Friday 3 April 2009

Blogs take expenses initiative

Guido is having a whip around to pay for the computer disks which hold scans of MPs expense-claim receipts.

He’s characteristically critical that papers have yet to buy them and print them.

Guido Writes: The Sun (as well as The Times) has been offered the disks, but are worried about handling “stolen” goods.

Sources at the Mail on Sunday and News of the World say that have not been offered the scans and would in any case have to consider legal obstacles.

Meanwhile in a comment Scary Biscuits makes the point: Are you sure these disks actually exist? Why haven’t they been offered to MoS or the the Screws?

Why are Murdoch journos, famous for reproducing government spin, saying they have been offered them? Why is a story of a mole hunt replacing the real story of corruptions by MPs?

I certainly wouldn’t put it past the spin machine to have engineered the mole story – at the beginning it really did feel like a distraction.

Either way the receipts are going to be released for free to everyone in a few months anyway.

Anyone looking to buy them up beforehand, and if I had the money to pay for them I would, is involved in a traditional hack fight for the exclusive and nothing more.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Global recovery plan on unprecedented scale...

…but no fiscal stimulus of course.

What we have is a promise to make over a trillion dollars "available" to the world economy if nations can meet criteria of the G20 deal.

There'll be an extra $500bn in funding available to the IMF, plus an increase to $250bn of the money available to developing countries, and $250bn set aside for trade assistance.

A lot of what happens next will depend on whether countries play ball instead of being protectionist.

Alistair Darling was just asked in the House how he can be optimistic protectionism won't happen now, when trade talks failed even in the good times.

His answer was that one's only real option is to be optimistic.

Bloggers miss start of G20, maybe they overslept?

Tom Watson is blogging from the "bloggers' tent" at the G20 today:

"There’s only one problem. I can’t see any fellow bloggers. In fact, there must be 1000 seats and network feeds in this room and so far only 50 seats are occupied."

Lobbydog is there in spirit Tom.

I'm stuck in Westminster, but I may walk over and have a look at the protests later. Loudspeaker at the ready.

UPDATE: Good blog post from PB.

MPs check expenses receipts

MPs have been sent a letter notifying them to start checking receipts which have now been scanned into the House of Commons computer system.

The Commons authority has been beavering away since last year scanning all receipts that MPs have claimed on their allowances, in preparation for their eventual publication.

Members now have the chance to log-on to the system to make sure everything is there and to request that any details are removed.

I’m assured they can’t simply ‘black-out’ parts of receipts willy-nilly. If they want something removed they have to fill out a form and the request is considered by the authority.

I can’t wait to get my hands on them this Autumn.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Michelle Obama and Sam Cam bond

Samantha Cameron has given Michelle Obama a bracelet designed by Lara Bonhinc.

The designer – who is very "in" I'm told – used to call herself Lara Boeing 747. These trendy types eh?

However, she had to revert to her real name after being threatened by the real Boeing.

Her creations include a choker with braille writing on it, so it can't be read by blind people, and silver earphones that you can't hear anything through – in other words, pretty but not much use.

Still, Sam has at least found something in common with Michelle – the First Lady also gave her a bracelet as a present.

They're trying to kick off!

A few feisty protestors are trying to start fights with police at the G20 marches.

Things have been thrown and there are stories of bloody protestors walking around.

It would be odd if there weren't a few clashes to be honest, but the general feeling is not a scary one.

Nonetheless it's probably going to get worse tonight and tomorrow.

Haven’t seen any ‘BANK BOSSES ARE CRIMINALS’ banners yet.

Obama and Brown

Brown will be pleased with the press conference that ended ten minutes ago.

Obama backed him on pretty much all his key messages – global problem/solution, fiscal stimulus etc.

In fact, he came up with the sound-bite Brown has been looking for on public spending: “Don’t short change the future because of fear in the present.”

The leaders’ show of unity means Cameron, who’s also meeting Obama, will concede the publicity battle today.

Marked was the ease at which Obama switched from the serious business of state to small talk.

He mentioned talking to Brown’s kids about dinosaurs in between discussions about Iraq and Afghanistan as if he was chatting in someone’s kitchen.

Brown’s attempt a little later, a comment about exercise and treadmills, was at least not as flat as the “tennis” embarrassment in the White House.

Obama injured in Downing Street

News that a paramedic had to treat President Obama in Downing Street is trickling out this morning.

Mr Obama needed attention after he "fell out of bed" spraining his wrist.

