Parliament: May 2009 Archives

tumbril.jpgThe data on MPs' expenses reportedly cost the Telegraph £150,000. They today report that those Members found to be at it have already agreed to pay back more than £100,000 of taxpayers' money. There's surely more to come, not least from Elliott Morley, who's on the shoogliest of pegs. 

Once this episode is over, everyone who deserves it should get value for money, and those who deserve censure should get their fair share, even if we don't eventually see actual tumbrils. 

Taxpayers will get a substantial refund, a gargantuan round of schadenfreude, and should see a few rogues chucked out of the Commons. As it becomes harder for Honourable Members to do the Maltese breast-stroke, we should all see long term savings in this area.

The Telegraph, for their part, have had a substantial boost to their circulation and profile which will justify their shareholders' investment in this data. Their public interest defence also seems impeccable, given that the worst "flippers" (Morley, Blears, George, Darling etc) would have got away with it if the information had been redacted.

Some people are bored of this now. Not I. I've been lectured on morality for decades by these hypocrites. I've watched them condemn refugees to destitution and force the unemployed into grim make-work schemes. I've seen them make grandiose claims on child poverty and fail, and poverty was never made history internationally either. 

These are abstract problems, issues these cross-party scoundrels at Westminster might never have felt public anger on. But now we know precisely where their double standards lie. This issue has delivered their comeuppance, now the public have found them using our money to refurbish their moats, support their daughters' student flatspay for their feather dusters and Hob Nobs, and save their marriages with cash injections

One last thought on the moats issue. As always, read the Daily Mash.
salmondcurry.jpgFew people like a good curry more than our nation's glorious leader, and it's therefore no surprise that dining receipts should be the focus of the Telegraph's Salmond exposé

Now, I understand the idea of claiming back expenses when your work sends you away somewhere, and I'm sure most people accept that. 

However, few will regard it as acceptable to claim back £400 a month (including during two months of Westminster recess) for meals out and other food costs. No other regular line of work has perks like that. In the real world, people pay for their dinner from their salary, and politicians should be no different. 

Even when he more or less stopped going to London, except for the odd flying visit to try and restrict abortion rights, the claims continued. 

His quote in the story, disappointingly, is the same tired and indefensible line Labour Ministers have been using all week:

"The claims for food allowances were entirely in accordance with the Green Book rules at the time."

Whatever the rules say, though, if you claim under them you are saying you believe those claims are acceptable ways to use taxpayers' money. If the rules said you could fly daily to the Taj Mahal itself at our expense, would you do it, First Minister? You've been caught taking the Scottish Government car to your favourite curryhouse. Did you then submit a claim for dinner to the Westminster authorities?

The plastic bag queen.

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turtleplasticbag.jpgToday's relatively consensual debate on the Climate Change Bill (Robin's fierce speech will hopefully appear here soon) included the odd sour note. The oddest came from Angela Constance, normally part of the ultra-loyal SNP aspirational backbench group. 

She spoke up against the section of her government's Bill which would (or would not, it's that kind of legislation) reduce plastic bag usage. And she's got form, too. I refer you to a curious exchange from November last year.

If you're too busy to click that last link, here's the summary. AC claims a 90% reduction in plastic bags would lead to a 13,700 tonne increase in our waste levels. The Minister vaguely humours her. AC then claims that a 50% reduction in plastic bags would lead to a mere 4,000 reduction in our waste levels. The Minister makes some sensible comments about towns going plastic bag free.

Can anyone explain the bizarre and contradictory maths in that last question, or give me any idea why she's taken up a crusade Don Quixote would have blanched at? After all, we regularly find out that the consequences of our plastic bag habits are even worse than we thought.
greykennymacaskill.jpgThe Justice Minister used to be a firebrand, a free speaker and a free thinker, intense and unafraid. That was a long time ago, obviously, and even in 2004 he entered the leadership race as "former nationalist firebrand Kenny MacAskill".

You can still see the odd hint of his past passion, like the ruins of a formerly impressive castle. A dull speech written by civil servants occasionally has a bit in the middle where his finger suddenly jabs at the Tory benches, the volume rises, and those civil servants watch between their fingers from the back of the chamber.

When it comes to Strathclyde Police's attempts to infiltrate Plane Stupid, though, the fire is well and truly out. The week before last, one of his minions told the Sunday Herald

"The justice secretary has discussed the matter with Strathclyde Police's assistant chief constable and is satisfied the force has acted proportionately and legitimately."

Patrick grilled him today in the Chamber on this issue. Does the Minister really believe that attempting to bribe and intimidate activists is an appropriate response? Are there not some tactics which are appropriate for attempting to detect serious crimes but which aren't suitable for peaceful protests?

Apparently not. The answer was protracted, circular, vague and bureaucratic. The police, in short, are doing just what they should be doing. They get scrutinised and reviewed. There's a balance. Blah blah blah.

It was all so different when the SNP themselves were being infiltrated by the secret service. According to fellow former firebrand Alex Neil, speaking less than two years ago, these tactics were "dirty tricks", being used "to undermine the democratic wishes of the Scottish people".

Listening to the Minister's answer today, I can hear the ghost of Kenny MacAskill (original edition) raging at the telly, bemoaning the response of a Minister so clearly gone native. Can anyone tell me the precise date when the Pod People arrived and took the original away?
stvposter.jpgAbout three months ago (I know, I know) I went along to a meeting here to discuss the First Past The Post system. The event was organised by the redoubtable Helen Eadie, and featured the unusual Westminster double-act of Brian Donohoe and Daniel Kawczynski. As it wasn't billed as a campaign event in favour of this most unrepresentative of systems, I thought it might be worth going along with one of Scotland's leading campaigners for voting reform.

The meeting was actually pretty interesting, for an anorak, and we found a degree more common ground than I expected. All there were agreed that having too many electoral systems risks confusion, although the first one I'd abolish is the one which keeps their undemocratic bums on the green benches. We further agreed that STV is a better system than closed party lists, and that if First Past The Post was ever abolished, STV would be a better replacement.

Mr Kawczynski was personally pretty impressive, and not just because he's about eight feet tall. He's wrong on hunting, and he's wrong on PR, oblivious to the price paid for all those disenfranchised Tory voters in 1997, but he seems sincere and prepared to take a different line to his own party, including on Royal Mail privatisation.

The most amusing part, though, was when Murdo Fraser, deputy Tory leader, put one of his young colleagues right on STV. Having sat through an anti-STV rant, Murdo agreed PR wasn't right for Westminster, but pointed out what a success it had been for local government. Cue broad smiles from our corner and torn faces everywhere else.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Parliament category from May 2009.

Parliament: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Parliament: June 2009 is the next archive.