NO NAMES, no clues, but I know the mole who found out how Derek Conway diverted hundreds of pounds of public money to his wife and sons.
My friend managed to wangle a few weeks work in the House of Commons’ secretive Fees’ Office. She was convinced that a prominent and strikingly repellent MP was on the take. To her disappointment, he wasn’t, and she decided to look at other MPs instead. She began at “A” and moved down the list of MPs’ alphabetically. Conway’s embezzlement leapt out at her, and she tipped off the press. She carried on scrutinising, but before she could reach the end of the “Cs,” her time in the Fees’ Office was up.
As I listened to her, I realised that if Derek Conway had been called Eric Donway, the story of his lavish corruption would never have broken. And what, I wondered, of all the MPs with surnames from “D” on? Are they engaged in what we can politely call “Spanish practices”?
Well, we know Nicholas and Ann Winterton received £165,000 in Commons expenses for their second home in Westminster even though they had paid off their mortgage. We know that Labour’s Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper used neat footwork to get the public to pay £44,000 a year towards the cost of their mortgage on a second home in Stoke Newington. We also know that when faced with a clamour for reform, Michael Martin, the dreadful Speaker, has filled the committee to examine the proper response a growing scandal with dubious characters. There’s David Maclean, who led the campaign against MPs being scrutinised, Stuart Bell, the Labour MP, whose son Malcolm was jailed for a theft he committed while daddy employed him as a Commons researcher, along with three others on the receiving end of the very accusations of sleaze they are meant to stop.
Above all we know that outside Westminster such behaviour isn’t tolerated for a moment. If a company sends employees to work in another part of Britain or abroad, it will pay for a rented flat or hotel room. It would fire them if it found they had used other people’s money to buy a house and pocket the profit.
Outside Westminster, lots of people are stressed, but they can’t say “my marriage is breaking up, employ partner at once”. Nor can they submit expenses without receipts or expect accusations of fraud to be examined by a packed and morally compromised audit committee.
For better and for worse modern Britain is an open country. We value transparency and accountability above all else and are filled with suspicion when they are absent. Parliament must live up to the same standards everyone must abide by or it will become a despised irrelevance
EVERY liberal I know is dividing between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. I can persuade them to think better of John McCain only by pointing out that he is the one presidential candidate to have come close to decking Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
The marvellous moment is recorded in Dr Brendan Simms’ definitive Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia. To recap , John Major’s government did everything it could to prevent the international community stopping the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia’s Muslims. When Senators Bob Dole and John McCain tried to urge action against Milosevic, Rifkind, then the Defence Secretary, dismissed them as ignorant cowboys.
“You Americans know nothing about the horrors of war,” he cried at Dole, who had, as it happens, been savagely wounded by a Nazi shell in World War II. Meanwhile McCain, who had, as it happens, been tortured for five years in a communist PoW camp, was so enraged by Rifkind’s accusations that a “member of his staff feared he was about to hit him”.
Repeat this story and I promise that even lefties will mutter “respect”.
A MILE up the road from me, the people who were forced to live next to the new Emirates Stadium are furious. After putting up with match days, they now await be deafened by Bruce Springsteen concerts.
Never mind, they said, at least we voted for Councillor Kate Dawson from the Greens. It seemed like a pointless gesture– you’re not going to save the planet from the Town Hall – but this is her chance to earn her keep by saving us from this noise pollution.
I’m sure she would have done if she wasn’t one of The Boss’s biggest fans, and hadn’t already snapped up a ticket for the show.
THE HOME Secretary was wrong to be scared to walk the streets of Hackney at night, trumpeted Diane Abbot, the local MP. To prove it she brought a politicians and journalists for an evening stroll through the borough. She didn’t take them to “murder mile” in Clapton or even the grim estates east of Mare Street, but Stoke Newington.
Eh? Stoke Newington is Hackney’s Hampstead. It’s where intellectuals, academics and artists driven from their traditional haunts by high house prices buy and gentrify. The only clear-and-present danger in is that a minor poet with a collection of haikus on the ghastliness of George W. Bush will stop you in the street and bore you to death.