Back in January 2008 a very large stone was lifted and the Conway family crawled out. The stench of corruption wafted over the land. (But only when the details were leaked to a national newspaper). What this now ex -Tory got up to is revealing as is the way he was treated by the gentleman’s club that is our Parliament.
As the Daily Telegraph reported at the time, “Mr Conway employed both his sons while they were at university as "researchers" and that his wife was also a paid assistant. Each son was paid at least £10,000 a year, while Colette Conway picked up almost £40,000 a year – significantly more than the Parliamentary average for such a role.
Frederick, who at the time was a geography student at Newcastle University, was paid up to £11,773 a year, plus bonuses, for almost three years. In total, he received a gross salary of £45,163 plus pension contributions worth another £4,500. Mr Conway's eldest son, Henry, is reported to have been paid £32,000 for "work" between 2001 and 2004.”
The report of the investigation into the matter was damning:
“the standards watchdog ruled that Frederick was "unlikely to be able to meet his contractual commitments" while studying for a degree in Newcastle. It also added that "no records appear to exist of either actual work that FC did for his father, or the work he was required to undertake.(my italics).. no one outside of the Conway family was aware of the work".
Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner, said he was "astonished that there appears to be no evidence, independent or otherwise, of any aspect of FC's work for his father.”
"We note that FC seems to have been all but invisible during the period of his employment," the report concludes.
So, there you have it. An MP caught bang to rights, cheating the system out of thousands of pounds. You would think that by now the ‘right honourable’ gentleman would be spending time at her majesty’s pleasure. But you would be wrong. Not just an eensy, teensy little bit wrong. You would be so wrong as to make a bankers bonus look like a donation to Oxfam.
So what did Parliament do? Mr Conway had to apologise to the House! He was suspended for 10 days and had to pay back £13161. And he was kicked out of the Tory party. Note this next bit well. He was not kicked out of Parliament. He still sits as an independent and is looking forward to his relocation pay when he stands down at the election. Let that be a lesson to all you miscreants and ne’er do wells.
And as we all know the revelations about duck houses and moats and fake mortgages and flipping all followed. So you would think that by now ‘they’ would get it. But they don’t, they really don’t. Look no further than this week’s news that Northampton Tory MP, Brian Binley owned a firm who purchased a flat for him in 2006. Mr Binley was initially given approval to rent the flat by the Parliamentary authorities. However, when the rules changed in the spring of 2006 he was told to stop making the claims. He successfully argued that he had just signed a 12-month lease and was permitted to continue renting the flat until early 2007. However, the MP signed another lease and continued to rent the flat. Despite some protests from Commons officials, Mr Binley continued making the claims for another two years – after launching a series of appeals. All the appeals failed as the agreement was clearly beyond the scope of the rules but Mr Binley’s claims continued to be passed. He only moved out of the flat in April 2009 – more than three years after the rules were changed.
In its conclusion, the Parliamentary Standards Committee said that Mr Binley was guilty of a “sustained and deliberate” breach of the rules. Most of his dealings with the Fees Office were not documented in writing making it difficult to apportion blame. (my italics)
However, Brian Binley will have to apologise to the House and repay just £1,500 following an investigation overseen by a committee of MPs – sparking further concern over the ability of Parliament to punish MPs making dubious expense claims.
So here we are, two years after the Conway affair. Yet another MP walking away after trousering thousands of taxpayer’s pounds and getting a damn good wrist-slapping for his sins. And yet another MP incapable of keeping records. Handy that. One more name in the ‘hall of infamy’ alongside McNulty, Smith, Morley, Blears et al.
We don’t just need reform – we need root, stem, branch, twig and leaf reform to clean out this nest of pulchritudinous sleaze balls - and all of their mates who collude with them.