Friday, May 8, 2009

Phil Woolas in expenses allegation about women's clothing

(Updated at 11.09am)

The Telegraph today alleges that Phil Woolas claimed for a ladies blouse, tampons and nappies on his MPs expenses. However, Phil Woolas has denied such claims. The Guardian reports:

Woolas said that the Telegraph had made a mistake in the allegations it had put to him. He said that the paper wrongly assumed that receipts submitted by him were his expenses claim. In fact he regularly submitted full receipts - until asked not to do to by the fees office - and then claimed for far less.
The paper put to Woolas that he had claimed for clothes on behalf of his wife, plus children's nappies and comics. They were on receipts submitted, but not claimed on, by the minister. "I am a victim of too much honesty in putting in the full receipts," he said. Woolas did claim for a kettle in 2006.

In that case one wonders how many of the Telegraph's "revelations" fall under that category.

The Telegraph moves on to ministers outside the cabinet today, with expenses revelation about Woolas, Ben Bradshaw, Barbara Follett, Phil Hope etc.

I saw some bloggers yesterday mentioning that they had bought the Torygraph for the first time yesterday to read its 97 page coverage of Expensegate. I read most of it on the internet but then had the luck to have to visit a dear relative who is slightly to the right of Genghis Khan and gets the said organ everyday. So I was able to read through the whole thing without soiling myself by paying for it. What I found very amusing (and there are further examples of this in today's Telegraph) are the letters showing the indignation of some MPs when their claims are questioned. The Telegraph reported, very tellingly:

A review of the work of the fees office, carried out in 2007, discovered that many MPs were unhappy with the fact that their claims were ever queried at all, suggesting that many members saw their allowances as a perk to which they were entitled, rather than a repayment of costs incurred.

As examples, we had Andy Burnham telling the office (jokingly it looks like) that his wife would divorce him if his expenses weren't paid. When Barbara Follett was told her claims for more than £25,000 for private security outside her London home might appear "excessive" she said she felt unsafe after being mugged in Soho (obviously the mugger must have known she was an MP, if she was justifying the security on the grounds that she needed it as part of being an MP and Tourism Minister).

One former Labour minister said in a letter to the office: "I object to your decision not to reimburse me for the cost of purchasing a baby's cot for use in my London home...perhaps you might write to me explaining where my son should sleep next time he visits me in London?"

A Tory MP attempting to claim £5,347 for a new kitchen wrote: "The work surfaces are no longer hygenic and the sink unit, which is an old brown plastic double bowl, is scratched and very ugly."

A Labour MP wrote: "I appreciate you are under severe pressure...but as I explained on the phone, I am away for two weeks and I don't want to leave my family destitute".

If I was to point to a model of decorum and appropriate behaviour in this scenario it would be Sir Menzies Campbell. He doesn't have an owned or mortgaged "second home", he rents a flat for use in London. So his expenses are related specifically to the costs of the flat which is needed to perform his MP's duties and he doesn't make any profit out of the situation. Well done Ming!

I have heard suggestions of MPs "dormitories" in London rejected out of hand. But Ming says that specific MPs flats are the answer and that this solution is used in Australia. Indeed, he mentions that the Commons authorities could have snapped up County Hall for the purpose a few years ago.

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