I can’t see any reason to make a fuss over Simon Hughes.
The Liberal Democrat deputy may have failed to declare – fully – a £10,000 donation from a scrap metal firm. Big deal. He did not see any of the money himself. Apparently there’s another donation of £15,000 from a cruise company. Hughes was the speaker at a Christmas cruise on the Thames, operated by this company, and has spoken about both firms in Parliament. It looks like straightforward ‘cash-for-questions’, if there’s truth to it.
Isn’t it more interesting that this should come to light on the same day that I read about George Osborne and his paddock?
This is not an allegation but fact: Osborne – who is, let’s remember, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and therefore should know the rules extremely well – included the mortgage for a paddock in his taxpayer-funded expenses.
He bought a farmhouse in Cheshire, along with the neighbouring land, for £455,000 in 2000, before he became an MP – but then, between 2003 and 2009, he claimed up to £100,000 in expenses to cover mortgage interest payments on both the land and the building. The mortgages were interest-only. After 2003, he never paid a penny himself.
When he re-mortgaged in 2005, he increased the amount to £480,000 – again on an interest-only basis – to cover the intial purchase costs and £10,000 for repairs. He was using public money to claw back his outlay on the property, so from then on, none of the money paid on that building or land was paid by Mr Osborne. It all came from the taxpayer.
During the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009 we learned that he had “flipped” his second home allowance onto the property and increased the mortgage. What we didn’t know was that the expenses payments were not just for the house, but for the paddock as well; it is registered separately with the Land Registry.
Osborne sold the house and the land – both of which are now firmly established as having been funded with your money, not his – last year, for £1 million. That’s more than double the original price. He has pocketed that money; the taxpayer won’t get any of it back.
So he has exploited us to make £1 million for himself.
Make no mistake – this was not a necessary expense to help him discharge his Parliamentary duties; it was a property scam.
Because the money was claimed as a Parliamentary expense, I think there are grounds for a fraud inquiry. It seems like an open-and-shut case of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception (Theft Act 1968, section 16).
Let’s also remember that this is a man with what I believe is known as “form”. Earlier this year he was caught in the First Class compartment of a train, having paid only a Standard Class fare. Again, he had obtained an advantage via deception.
Did he pay any penalty for the railway incident? I’ve heard nothing. Will he pay a penalty for this £1 million wheeze? I doubt it.
But you should remember it, next time you see him telling you that his latest plan to squeeze the last vital pennies from your bank accounts are “fair”.
And you should pay particular attention to this comment from him, made when he became Chancellor (and therefore while he was still claiming the mortgage on expenses, before making the sale): “I took a pay cut, and froze my pay on taking this job, took a pay cut from the previous chancellor, the Labour chancellor, in order to show that politicians weren’t going to get away with it.”
He seems to think he can.
I find it extremely dubious that the allegations about Hughes should take pride of place on certain news media websites, while the facts about Osborne appear to be all but brushed under the carpet.
My opinion: Osborne should be arrested and remanded in custody (without bail – the risk that he might abscond would be too great) until a trial can take place.