Tag Archives: expense

Why are Tories hiding details of £37bn ‘Test and Trace’ boss’s meetings – on grounds of expense?

Useless: Tory money pit and expertise vacuum Dido Harding.

The hypocrisy is stunning. It seems clear that Dido Harding has done something embarrassing that Boris Johnson wants to hide.

That’s the only reasonable explanation for the Tory government’s decision not to honour a request for details of meetings she held with other people and organisations since taking on the job of running the ‘Test and Trace’ organisation that has cost £37bn so far.

The Tories are saying honouring the Freedom of Information request by the Good Law Project would cost more than the £600 permitted for such matters, but this is ridiculous; these details have been deliberately omitted from a schedule of all meetings held by Department of Health and Social Care officials, ministers and advisers on a quarterly basis.

We can only conclude that the government does not want us to know who Harding has been meeting, what they discussed, and how much money she spaffed away as a result.

£37 billion is an enormous amount of money. Some commentators have suggested that ‘Test and Trace’ is nothing more than a conduit through which the Tories are corruptly draining the public purse, pumping money into the hands of people who are already extremely rich, in order to make sure poor people who really need help are deprived of it.

This response from the government shows that it really has no answer to that.

One appropriate reaction might have been to refer the matter to the government’s anti-corruption champion – but that would be John Penrose MP, who happens to be her husband. People are having doubts that he’ll do his job properly, for some reason…

And they certainly aren’t accepting the Tory line on this:

Some have even gone for the nuclear option – denouncing Harding for a lack of credibility on a stellar scale:

The simple fact is that the government should have published details of Harding’s meetings and chose not to.

This has focused attention on them. People want to know who she met, what was said, whether any money changed hands (without going through the normal tendering process) and if so, how much.

The longer the Tories drag their heels, the worse it will be.

Perhaps Harding could save everybody the bother by going back through her diary and producing a list? That wouldn’t cost £600 or even 600 pennies.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.


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Janice Atkinson suspension: Couldn’t happen to a better person?

Considering her record of behaviour, is anyone else surprised that the only reason Janice Atkinson has been suspended is her expenses?

According to the BBC, the MEP for the South East was due to contest the Folkestone and Hythe Parliamentary seat on May 7 – until the Sun newspaper revealed a possible expenses impropriety in which her chief of staff, Christine Hewitt, appeared to ask the manager of a restaurant in Margate, Kent, for an invoice for a much higher sum than the bill she had originally received, around the time of UKIP’s spring conference.

It is not known whether these actions were authorised by the candidate herself. If she is prevented from running for the seat, UKIP may have saved itself from scenes like this:


The party may also have saved itself the embarrassment of another televised faux pas (that’s your actual French) like the moment last year in which Ms Atkinson said that a UKIP supporter from Ramsgate was a “ting tong” (whatever that may be).

From the BBC report, it seems UKIP has already reached a conclusion about her behaviour: “A UKIP spokesman said the party was ‘incredibly disappointed’ with Ms Atkinson, who appeared to have ‘exercised extremely poor judgement’ and to ‘have acted in a way the party has never and would never condone’.”

Considering her record, one has to ask why it took the party so long to recognise this.

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Fraudulent minister gets (metaphorical) slap on the wrist

One law for them...: This image appeared on Twitter, summarising how the law treats MPs in comparison with the rest of us.

One law for them…: This image appeared on Twitter, summarising how the law treats MPs in comparison with the rest of us.

Fraudster – and Minister for Equalities – Maria Miller has been ordered to repay £5,800 and apologise to Parliament after an inquiry found she had over-claimed mortgage expenses.

In essence, she made fraudulent expenses claims that were not reduced to accommodate a fall in interest rates.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards launched an investigation into her behaviour after it was reported that, between 2005 and 2009, she had claimed £90,718 in Parliamentary expenses for the mortgage and upkeep of a south London house that was occupied, not by Mrs Miller, but by her parents.

The Commons Committee on Standards did what’s usually expected and cleared Miller of the central charge – deliberately submitting expenses claims to which she was not entitled. Instead, she is being penalised because her attitude to the inquiry breached the ministers’ code of conduct.

The committee rejected the charge that she or her parents had benefited financially from the arrangement. That’s very interesting, considering that Miller recently sold the south London house at the centre of the affair, making a profit of £1 million (according to the Daily Telegraph).

John Mann MP, whose complaint led to the inquiry being launched, has been tweeting on the subject. He says: “Miller forced to apologise for showing ‘completely inappropriate attitude to the inquiry’. Doesn’t take it seriously.

