Friday 15 May 2009

Hoon won't face CGT bill

Geoff Hoon won't have to repay any capital gains tax like Hazel Blears did.

Blears paid out £13,000 in CGT because she sold a house claiming it was her "main home" - which means it was exempt - when actually she had said it was her "second home" for allowances puposes.

Hoon's situation, whose affairs were being looked into by the Chief Whip and HMRC, was slightly different.

His Lambeth house which was in question was designated as his main home when it was sold.

HMRC said he had "fulfilled his tax obligations".

That still leaves the question over whether he and others will repay cash for any excessive claims.

Beckett tries to do a Foulkes, but doesn't get that either…

After Lord Foulkes embarrassed Carrie Gracie by getting her to admit that she earned £90,000, our Housing Minister thought she’d try the same thing today.

She was being harangued by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky who was questioning her about staffing arrangements and what her workers really did for her.

“I would not have said this to you normally, it’s not a tactic I’ve ever adopted – I don’t know what you earn, but I bet it’s a hell of lot more than they do.”

The presenter replied: “What I earn is not an issue is it? That’s between me and my employer. I’m not a public servant. I’m not making claims and I can assure you I’m not making claims for pot plants and food.”

Obviously it only worked for Foulkes because Gracie, as a BBC presenter, is also paid from the public purse. Never mind Margaret.

Tracking Labour

In a single carriage of the train I took yesterday was Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, David Miliband, Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith, Ed Balls, James Purnell and John Denham.

Now, now bloggers. I know what you're thinking. But remember - I was on the train too.

Caroline Flint and Margaret Beckett joined the pack later.

A Labour spokesman admitted that it was an unusual display of politcal strength outside of a general election campaign.

The party leaders know that to escape a voting booth battering they need all the strength they have.

It was notable that they rolled the big guns into Derbyshire too - one of three Midlands counties that the Tories think they can take.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Just a quick note on PMQs

It felt like Pat McLoughlin had told the troops to be quiet at PMQs today.

It allowed Cameron to set the tone and nature of the bout – the good general knows that to choose the battlefield is to most likely win the day.

His speech saw no hectoring, no name calling and no jeers. It worked for him.

Ken Clarke defends Gordon Brown. Yes, it's not a typo...

The Rushcliffe MP told Lobbydog that while the claims of many deserved to be exposed, others – including himself and the Prime Minister – had been treated unfairly.

"There are MPs that need to explain what on earth they've been doing, though for some it seems impossible to explain. But there are others that have been carpet bombed," he said.

"The minute I read in The Telegraph about the Prime Minister my reaction was that they had nothing to accuse Gordon Brown of over that cleaning bill.

"It's not very often I defend Gordon Brown, but on this issue I thought what they said was absurd."

I wonder what Cameron thinks of that?

Read the full story here.

Never mind Carrie...

Slightly embarrassing for Carrie Gracie this one. Occupational hazard of being a public sector broadcaster I suppose.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

A day to be proud of British politics

I suppose, as we have the mother of all Parliaments, that when we have a shambles it’s fitting that it be the mother of all shambles.

For months there’ve been so many chances to sort out expenses, but today – over a matter of minutes – the parties engaged in an embarrassing race to get their announcements out first for political gain.

Brown, having been beaten by the Tories in the “I’m sorry” race, was clearly determined for Labour to get in there first.

When they did Harriet Harman made the earth-shattering declaration that she would ask Don Touhig to come up with a proposal of how excessive expense claims might be paid back.

Integrity is restored – thank the Lord for Don Touhig! Without looking at Google I challenge you to tell me everything you know about him.

The real point, of course, is that it was another announcement about taking action, rather than action itself.

If you went to Harman’s house for dinner, you would die of hunger before you got a sniff of any food.

Minutes later Cameron got to his lectern and, frankly, made Labour's plan look stupid. Tory MPs would pay thousands of pounds back immediately and any who refused would be sacked.

The move has caused consternation among the shadow cabinet, but if Cameron was to avoid the destruction of his work to re-brand the party a strong move was required.

The leader called his ministers’ excessive claims “wrong”, but shadow cabinet members I spoke to said they had done nothing wrong and still felt entitled to what they claimed.

Resentment over this will linger.

Word is that Nick Clegg will announce that any MPs who’ve made a profit through rising house prices on their taxpayer-funded second home will have to pay the money back.

That would see some members losing out to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds. Tomorrow will be another busy day in Parliament.

Michael Martin challenged in House

David Winnick MP just told Michael Martin to apologise to Kate Hoey for his attack on her yesterday.

Martin responded that it was yesterday's business and he should have brought it up then – to which Labour MP Winnick shouted back that it wasn't good enough.

Martin said if that was the case then the MP knew what he had to do.

