I must give up reading the Telegraph. I must deny myself the Schandenfreude. It also means ridding myself of the guilt feelings that I should not be reading other peoples’ shopping lists and laundry bills. Reading the fine details of minute MPs expenses is bordering on the prurient.
They are also getting dafter. Tory Tim Yeo is headlined because of a cheap laptop that happens to be pink. So what? Tory Robert Walters is denounced for a low voting record. His explanation that he is ‘busy on European Committees’ is airily dismissed. He is doing the prestigious job of President of the Western European Union! Another Tory is denounced for buying food for his interns including chocolate valued at 54p. So what? All these claims are fair and legitimate. How much longer can the Telegraph dredge the trivia trough?
The paper is down to the dregs in attempting to nail Dennis Skinner for claiming for tax advice. Still not a word about whether any Tory is doing the same thing. Dennis has the lowest claim almost every year. But following their belief that all Labour MPs are crooks they highlight changes to his flat that were necessary after his triple by-pass operation. Dennis did not even claim the full amounts for those. This is shoddy stuff.
As an example of distorted news values, the media today devotes four times the space to Frank Cook’s fiver claim than they give to the two soldiers who died in vain in Afghanistan. If the claim is true, Frank’s attempt to recoup a church offertory donation of £5 is manically mean or certifiably stupid. It stretches credibility beyond breaking point to believe that this was a serious request.
The giant lacuna in the Telegraph’s revelations is the lack of an assessment of David Cameron’s mortgage claims. Yes they have mentioned his £700 wisteria claim, but no analysis of how millionaire Cameron has fixed his mortgage to get the maximum amount out of his additional cost allowance. The exposure of the Tory Leader has come from the most unexpected source.
The Mail on Sunday rightly dragged the Tory leader personally into the expenses row. He paid off a loan on his London home shortly after taking out a £350,000 taxpayer-funded mortgage on his constituency house. He nominated it as his ‘second home’. The cost is significant because it allowed him to claim around the maximum of £20,000 in interest only over the past five years. As a non-millionaire my claims in the past two years have been £16,000 and £10,000.
David Cameron claims that using all his £20,000 for interest payments is perfectly reasonable and the intended use of the second-home allowance. No it’s not. The allowance is designed to allow MPs a London dwelling to provide access to parliament. The costs are meant to be spread over mortgage interest, council tax, utilities and living expenses. They are not intended to be used to buy a millionaire’s pad in an MPs constituency. Already parliament has outlawed this fiddle by limiting the amount that can be spent on interest.
Mr Cameron failed to tell his Witney town hall meeting that he had paid off his London loan shortly after he had secured it. He said, ‘From 2001 to 2007, the only thing I really claimed for in respect of my second home was the interest on a mortgage – not the repayments, but the interest.’ Who is he trying to fool? No one has ever been paid for repayments. That is expressly forbidden.
On a previous post I mentioned the rising wrath of non-millionaire Tory MPs. Outer London ones have already lost £37,000 of their income as one complained to me. Now they believe his in-your-face televison daily rant is punishing his own side. They fear he is using the scandal as an excuse to clear out traditionalists who stand in the way of his modernizing project, while largely protecting members of his inner circle. Peter Viggers, Anthony Steen and Douglas Hogg have all been slipped the black spot by Cameron as ‘bed-blockers’. When will he desert Michael Gove, Francis Maude, Chris Grayling and Alan Duncan?
Cameron wants to make burnt offerings of other MPs. A bit more honesty on his own claim might help quell the mutinous anger of his backbenchers terrified that his boomerang rhetoric might destroy them.
Action not words, Cameron.