“Miller’s attitude will infuriate the public, who have had enough of expenses scandals and MPs’ arrogance. David Cameron will be accused of hypocrisy if he does not sack Maria Miller today.”

He’s right – look at this representative tweet from ‘Amy’: “MP Maria Miller expected to repay thousands in overpaid expenses & make an apology. If she was a benefit claimant she would be jailed.”

Mr Mann’s own article about it can be found here.

If Miller had been arrested and put on crown court trial for fraud (as seems likely, considering the “legalistic” way she tried to defend herself against the Parliamentary commissioner’s inquiries), she could have been imprisoned for up to 10 years. That is what happens to other people. But Parliament looks after its own.

Do you think that is fair?

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Cameron’s ‘mission’ is morally bankrupt


When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.

When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.

That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.

Cameron has been responding after the Catholic Bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, delivered a vehement attack on the social security “reforms” being forced on the country’s most vulnerable people by Iain Duncan Smith.

In the Daily Telegraph, Cameron smarmed: “Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right… Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up.

“We are in the middle of a long and difficult journey turning our country around,” Cameron said. “That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children’s to inherit.

“But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone – they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.

“Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart too of our social and moral mission in politics today.”

Drivel. Any evidence-based analysis will find the exact opposite. Where are the opportunities in Workfare schemes that pay only benefits, meaning travel expenses alone put claimants out of pocket, and then send jobseekers back to the dole queue so rich companies can profit further by taking on more claimants on the same terms?

How can anyone derive hope from taking responsibility for their job search, when DWP staff at Jobcentre Plus are ordered to ignore their own responsibilities in favour of harsh sanctions for invented infringements of the Jobseeker’s Agreement?

And how is encouraging people to say they are self-employed, even though they have little chance of earning enough to support them and none of enjoying a holiday or a pension, different from writing them off with no chance?

Look at the new employment figures from the Office for National Statistics – the Coalition government has been making a song and dance about them ever since they came out. On the face of it, they seem reliable: In December 2013, 30.15 million people were in work of some kind, up by 396,000 from the same time the previous year; there were 2.34 million unemployed, down 161,000 from December 2012; and the Claimant Count (those on Jobseekers’ Allowance) was 1.22 million in January, down 327,000 from a year earlier.

However, the number of people marked as self-employed has rocketed to a record level, totalling one in seven of the workforce. That’s 4,370,000 – up 150,000 on the previous year. This is extremely suspicious, as the increase in the previous year totalled 25,000 – just one-sixth of this week’s figure.

Some of these people might be genuinely self-employed and making their new business work – but all of them? In an economy where productivity hasn’t increased since the Coalition took office? You’d have to be stupid to believe that.

Assuming the amount of real self-employment has increased in line with economic growth (at 1.9 per cent), that’s an extra 25,475 in 2013, leaving 124,525 in limbo. Are these really self-employed? Or were they told by Jobcentre advisors to say so and claim working tax credits (as we’ve seen in the past), leading to a huge debt when HMRC tells them they have been claiming fraudulently and have been overpaid?

How many of the unemployed have been wiped off the books due to sanctions? We don’t know, because we don’t have figures up to December 2013. We do know that 897,690 sanctions were enforced in the year to September 2013. We don’t know how many were for one month, how many for three months or how many for three years, but we do know that the rate was six per cent of jobseekers per month in the three months to the end of September 2013. Assuming that rate stayed solid, it suggests that 73,200 were off-benefit due to sanctions in December and should be added to the Claimant Count to give a more accurate figure.

How many of the unemployed have been wiped off the books due to Workfare? We don’t know. How many are unemployed but on Universal Credit, which isn’t included in the Claimant Count? We don’t know – 3,610 were on it at the end of November last year, but the DWP has not divided them into those in work and those without.

David Cameron has access to all of this information, and he doesn’t care. He also has access to the mortality figures for claimants of Incapacity Benefit/Employment and Support Allowance, that the DWP has been withholding from the rest of us, probably for fear of sparking an international outcry. He doesn’t care about that either.

His comments are therefore doubly outrageous – not only is he claiming that his Coalition’s changes are having a beneficial effect when the figures demonstrate the opposite, but he is also claiming the moral high ground when his actions are more appropriate to the populace of the Pit.

In terms of his morality, there can be only one description for him and his cronies:


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‘Gate-gate’ whitewash bid should achieve nothing

What on earth does Andrew Mitchell hope to achieve by reviving ‘Gate-gate’, three months after the event?