In other words put down a motion in the house challenging the Speaker. Bonus points for anyone who can say the last time that happened.

Office of National Statistics probe

Lobbydog hears a probe has been launched after national employment figures were released early.

They weren't meant to be out until tomorrow, but for some reason they are already available on the Office of National Statistics website.

Another one to ask Mr McNulty about tomorrow.

Tories get their cheque books out

David Cameron will make an announcement in about 40 mins that senior Tories will pay money they claimed on their expenses back.

I'm told Michael Gove will be among those handing cash back.

We'll find out other names and how it's all going to be done later.

UPDATE: Sky is reporting that Harriet Harman has now asked Don Touhig to come up with a proposal for the repayment of misclaimed expenses.

UPDATE UPDATE: Cameron has brought his announcement forward 15 minutes. The parties are clambering to pay back their misclaimed expenses first. What a farce!

See you soon Tony!

Lobbydog just wanted to wave at sometime reader of this blog Tony McNulty.

The MET Police announced yesterday that they were considering complaints against the Employment Minister, Geoff Hoon, Alistair Darling and three other MPs over their expense claims.

Tomorrow I’ll be seeing McNulty in person for a chat about employment – and possibly other news stories flying around this week.

What is the best expense claim cliché you can think up?

Even if you tried to make up the most clichéd Tory expense claim you couldn’t come up with anything more apt than an old-Etonian aristocrat claiming for having his moat cleaned.

The Labour equivalent would be a former coal miner MP claiming for a coach to take 100 union members to a picket-line and then on for a day-out drinking real ale in Scarborough.

I dread to think what the equivalent Liberal Democrat claim would be. Perhaps someone can suggest one?

There was a point yesterday when I thought if I had to read or write about expenses anymore I might scream, but well done to The Telegraph for renewing my indignation.

The feeling is that we are edging closer to ‘the big one’ as the days go on.

Note that Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are yet to make an appearance – funny considering the rest of the cabinet were done last Friday.

Saving the best for last?

Monday 11 May 2009

Blustering Martin outdoes himself

It was hard to see Speaker Martin’s full face from my spot, but I suspect little bubbles of foam were forming at the corner of his mouth.

Certainly the bald patch on his crown was a hearty rouge as he blew up in the Commons while talking about leaked MPs' expenses.

It started with a familiar sight – Martin hunching over a bit of paper, reading out cautious words in a voice flimsier than a slice of cucumber.

He justified why he’d now passed the matter to the police – saying the leaking of expenses documents to the Telegraph might’ve been a crime. For details go here.

But it was the moment the words on the paper ran out, and he had to rely on his own, that the fun began.

Kate Hoey started to suggest (Martin cut her off) that bringing police in was a waste of time and money.

Martin: “I listen to the Honourable Lady often when I turn on the television at midnight and I hear her public utterances and her pearls of wisdom on Sky News and it’s easy to talk then.”

He added: “I say to the Honourable Lady it’s easy to say to the press ‘this should not happen’. It’s a wee bit more difficult when you just don’t have to give – how do you say – quotes…”

He ranted about how police had to be called in because to do anything otherwise was to suggest the person who’d leaked the documents could stay in position.

Martin also warned hacks, who’d already acted to blank out sensitive details before printing stories, that they shouldn’t put MPs at risk by publishing their addresses and bank data.

So in one finger-jabbing tirade he surpassed even his own uncanny ability for misjudging the mood of the nation, gave hacks a new angle and cemented public anger at MPs who still think they’re the victims of all this. Not bad.

Hazel "Diddy" Blears looking shakey

Embattled Hazel Blears - or "Diddy", as she's known in my office - won less than resounding support from the Prime Minister at this morning’s Lobby briefing.

A bit of sweet revenge for Gordon Brown, perhaps, after Blears’ criticism of his bizarre Youtube appearance and of Labour’s “lamentable failure” last week.

PM’s spokesman Michael Ellam said: “It’s really for the individual members of Parliament themselves to answer questions about their own particular arrangements.

“Hazel Blears has responded to the specific allegations against her. The PM’s view is that the system needs to change.”

He added that the PM had heard the explanations of all ministers in question and was “satisfied” with them.

One has come to expect very little to be said at the Lobby briefings anyway, but Ellam’s reluctance to float anything more supportive for the cabinet minister highlights the distance between her and Brown.

Angry voters

The odd voice has been calling for Parliament to be dissolved and for a general election.

Lobbydog thinks it would be a terrible idea for something as important as a national vote to be born out of and conducted through the expenses frenzy.

Anger clouds people’s judgement.

Bearing in mind the involvement of all three main parties in this scandal, voters will need to be even more considered than usual when they go to the polls.

If the mainstream must be punished for intolerable behaviour - and I fear it will - then let it be at the European and local elections.