Those close to Gordon Brown had feared the incident may disrupt well laid plans for a photo-shoot of the two leaders shaking hands later today.

But when asked by the paramedic whether he could move his hand Mr Obama replied "yes I can". April fools.

Tuesday 31 March 2009

Last night's argy-bargy

I’d been clinging on to the hope that the ruckus behind the Speaker's chair last night was a Labour MP versus a Tory MP.

Maybe even Pickles himself versus an equal heavyweight like John Prescott, or some sort of novelty fight involving Hazel Blears.

But reports this morning confirm rumours last night that at least one hack was involved, most unfortunate.

You can hear the jaw-jaw around the press gallery this morning.

Millionaire MP claims as much as he can for second home

Shaun Woodward, said to be the only Labour MP with a butler, is probably not someone feeling the affect of the credit crunch just yet.

Being married to Camilla Davan Sainsbury, daughter of the former Conservative MP Tim Sainsbury of the wealthy supermarket Sainsbury family, he’s not short of a bob or two.

Yet the MP still saw fit to claim the absolute maximum for his second home – £23,083 – on his Parliamentary allowances.

Woodward is a Labour MP disliked by the left who perceive him as a career politician, and disliked by the Tories because he defected from them in 2001 to join the party in Government.

But who needs support from a political party when you have that much money.

Monday 30 March 2009

Pepper spray used in row outside Commons chamber

Rumour has it that three "guests" in Parliament just got into an almighty row and started fighting.

The incident occurred just behind the Speaker's chair and one man ended up being pepper sprayed by a police officer – at least one was arrested.

It took place after a drinks reception – Eric Pickles was having one, though I’m not sure it was connected.

Bloody hell!

UPDATE 10.40pm: Sky have just confirmed the incident, it was a spin off from the Eric Pickles event. Wish I'd gone instead of working on expenses now.

Further update: Word has it that two men and a woman were involved, sounds like it may've been a "domestic". You'll have to wait till morning for the rest.

One witness I spoke to seemed pretty shocked.

Pay rise, expenses and the G20

Now we learn that MPs are to get a pay rise of 2.3% from April this year.

The news-story will be rolled into one with the MPs’ allowances figures, released later today a little earlier than expected.

It means the worst of the inevitable criticism over the pay rise and allowances will be over in a day or two – cleared away by G20 coverage.

And all this on a day when Jacqui Smith would’ve been praying for something to take focus off her.

Expenses on their way

Although it'll be confirmed today, it's looking like all MPs expenses will be published on Thursday afternoon.

Publication has been delayed for a long time due to wrangles over FOI requests.

We won't get all the individual receipts yet, but we'll get a decent idea of what was claimed in 2007/08.

The more cynical among you will note that the next day Parliament closes for Easter Recess.

That means by the time hacks have worked out who spent what on what, most MPs will have left London and be that little bit harder to reach. How convenient.

UPDATE: So much for that rumour - they're coming out in an hour. It's going to be a late night.

Wheeler won't appeal

Stuart Wheeler has said he's not going to appeal his expulsion from the Conservatives.

He once gave the party £5m, but his move toward UKIP highlights uncertainty about Cameron’s EU line among the party's right.

It will be embarrassing for Cameron, but Wheeler had begun to donate less money recently.

Plus it may suit the leader, still attempting to reshape his party, to not be obligated to some one who wants to rock the boat over Europe.

Sunday 29 March 2009

Ruddy good

Labour will have drooled longingly over Kevin Rudd on Andrew Marr this morning.

The centre-left Aussie PM, visiting for the G20, came across as upfront, open and had a clarity of message.

What’s more, whether you agreed with what he was saying or not, he made that message interesting to listen to.

It all meant his hopeful words on the recession didn’t sound quite so empty.

Even Marr, who was cut out by Rudd on one or two occasions, seemed to be enjoying having an engaging discussion.

Adult viewing only

I wouldn't have wanted to be in the shoes of Jacqui Smith's husband when the Home Secretary found out about the "adult films" on her TV bill.

Not only did Jackboot miss all the fun - the films were viewed in her absence - but they ended up being claimed on her Parliamentary expenses.

According to the Beeb she gave the husband a real "ear-bashing" - so he was probably blindfolded, cuffed and tied to a post before being flagellated.

Can she continue in post? If ever there was a time for Cameron to capitalise on the "anti-politician" feeling with some high-profile wide-ranging reforms, then this is it.