It seems a police officer who was not on duty, but allegedly witnessed the incident last September when Mitchell verbally abused a colleague at the gate to Downing Street, has been arrested under suspicion of falsifying his report.

And Mitchell himself has appeared on television, telling ITV News the contents of the police log of the event – which would have been written by the man he attacked – were falsified.

It would be very easy to take these two things together, and believe that the police faked the incident. That would be completely wrong. They are separate things.

First, we have the investigation into the officer who was off-duty. There is a suggestion that this person may not have witnessed the incident at all, but still supplied an account of it to his MP.

From there, it seems we are supposed to believe that The Sun was able to get the same person to provide it with a copy of a confidential Metropolitan Police report on the incident. The constable was arrested as part of a wider inquiry into how confidential Met information got into national newspapers.

That doesn’t have anything to do with the first-hand report, written by the policeman who actually received a tongue-lashing from Mitchell.

This states that, when asked to get off his bicycle and refrain from using the vehicle entrance to Downing Street (there’s a pedestrian entrance as well), Mitchell subjected the officer to a string of abuse, told him to “learn your place” and said “You don’t run this government”. The piece de resistance was the allegation that Mitchell described the policeman as a “pleb”.

Mitchell has always disputed the exact words, especially the “pleb” appellation. But he has admitted an incident took place, and admitted saying “I thought you guys were supposed to f*cking help us”. That’s enough for him to be arrested on a charge of abusing a police officer, which is a public order offence. Mitchell is on record as having apologised “profusely” to the officer. That comes from a Downing Street statement.

So why is he saying the police log of the incident is false?

Apparently, on ITV News on Monday, he said: “I’d just like to reiterate once again that it’s the contents of the alleged police log which are false … they are false and I want to make that very clear.”

He’s not just referring to the “pleb” reference here – he’s talking about the log of the entire incident. That’s an incident which he has admitted took place. For which he apologised. “Profusely”.

I do not believe him.

Not only is the first-hand evidence against him, I think we should remember that weight is given to the honesty of the police. It has to be – they deal with contentious situations on a regular basis and it is therefore necessary for us to rely on their integrity in accounts that follow, such as court cases. Even after the revelations about cover-ups such as Hillsborough or (going back a bit) the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, I don’t think we should be discouraged from believing the average bobby on the beat is actually trying to uphold the law, not undermine it. If you want corruption, look further up the ranks.

It is also very important to see this in the context of other Conservative MPs and their alleged misdeeds. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is investigating Maria Miller over her expenses claims (as is well-documented, including in this blog). And George Osborne used taxpayers’ money to make up to £1 million on property including a farmhouse and paddock in Cheshire; he claimed the cash as Parliamentary expenses so we are meant to believe the paddock was a necessary expense incurred by his duties as an MP. What utter nonsense!

Let’s not forget Liam Fox, who became a former Defence Secretary after misbehaviour was alleged against him.

So Conservatives have been giving themselves a bad reputation. It seems to me that they want to tidy up their image. What better place to start than by undermining and rubbishing their worst PR disaster of 2012?

I do not believe them.

My advice is that you should not believe them either.

Britain’s worst idlers – the MPs who wrote Britannia Unchained

I have been saddened to learn of two events that will take place in the near future: The death of The Dandy, and the publication of Britannia Unchained.

The first needs little introduction to British readers; it’s the UK’s longest-running children’s humour comic, which will cease publication (in print form) towards the end of this year, on its 75th anniversary. The second appears to be an odious political tract scribbled by a cabal of ambitious right-wing Tory MPs, desperate to make a name for themselves by tarring British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

The connection? Even at the end of its life, there is better and more useful information in The Dandy than there will be in Britannia Unchained.

The book’s authors, Priti Patel, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, and Kwasi Kwarteng, all members of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, argue that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”, that the UK “rewards laziness” and “too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work”.

They say the UK needs to reward a culture of “graft, risk and effort” and “stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness”.

Strong words – undermined completely by the authors’ own record of attendance at their place of work.

Chris Skidmore’s Parliamentary attendance record is just 88.1 per cent – and he’s the most diligent of the five. Kwasi Kwarteng weighs in at 87.6 per cent; Elizabeth Truss at 85.3 per cent; and Priti Patel at 81.8 per cent. Dominic Raab is the laziest of the lot, with Parliamentary attendance of just 79.1 per cent.

