Taxpayers helping to fund Tories' Cornwall electioneering

by Stephen Tall on April 28, 2009

Last month Mark Prisk, Tory MP for Hertford and Stortford, got himself into hot water with the Commons authorities for breaking Parliamentary rules in relation to political campaigning. Now Mr Prisk is in trouble once again – indeed, perhaps it’s time to refer to his repeat offences as ‘Prisking’? – this time for using taxpayers’ money to drive to Cornwall in pursuit of his fictitious role as the Tories’ ‘Shadow Cornwall Minister’.

The Western Morning News has the story:

THE Conservative Party’s “shadow Cornwall minister” has defended using taxpayers’ money for trips to the Westcountry. … From July 2007 to May 2008, Mr Prisk, MP for Hertford and Stortford, claimed £1,130 from Commons authorities to pay for car journeys and a further £209 on a train ticket. Under House of Commons rules, MPs are allowed to claim for some travel expenses outside their constituencies if the trips are directly connected to their Parliamentary work. But there is no “Minister for Cornwall” – Mr Prisk’s shadow role was created by Tory leader David Cameron in 2007 to boost the party’s electoral fortunes.

Mr Prisk’s defence is that trusty, time-honoured shield – he stuck to the Commons’ rules:

When I look to visit and talk to businesses in Cornwall, I apply to the House of Commons, I explain what I am going to do and they say whether it is appropriate or not. When I visit for purely campaigning purposes, clearly I pay for myself. I stick to the rules very clearly. [my emphasis]

I hope I’m not being dreadfully cynical in noting that careful use of the word, ‘purely’, and wondering if Mr Prisk sometimes combines a trip to Cornwall for Commons-compliant purposes at the taxpayers’ expense with a spot of electioneering on behalf of the Tories.

As the Lib Dems’ Julia Goldsworthy, herself an MP who actually represents Cornwall, comments:

I think it is very concerning information and would appear to reinforce some of the concerns we have previously expressed. It looks like something the Commissioner should look into.

If all of these visits are in his capacity as shadow business minister, he must be spending an awful lot of time visiting other parts of the country as well, to have visited Cornwall five times.

Very clearly, the public have little confidence in MPs at the moment. There are lots of issues being raised about the way MPs use public money and this is another example of why we need complete openness.