Tag Archives: standards commissioner

Ofcom report on Rifkind and Straw is more proof Parliament’s standards commission must be scrapped


Tamasin Cave, campaigner for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, is right to state that the standards regime is “not fit for purpose and not doing what the public expect of it”.

Cave added that David Cameron had failed in his promise to clean up politics when it comes to MPs being lobbied by corporate interests, and this is also correct.

The current Ofcom report came after Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson’s decision on the Rifkind and Straw case was challenged by Labour MP Paul Flynn – and shows he was right to do so.

Furthermore, it has emerged that Rifkind was a member of the panel that helped appoint Hudson as Standards Commissioner, three years ago. Corruption?

The parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson is facing questions for criticising the media sting on Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, after regulator Ofcom found the reporting was of significant public interest and did not unfairly represent the MPs.

Ofcom opened an investigation into the programme in question, a joint operation between Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph, after Rifkind and Straw were cleared of cash-for-access allegations by Hudson and the standards committee of MPs in September.

The programme used secret filming to allege that the MPs offered their political connections to earn money from commercial companies.

After exonerating the MPs of breaching parliamentary standards, Hudson said the damage done to the former MPs could have been avoided if Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported the exchanges they had filmed.

The House of Commons standards committee was even more critical of the journalism, saying it was “very concerned that the matter should have been reported in this fashion”.

But Ofcom took a different view on Monday, saying there was a “significant public interest” in exploring the conduct of the MPs and that in the circumstances undercover filming was “proportionate and warranted”.

In its 38-page ruling, Ofcom also said that the filming was an “accurate representation” of the discussions the MPs held.

Source: Parliamentary commissioner faces questions over Rifkind and Straw sting | Media | The Guardian

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Why are expense fraud MPs above the law?

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.

How strange that John Bercow would want to make himself an accessory to MPs’ fraudulent expenses claims!

It seems the Speaker of the House of Commons has ordered that details of all MPs’ expenses, claimed before the system was reformed in 2010, should be shredded.

The decision will have come as good news for Members such as George Osborne, who made a cool £1 million off the taxpayer from expenses payments made to cover a mortgage on open land in his Cheshire constituency which he claimed he was using for Parliamentary business.

(The bad news for him is that Vox Political holds copies of relevant documents and will certainly launch another attempt to have Osborne prosecuted, if the opportunity presents itself. Oh, and the Daily Telegraph – which has a complete record of claims made under the former system and used it in a series of reports that shocked the nation and led to the system being reformed, a matter that has now become a two-edged sword.)

Bercow’s reasons for burning the books are a mystery. According to the Telegraph, weakling standards watchdog Kathryn Hudson has been dealing with multiple allegations raised by constituents. Now she is able to tell them that their concerns cannot be investigated due to lack of evidence.

This is not good enough.

In fact, it is worse than the original, scandalous system. At least, with that, it was possible to find out who had claimed money and why; that is no longer the case.

The Telegraph article tells us that the Commons’ ‘Authorised Records Disposal Practice’ lays down guidelines about the length of time for which records may be kept. Thousands are stored indefinitely in the Parliamentary Archive. The pay, discipline and sickness records of Commons staff are kept until their 100th birthday. Health and safety records are kept for up to 40 years.

How long are records of MPs’ expenses kept until they are destroyed? Three years.

Why such a short period? “Data protection”.

Why does this only apply to MPs’ expenses and not to the other matters? No answer.

We know why, though, don’t we? It’s in order to cover up the wrongdoings of the most corrupt Parliament in living memory.

We know that the government has been legislating to ensure that money is drained from the poor and needy into the hands of the rich and the powerful corporations they run, in return for generous donations to the Conservative Party (arrangements for the Liberal Democrats are not known to this blog).

Who knows what backbenchers have been doing in the meantime? They’ve certainly been living the life of Riley while some of us have had to struggle simply to secure the state benefits that we have spent our entire working lives subsidising – and many others, having been denied those benefits for spurious reasons, are no longer with us as a result.

Still, considering the limp punishment handed down to Maria Miller, who between 2005 and 2009 claimed £90,718 in Parliamentary expenses for the mortgage and upkeep of a south London house that was occupied, not by herself, but by her parents, there is no reason to believe any of them would have received a just and proper punishment.

