Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Scots can escape Westminster’s expenses mire; wish I could

Once again we have a Westminster Scandal.

The culture secretary, 50, is under fire after she was forced to apologise to the House of Commons for over-claiming mortgage costs in relations to her second home parliamentary allowance before 2009.
BBC News Website 6 April 2014: Profile: Maria Miller

(From my hearing of the apology she appear to be apologising not for over-claiming, but for obstructing the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards investigation).

This stinks (from so many directions) and I wish I could disassociate myself from this rotten wretched Westminster system. Could this be the final tipping point for Scots considering how to vote in the independence referendum?

It stinks because of what she has done – whether it is illegal, immoral or merely “pushing it” and because of the attitudes revealed.

What she has done

The row originally erupted in December 2012 after the Daily Telegraph reported that Mrs Miller had claimed £90,718 in expenses towards mortgage payments on a house in south London that the MP shared with her parents.

A parliamentary commissioner, who conducted the initial investigation, ruled she should repay £45,800 but this was cut to £5,800 by the House of Commons Committee on Standards.
BBC News Website 5 April 2014: Maria Miller row: Cameron faces questions, Labour says

I don’t object to MPs sharing a house with their parents (after all those spare bedrooms have to be occupied), I do however object to funding it (particularly when the MP concerned will walk away with the capital gains).

The rules at the time explicitly stated that MPs were not allowed to claim “living costs for anyone other than yourself”. However, Mrs Miller’s elderly parents both lived at the London address.

Mrs Hudson concluded this was a breach of the rules and that Mrs Miller “could not expect the public purse to contribute to the living costs of her parents”.
Daily Telegraph 5 April 2014: Maria Miller expenses report: rights and wrongs of minister’s claims

The choice of “second home” is however interesting. The London (Wimbledon) home was occupied by Ms Miller prior to her being elected MP for Basingstoke (in London’s commuter belt) in 2005. She then rented a second home in the constituency (usually a good idea to be able to claim to live in your constituency).

Mrs Miller claimed that her rented home in Basingstoke was her main address and that she spent two-thirds of her time there.

At the time, the rules stated someone’s main home should be the address where an MP “spent more nights than any other”.

Mrs Hudson [The Commissioner], however, did not believe the culture secretary. She said that Mrs Miller’s utility bills “did not support the idea” that the Wimbledon address was “unused for 19 weeks of the year”.
Daily Telegraph 5 April 2014: ibid

The amount claimed is also controversial:

In a “strict” interpretation of the rules, Mrs Hudson found that Mrs Miller was only entitled to claim interest on the £215,000 mortgage she originally brought the property with.

However, Mrs Miller’s claims were significantly higher because she re-mortgaged the property to more than twice its purchase price. Mrs Hudson said that she was wrong to do so and should repay £44,000.
Daily Telegraph 5 April 2014: ibid

Now if you re-mortgage a property you usually free up capital – which either goes into extending the property, into savings and investments or into funding one’s lifestyle. It does rather look as if we having been paying for this.

So it does seem (looking charitably) as if the rules have been used to maximise our contribution to Ms Miller’s household bills. I can understand that an opposition MP might complain to the Commissioner.

The Attitudes Revealed

Ms Miller is then accused of not cooperating with the Commissioner. The House of Commons Committee on Standards (a committee where all the voting members are MPs and which “oversees” the Commissioner’s work) remarked.

If the Commissioner had been able swiftly to establish the facts relating to Mrs Miller’s mortgages, and had been able to gather the documentation which would have allowed her (and has allowed us) to judge the relationship between the changes in bank base rate and the interest charged to Mrs Miller, this might have been a relatively minor matter.
BBC News Website 3 April 2014: Maria Miller apologises for handling of expenses inquiry

It would seem this was what the Cabinet minister apologised for. The Committee on Standards:

cleared Mrs Miller of making false expenses claims, but said her submission of “incomplete” evidence to the inquiry had breached the MPs’ code of conduct.
BBC News Website 6 April 2014: Profile: Maria Miller

They ruled that she:

should apologise to MPs “for her attitude to the commissioner’s inquiries”.
BBC News Website 6 April 2014: Maria Miller row: Cameron faces questions, Labour says

The MPs then seem to many outsiders to “have let her off”

They agreed with Mrs Miller that she should repay £5,800, rather than £45,000, describing Mrs Hudson’s interpretation of the rules as too “strict”.

