I believe I am one of many who received an email from the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards yesterday, turning down the call for an inquiry into possible expenses fraud by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Those of you who received it will be familiar with the wording. For those who didn’t, the relevant parts run as follows:
“The Commissioner has not accepted a complaint about Rt Hon George Osborne MP. There is therefore no current inquiry into Mr Osborne’s conduct. “As you know, before she could inquire into allegations against a Member, the Commissioner would need evidence, sufficient to support an inquiry, that the Member might have breached the Code of Conduct and the rules of the House. The rules on Members’ overnight expenses have been tightened considerably since Mr Osborne’s original expenses claims, and the Commissioner would assess the allegations against the rules as they were at the time of the alleged conduct. Without evidence of a breach of those rules, which had not already been inquired into, the Commissioner would not open an investigation.”
Mine continued: “I am afraid I am unable to say what the police meant by their comments,” referring to my complaint to the Metropolitan Police and the strange response that it was being investigated elsewhere.
My first reaction was: How much evidence does the commissioner need? If he’s a villain, he’s hardly likely to sign a confession! We know Osborne claimed against his mortgage on the property in Cheshire and we know that the mortgage was for three land titles, not one. Therefore we deduce that he claimed money for Parliamentary duties taking place on at least two pieces of land where such duties could never have taken place, and the prima facie evidence (as the police would say) suggests further investigation is required.
Do we even have proof that Osborne ever actually used the Cheshire farmhouse to carry out Parliamentary duties? Whenever I have claimed expenses for a job, I have always had to produce proof of it. How has he used that house? When did he use that house? Where is the proof? If he met constituents, my understanding is that he used the Conservative office in the same building as the local Conservative Club (which is to close through lack of funding; interesting that Osborne is making out like a bandit while his local party suffers). Could he have travelled up from London, held those meetings, and travelled back within the same day? If so, then the farmhouse and the two pieces of land are now looking increasingly like long-term investments, maintained at cost to the taxpayer, that were to be sold at a later date for huge profit (as, in fact, they were).
Second reaction was: If the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner cannot investigate an open-and-shut fraud case (which is what this is) then what is the point of the office as it currently stands? On balance, it seems likely that Members of Parliament can continue to commit abuses of public money – and trust – and get away, free as a bird, in the current system. Therefore, with this decision it seems the commissioner, who only took up the post this month, is attempting a tacit resignation from it.
Let’s have a standards watchdog that actually investigates and prevents abuses, shall we? Maybe I’ll start an e-petition.
Third reaction was: Without a full and frank investigation, Osborne will always stand accused of expenses fraud and of abusing the trust placed in him as a member of Parliament. So, in fact, the commissioner has done him a great disservice. Mud always sticks, as the old saying goes. There’s no smoke without fire.
There’s no stink without a stinker, and in this case the odour can emanate from nobody else but Osborne.
He’ll never be able to live it down. And he’ll never be able to say that nobody raised the issue, because we have.
I think I might have a bit more work to do. For Osborne himself, as Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”