Friday, 4 April 2014

The Committee on Standards and Maria Miller

Watching ‘Question Time’ last night it quickly became clear that Cameron’s statement at the time of the expenses scandal that ‘the old politics is gone - we are in an era of new politics’ was total twaddle. Nothing exemplifies the hold the political class have over their own affairs than the way they have dealt with Maria Miller. Each of the three political reps on the programme defended Miller and the process to a greater or lesser extent. Each mentioned in justification the ‘independent’ process that Miller had been through. Unfortunately no-one in the audience mentioned just how bizarre a claim that was. 

The editor of the Daily Telegraph said this morning that the report from the Commissioner was damning about Miller’s avoidance, obfuscation and delaying tactics. Plus Miller had challenged and obstructed her attempts to find out exactly what she had been claiming for. Serious stuff from someone who wants to regulate the press. Miller’s Special Adviser had threatened the Telegraph reporter with the aftermath of Leveson. This was later followed up by Number 10’s press spokesman doing the same with the editor. Hmmm. 

The august body who massively watered down the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards  recommendations on Maria Miller are worthy of further scrutiny. On the select committee there are 10 members, 5 Conservative, 4 Labour and 1 LibDem.

Some of these ‘honourable’ members have a bit of form.

The Chairman sets the tone.

Sir Kevin Barron (Lab)
He sold his taxpayer funded flat for £500,000, then rented a property from shadow-minister Jon Trickett for £1500 per month plus utility bills all paid for out of the public purse. To compound the irony - Trickett’s position in the shadow cabinet is to highlight government sleaze!
Once this cosy arrangement became public knowledge in 2012 it was quickly dropped. It was no barrier to Barron getting a knighthood in 2014.

Sir Paul Beresford (Con)
Not content with the salary and demands of being a constituency MP, Beresford has maintained a second job as a dentist. He works 3 days a week from a surgery in the London house he had designated as his second home. He worked out a deal with the fees office where we pay for three quarters of the running costs. Nice one!

Geoffrey Cox (Con)
Another who feels he can do justice to his constituents while also working as a QC. The Daily Mail reported back in 2012 that he had “made over £400,000 as a QC in the last 12 months.” Wonder what his constituents think about that?

Sir Nick Harvey (LibDem)
The sum involved was very small but his judgement and values were shown to be appalling. Back in May 2012, the Telegraph reported that Harvey, who was at the time Armed Forces Minister, claimed £7-10 in mileage allowance to attend a poppy day event in his North Devon constituency. He had the ignominy of being later confronted by an angry ex-Wren who presented him with the £7-10. 

Christopher Chope (Con)
Regarded by the media as a Tory Grandee, Chope certainly has ideas about his elevated station. In January 2013 he let slip his attitude towards House of Commons waiters and waitresses when he described them as ‘servants.’ This was said in a debate where he was trying to reduce the price MPs had to pay for their highly subsidised meals. He also used £881 of our money to get a chesterfield sofa re-covered. 

Tom Clark (Lab)
Another with ideas about his status. He uses the Sloane Club in Chelsea as his second home. We pay £1500 per month for his privilege. Oh, and we also pay £400 a month for his food.

Robert Buckland (Con), Heather Wheeler (Con) and Fiona O’Donnel (Lab) were all elected in 2010 and as yet have little to show just how honourable or otherwise they are. Fiona O’Donnel made a bid for early fame by putting in a claim for expenses that was the highest in Scotland. Must be a swift learner.

Arguments that MPs are quite capable of looking after their own affairs have been - and continue to be - demonstrably false. As for MPs making vast sums from selling properties that we paid for, many MPs looked to Tony Blair for inspiration. He acquired a property portfolio estimated at £14 million by 2010. Unfortunately his expenses records were destroyed as he left office. Fancy that.

And where does this leave the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson? She had reported 
"I have established beyond reasonable doubt that between June 2005 and April 2006 Mrs Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to buy her property," along with several other damning conclusions. Guardian

The select committees failure to support her report in any substantive way must leave her considering her position. 

The fact that Miller made money - lots of money - from the sale of the house does not help:
“Culture secretary Maria Miller made more than £1.2 million on the London home she shared with her parents after it was sold on Valentine’s Day for £1.47 million.” Telegraph

Paying back nearly £6000 will not trouble her. The reaction of the public may do. This morning’s press are full of condemnation for Miller and the pathetic process. Our rotten politics is alive and well. 

The perception that there is one law for them and another for the rest of us has yet more traction.

Information on the committee members mainly obtained from the Telegraph and the Daily Mail

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