They also said that Mrs Miller’s decision to claim against her London property rather than her Basingstoke address was “reasonable”.
Daily Telegraph 5 April 2014: ibid

The Daily Telegraph seems to be practised at making themselves unpopular with MPs. However, this time of course they were taking on the Minister who is responsible for seeing through the Leveson recommendations. And it looks as if the Government decide to bite back.

When The Telegraph first raised the case Joanna Hindley, Mrs Miller’s special adviser, said she wanted to “flag up” the culture secretary’s role in the future of press regulation.

Tony Gallagher, the former Editor of The Daily Telegraph, said that David Cameron’s communications director had also invoked Lord Justice Leveson’s public inquiry into press standards.
Daily Telegraph 5 April 2014: ibid

It would also appear that a similar “threatening attitude” was taken towards the Commissioner. The BBC Reports:

Mrs Miller told the commissioner investigating her that she might go over her head to ask MPs to intervene.
BBC News Website 6 April 2014: Maria Miller expenses: Rows ‘eating away at credibility’

Perhaps she should give up responsibility for Press Regulation – might it be handed to the Business Secretary?

Late News: Lord Tebbit is calling for Ms Miller’s resignation.

Mrs Miller has not just re-ignited the flames but, by the arrogance of her response to the scandal, poured petrol on the fire. …

Iain Duncan Smith … has the spectre of Mrs Miller flaunting her twisting and bending of the rules for personal gain on a vastly greater scale [than benefit cheats and scroungers] – and allegedly allowing her staff to threaten unpleasant consequences for those who had caught her out. …

Prime Minister will be damned if he now fires her and damned if he doesn’t.

And Mr Farage, the man outside the Westminster set, must be laughing his way towards the Euro elections in a month’s time.

The best way out of this is for Mrs Miller to resign.
Daily Telegraph Blogs: Norman Tebbit 6 April 2014: The arrogant and greedy Maria Miller should do the decent thing and resign

Shock Horror – I actually agree with the old bruiser! With friends like him, who needs enemies?

So What?

Well it appears that:

  1. MPs will try to make the most from taxpayer-funded expenses systems
  2. MPs will club together to protect their own (with a few honourable exceptions)
  3. The Government will do foolish things like threatening the Daily Torygraph
  4. The Press will then try to claim that they should be given a “Leveson-free run”
  5. The system is proving near un-reformable
  6. That is another reason for the Scots to vote “Good Riddance” – If I lived a few miles further North I could join them.

 

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7 thoughts on “Scots can escape Westminster’s expenses mire; wish I could

  1. Peter on said:

    Leaving all this corruption aside, I doubt very much that the Scots will vote for independence. Their politicians may claim that Scotland pays it’s way more than England does, a claim made with very little tangible evidence. However Scotland is able to offer free university education and provide free prescriptions, without having to miss out on anything that England enjoys that Scotland doesn’t.

    That is telling me, and probably many Scots, that they are onto a good thing, that would be foolish to give up on. Also if an independent Scotland manages to remain in the EU, then (unless some dodgy behind the scenes dealing is done) they will have to offer free university education to England in the same manner that other ‘foreign’ countries in the EU enjoy. While the appeal of free education in Scotland may not be appealing to the majority of Europeans due to language and travel, this would not be the case with English students, who would flock over the border in droves to take advantage. The Scottish university system would be swamped.

    I doubt that this is something that Salmond is making a big issue of though.

    • This is part of the frustration of the “Independence Debate” – at least from South of the border – we don’t really “see” the debate that will affect all of us.

      Will people vote with their wallets or with their hearts?

      Salmond’s prospectus strikes me as highly speculative and possibly misleading – it has given rise to a lot of “wallet” debate.

      I do wonder though whether the heart may rule with many deciding that accepting a slightly lowered standard of living is worth while to be shot of “England” – by which I suspect they mean “Westminster/London” and shenanigans such as this.

      • Peter on said:

        I do agree that any Scottish antipathy toward England is probably really against London/Westminster. In that I agree with them; it seems to be common ground with much of the northern part of England, and probably most of Wales, with the exception of Cardiff which Westminster appears to treat very well..

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