To put that in perspective, if I took more than a week’s sick leave per year from my last workplace, I would have been hauled up before the boss and serious questions asked about my future at the company. That’s a 97.9 per cent minimum requirement. Who are these slackers to tell me, or anyone else who does real work, that we are lazy?

Some have already suggested that these evil-minded hypocrites are just taking cheap shots at others, to make themselves look good for promotion in an autumn reshuffle. Maybe this is true, although David Cameron would be very unwise to do anything but distance himself from them and their dangerous ideas.

I think this is an attempt to deflect attention away from the way the Tory-led government has mismanaged the economy, and from its murderous treatment of the sick and disabled. As one commentator put it: “They get a token Asian, a token African, a token Jew, mix in the middle class/grammar school rubbish propaganda, and suddenly they are just ordinary people? No they are not; they are stooges for the ruling elite.”

Britain doesn’t reward laziness among its working class. What it rewards is failure by managers, directors of industry, financiers. These people continually increase their salaries and other remuneration while their share prices fall, their dividend payments are lacklustre and shareholder value is destroyed. What have they given shareholders over the past 10 years? How many industrial or commercial leaders have walked off with millions, leaving behind companies that were struggling, if not collapsing? Does the criticism in Britannia Unchained apply to senior executives and bankers?

Our MPs are as much to blame as big business. They vote themselves generous pay, pensions and extended vacations (five months per year). They never start work before 11am, never work weekends (or most Fridays, when they are supposed to be in their constituencies, if I recall correctly). They enjoy fringe benefits including subsidised bars, restaurants and gyms. They take part-time directorships in large companies which take up time they should be using to serve the public. Only a few years ago we discovered that large numbers of them were cheating on their expense claims. They take more than £32,000 in “Resettlement Grant” if we kick them out after one term – which, in my opinion, means all five authors of Britannia Unchained should be applying for it in 2015.

These are the people who most strongly represent the ‘something-for-nothing’ sense of entitlement the book decries.

Have any of them ever worked in a factory or carried out manual labour? I’ll answer that for you: With the exception of Elizabeth Truss, who did a few years as a management accountant at Shell/Cable and Wireless, none of them have ever done anything that could be called real work.

In fact, the people they accuse work very long hours – especially the self-employed. When I ran my own news website, I was busy for 12-14 hours a day (much to the distress of my girlfriend). Employees also work long hours, get less annual leave, earn less and pay more – in prices for consumer goods, taxes and hidden taxes – than most of Europe. Average monthly pay rates have now dropped so low that they are failing to cover workers’ costs, leading to borrowing and debt.

Are British workers really among the laziest in the world? Accurate information is hard to find but it seems likely we’re around 24th on the world league table. On a planet with more than 200 sovereign nations (204 attended the London Olympics), that’s not too shabby at all.

Interestingly, the European workers clocking on for the fewest hours are German. Those lazy Teutons! How dare they work so little and still have the powerhouse economy of the continent?

If so many are reluctant to get up in the morning, why are the morning commuter trains standing room only? Or have the Britannia Unchained crowd never used this form of travel?

It seems to me that Britannia Unchained is just another attempt by the Tory right to make us work harder for less pay. The Coalition is currently cutting the public sector and benefits to the bone, while failing to introduce policies that create useful employment, and trying to boost private sector jobs. The private sector has cut wages and pensions. The result is higher unemployment and benefits that cannot sustain living costs, creating a working-age population desperate for any kind of employment at all (even at the too-low wages already discussed).

And let’s remember that Conservatives want to remove employment laws to make it easier to dismiss employees. In other words, they want a workforce that will toil for a pittance, under threat of swift dismissal and the loss of what little they have.

Why do they think this will improve the UK’s performance?

We already work longer hours and have less protective legislation than in Europe (such as the European Time Directive). But we are less productive in terms of GDP than their French and German counterparts, who work fewer hours and are protected by the likes of the ETD.

France is more unionised than we are, yet its production per employee is higher.

The problem is poor management and bad leadership. Poor productivity is almost always due to poor investment and poor training. Workers are abused when they should be treated as an investment. They lose motivation and when managers get their decisions wrong, they blame the workers.

Working class people are sick of grafting for low pay and in poor working conditions, to be exploited by the types of people represented by the authors of Britannia Unchained.

Is it any wonder we feel de-motivated?

I started this article by linking The Dandy to Britannia Unchained, noting that one was coming to the end of its life in print while the other was about to be published for the first time. I’ll end by pointing out a quality they have in common.

The Dandy is closing because it represents ideas that are now tired and out-of-date. Britannia Unchained should never see publication – for the same reason.