(She was fined £5,800 and made a half-hearted apology – not to the taxpayer, but to Parliament, after a committee of, you guessed it, MPs overruled the standards commissioner’s recommendation that she be made to repay £45,000.)

If any other citizen (who did not have the right business- or class-based connections) embezzled that much money, they would be jailed for a lengthy period of time – in fact we have recently seen cases in which people who were reduced to stealing from supermarkets or food banks, after the DWP sanctioned their benefits, have been jailed for unduly lengthy periods. Yet MPs are, essentially, let off the hook.

The problem is: They’re above the law.

There won’t be any justice in this system until the whole mechanism for investigating allegations against MPs – of any kind – is handed over to the police, where it belongs.

And not just the Metropolitan Police, who are nearby and may end up facing their own corruption allegations. Perhaps it is best that the responsibility be handed between forces on a rota system, in order to minimise the opportunity for underhandedness.

No MP would ever vote for that, of course. In a perfect world they might but, in this one, all that is required to buy their silence is peer pressure. In a perfect world (again) the electorate would be able to hold MPs to account with the threat of being removed from their seat at the next election, but we know that this does not happen in practice. Some ex-MPs who were disgraced in the last expenses scandal will be standing for election again next May.

What’s the answer, then?

A petition has been started, to have MPs accused of fraud investigated and prosecuted – but this seems doomed to failure for practical purposes; the evidence no longer exists!

Perhaps the best way forward would be to pursue Bercow, for ordering the destruction of the files, and the weakling Hudson for allowing them to be destroyed.

Alternatively, the Telegraph could make its files publicly available, and we could all carry out investigations of our own.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Ministry’s mistiming will keep Miller in the spotlight

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“Oh, f…”: Now Maria Miller’s Cabinet colleagues are stabbing her in the back. By accident?

The Ministry of Justice has just announced that £14 million, taken from criminals’ ill-gotten gains, will be used to help their victims.

How much of this will come from the fraudster Maria Miller?

None.

What an awkward, mistimed moment – another in a series for which this Conservative-led administration should be justly famous.

Here we all are, stridently discussing the future of a Cabinet minister (Miller) who clearly defrauded the taxpayer out of tens of thousands of pounds to pay for mortgage interest on a house she then sold for more than £1 million profit – and her Cabinet colleague Chris Grayling decides now is the time to announce what the government is doing with other criminals’ ill-gotten gains.

This will merely intensify calls for Miller to face trial and conviction, and for her financial assets to be seized.

The MoJ press release states: “Under this government more money than ever before is being raised from offenders specifically to help victims of crime.” This is except for when the offender is a member of the government, apparently.

“An increase in the penalties judges can impose on criminals from 2012 is ensuring criminals are forced to pay the price for their wrongdoing.” Except when they are investigated by Parliament, rather than the police.

Miller remains a member of the Cabinet, her criminally-won gains sitting in her bank account. She is unrepentant, as her “obstructive” attitude to the Parliamentary investigation and her 30-second apology to Parliament – for that obstruction, and not for any criminality – clearly demonstrates.

David Cameron, the weakest Prime Minister in living memory – if not all time – does not have the backbone to sack her.

Maybe there is another reason for this.

We were all reminded by the Scriptonite blog yesterday that there is another crook in the Cabinet who likes doing dodgy property deals.

George Osborne “‘flipped’ his first and second homes to claim over £100k of taxpayer money for interest payments on a mortgage for his £455k Cheshire pad. He later sold the home for over £1m having made improvements partly funded by taxes. He also claimed taxpayer money to cover payments on a horse paddock for the property,” Scriptonite reminds us.

In fact, he claimed taxpayer money for several pieces of land in addition to the house, and sold the lot for a profit that was estimated to be £1 million, because he never paid a penny of his own towards the purchase – it all came from the taxpayer.

Vox Political called for Osborne to face criminal proceedings more than a year ago but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) closed ranks around him and the Commissioner said that, as this had already been investigated under the lax pre-2009 rules, Osborne was going to get away with it.

So the message today is that you don’t have to be a master criminal to get away with illegal activities – you just have to be a member of the government.

Is that really what the Conservatives want to say – before an election?

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