and masters and quite another for the proles. This is absolutely wrong, on so many levels.
Tony Blair's property portfolio
Questions are now being asked about the property portfolio of the High Priest of spin and sleaze, Chuckles, himself.
The documents show that Mr Blair remortgaged his constituency home for £296,000, almost 10 times what he paid for it, months before he bought his town house in London for £3.65 million. Mr Blair was able to claim on his parliamentary expenses for the interest repayments on almost a third of the new mortgage on his constituency home.
The amount loaned was sufficient to cover the deposit on his house in Connaught Square, west London, one of five properties owned by the former prime minister, valued at £10 million in total.
Apparently, many other MPs have done the same thing—why am I not surprised?
Yet more sleaze and corruption
There are just so many stories about the now that I can't possibly cover them all in detail, but the list below (shamelessly pinched from Guido (who has more detail)) gives a flavour of the extensive troughing indulged in, at our expense, by these bastards.
- Taxman probes second-home profits to see whether MPs have side-stepped capital gains
- Kitty Ussher claimed £20,000 for ‘bad taste’ Artex ceilings
- Sinn Fein MPs claim £310,000 expenses for rent on flats in properties all owned by one Irish landlord
- Stephen Byers claimed £125,000 for flat his partner owned
- Kevin Brennan had £450 TV delivered to family home
- MPs’ Expenses: ToTony Blair’s £296,000 mortgage on constituency home he bought for £30,000
- John Reid sent a bill for £199 pouffe and £29.99 glitter loo seat
- John Gummer claimed £36,000 for gardening and mole-hunting at his estate
- The Speaker’s scapegoat: Official who signed off MPs’ expenses didn’t even have accountancy qualification
- Millionaire Tory Greg Barker made £320,000 profit on flat funded by taxpayer
- Keith Vaz claimed £75,500 for a Westminster flat while family home is 12 miles from Commons
- ‘I’m just too honest’ says Phil Woolas who ‘claimed’ for women’s clothes
- Commons boss who called in police has four homes in three countries, including grace and favour mansion
- Millionairess Barbara Follett had own private police force (paid for by £25,000 of your money)
- Solicitor General Vera Baird claimed for Christmas trees
- Uniformed chauffeurs to football club for Michael Martin
- Care services minister claims £37,000 on furnishing tiny four-room flat
- ‘Police probe’ Minister Tony McNulty still defiant
I just don't see how these people can survive: keep your ear out for calls for a General Election—probably from the Tories, who will be hoping to defuse the situation before too many of their own sleaze scandals hit the headlines.
Plugging the leak. Temporarily
On one of my last posts, Dr Crippen calls on me to suggest how I would mend the system. That isn't something that I can do here—in what is, effectively, an addendum to a post—but I shall try to answer his basic questions.
Assuming, however, you are going to keep [the legislature], if you accept the Libertarian position (perhaps you don't) it seems you ARE going to continue to pay MPs and you ARE going to continue to let them have expenses. So now you must answer some questions:
- How many MPs?
- What, if anything, would you pay them?
- What system would you have to decide if and when MPs got pay rises?
- Would you give them ANY expenses at all? If not, fine, but explain how the representative for Berwick on Tweed would meet the needs of constituency as well as fulfilling his Parliamentary duties.
Given that I am not going to totally overhaul the system in this post—it is a complicated issue, deserving its own post—the simple answer is that, at present, I would keep the same number of MPs.
I would also keep their salaries the same. Their salaries would rise in line with inflation: that is all. If they wished to measure inflation by the CPI in order to make themselves look good, then it will rise with that: if they wish to use the RPI (which includes rents and mortgages and is, therefore, a rather more accurate measure), then they can use that. But is must be consistent. (At present, for instance, the government uses CPI when boasting about its inflation targets, whilst measuring the increase in student loan interest using RPI.)
Finally, the expenses issue. This, as I have repeatedly said, is not a difficult issue. the only things that can be claimed are expenses incurred in doing the job: they cannot claim benefits in kind.
Let me give you an example of the difference, from a real world perspective, i.e. as it operates in my workplace: if I drive to a client meeting, then I can claim 40p per mile in expenses—but I cannot claim expenses when I drive to work. The drive to the client is an expense incurred in the course of doing my job, that I would not otherwise have to pay. The drive to work is one that I always have to make, in order to get to my work, and is thus a benefit in kind. Do you see?
Now, it could be said that an MP's place of work is Westminster: as such, travelling from a London home to Parliament is not an expense and they cannot claim it (and MPs' exemption from tax on benefits in kind must be rescinded). However, in the course of their work, they need to go to meetings with constituents—that is a cost incurred in the course of their work and is therefore a legitimate expense.
However, as in my job, they will be expected to find the most cost-effective way of travelling (no automatic first class tickets, for instance), and this will be verified (they will need to supply several quotes at the time of claiming the expense, and these quotes will be verified by the fees office).
There should be no second homes allowance: the Fees Office will accept only private rental statements and only up to a certain level, e.g. £250 per week in London. (Yes, we could build a Hall of Residence, but that is more of a long-term fix.) They will have to verify that neither they nor a family member owns the flat which they are renting.
Yes, MPs do need researchers so that they can do their job properly. Again, these MPs will need to provide proof that they are gaining value for money from said researchers, and researchers may not be a member of their family.
These measures alone—whilst only a start, and a sketchy one at that—would stop a considerable amount of abuse.
UPDATE: just to ram home the point here...
Under HMRC rules, expenses are taxed unless they are “wholly, exclusively and necessarily” incurred in the course of employment. MPs voted themselves a special tax break in the Income Tax Act 2003, which means they are exempt.
Do you see?