Painful though the last few weeks have been, the Telegraph’s revelations about MPs’ expenses have at least forced politicians to take the action to reform the system that’s been so badly needed for so long.
Unfortunately, the Telegraph has, in some instances, been a bit over zealous. There was Phil Woolas’ shopping bills containing items which were not claimed for – I don’t often have sympathy for him after his unconvincing performance on the Gurkha issue but in this case I think he has a point.
Then came what I still think is a thoroughly unreasonable swipe at Alan Reid’s claims for accommodation within his vast constituency.
Today, they have finally gone too far. It’s all very well taking people to task for moat cleaning bills or duck islands, which are clearly nothing to do with their Parliamentary duties, or for being reimbursed for expenses which don’t exist or for devious use of second homes designations for personal gain. It’s quite another to challenge legitimate expenditure on things which the MP needed to buy solely because they were away from home.
I read the Telegraph’s article on Jo Swinson’s expenses with increasing alarm and anger, wondering why they felt it was important to particularly mention her age and her looks. I’m fairly certain they would not have made such patronising observations about a man.
They have also pointed out that there are receipts which show various cosmetics, but do not provide a shred of evidence that these cosmetics were ever claimed for or paid for out of the public purse. They even admit that one receipt is clearly the second page, but the first page is missing. It’s hardly Jo’s fault that whoever it was who sold the Telegraph the information didn’t include it. There is no case to answer here and I have to wonder why this stuff is even included. All they’ve got is that a young woman buys make up. Big surprise.
The article states that Jo clearly marked which items on other receipts had been claimed for, yet are strangely silent on whether there are such markings next to the cosmetic items. My hunch is that there are not.
When Jo was elected in 2005, she chose to rent a one bedroomed flat in London. I doubt that many people would think it reasonable that she be expected to lug things like a loo roll holder, a chopping board, a sieve and a plastic food box between home in Scotland and London every week so there’s no doubt in my mind that putting these items on expenses was perfectly legitimate. So, where did Jo go to buy these items? Just like you and me she went to ASDA and Tesco. We’re hardly talking about a lavish spending spree either – the total of these items came to a frugal £27.69. She’s also managed to feed herself in London for a tenner a day, a third of what she could have claimed. That’s not bad. When I was the lowliest of the low civil servants, earning a tiny fraction of an MP’s salary, I was allowed £25 per day for food if I was away on a course, and that was over 10 years ago.
Jo has always been one of the most vocal advocates of openness and transparency in the expenses system and her claims to me show someone who has been mindful of the fact that it’s public money they are claiming. I think the Telegraph’s article is disgraceful and they should apologise to her.
The last word in this should go to Jo herself, who has printed this perfectly reasonable explanation on her website, where she has been voluntarily publishing her expenses for some time.