Lib Dem MPs' expenses: it could've been worse (and might still be)

by Stephen Tall on May 12, 2009

The Telegraph has now published its Lib Dem MPs’ expenses revelations. At first glance, my initial reaction is… phew: compared to the Labour and Tory abuses covered in previous days it looks like the Lib Dem expense claims are – relatively speaking – minor.

Of course, I realise that’s not entirely the point – to have ill-advisedly claimed even the most minor items brings the system and Parliament into disrepute, allowing the media and our opponents to say we’re all the same. And as Hywel notes in an LDV comment thread below, ‘“Not as corrupt as other MPs” just isn’t good enough.’

But, still, it doesn’t seem – yet – as if our MPs have ‘flipped’ their homes for personal gain (Labour’s Hazel Blears), nor are there egregious alleged abuses such as claiming for cleaning a moat (Tory Douglas Hogg) or £20k security patrols (Labour’s Barbara Follett). Here’s the full list so far:

  • Andrew George, MP for St Ives, claims £847 a month from taxpayers on mortgage interest payments for a riverside flat which his daughter also uses. The potentially ‘dodgy’ part of this is that his daughter is named on the insurance policy, suggesting the flat’s primarily for her use, not his. Andrew says: “My wife arranged the insurance for the flat. Because we have Post Office insurance on our main home in Cornwall, we were not allowed to have our name on another policy at another address. We therefore asked our daughter if she would be the named person as she occasionally keeps an eye on the flat for us.”
  • Ming Campbell claimed £10k to refurbish his rented studio flat in 2006 – he says it had been unmaintained since 1989. True, he could have cut down on the cushion spending (though I have to say, pace Alix, my five (quite ordinary) sofa cushions from Debenhams would have cost in excess of £100 full-price; thriftily I bought them in the sales) – but he didn’t spend over £5k on his portico (Tory David Davis).
  • Nick Clegg has promised to refund the cost of personal phone calls made to inter alia Columbia and Vietnam.
  • Chris Huhne has agreed to repay the cost of the £119 trouser-press delivered to his main home rather than his designated second address.
  • Lembit Opik has promised to refund a £40 court summons he received for the non-payment of his council tax.
  • Julia Goldsworthy bought a leather rocking chair from Heal’s “as she spent thousands of pounds just days before the deadline for using the second homes allowance.” No news yet as to whether she will refund this.
  • That seems to be it … so far (the Telegraph had previously mentioned a dozen Lib Dem MPs – so far only six have been featured). To be clear, I’m not dismissing the allegations that have been laid against the Lib Dem MPs named above – each has a case to answer. But I will freely confess to feeling relieved that, to date, the worst expenses excesses flaunted by Labour and Tory MPs seem not to have been repeated by Lib Dem MPs. Let’s see if there’s more and worse to come tomorrow…

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    My cushions cost £2 each in Tesco in the sale, and even then I only bought two because I thought it was a bit of a frivolous waste. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place is we all thought the same about cushions?

    Surely the point is that claiming for cushions AT ALL would not be permissible for anyone else, so why should even Ming the Merciless get away with it?

    by Jennie on May 13, 2009 at 12:00 am. Reply #

    Jennie, I disagree – the second home entitlement is meant to cover getting the MP somewhere reasonable they can stay. Cushions per se I don’t see as a problem for them to claim (though I’d prefer if they spent £4 than £176).

    I don’t want to sound like I’m defending this stuff either (like I just did as well in the other thread). MPs get ridiculously high salaries as it is, and I think they should have severely limited expenses. But I don’t think claiming for cushions is against even the *spirit* of the existing rules…

    by Andrew Hickey on May 13, 2009 at 12:09 am. Reply #

    IMO Lembit Opik’s Council Tax claim is the most unjustifiable, for the Liberal Democrats.

    by Alix on May 13, 2009 at 12:10 am. Reply #

    Well George has a rather large case to answer. Either he needs to prove he really uses that property, pay it back, or lose the whip. Theres no other way things can be.

    I expect all the rest to just follow the tory lead, as appears to be happening. Its a shame as this doesn’t show us taking the initiative. However with all these senior people implicated even in minor ways thats not really something we can do.

    What must be said is that just because the media is focusing on MP’s doesn’t mean that we should forget Rennards claims are the worst in the party.

    by Tinter on May 13, 2009 at 12:15 am. Reply #

    Oh no! Another Alix! I’m going to have to use my surname from now on.

    I think it’s way, way too early to be relieved, insofar as that is at all an appropriate emotion.

    by Alix Mortimer on May 13, 2009 at 12:30 am. Reply #

    Gosh, that was weird, seeing that. I’m so used to having my name to myself.

    by Alix Mortimer on May 13, 2009 at 12:31 am. Reply #

    Menzies should pay back some money for luxury items eg cushions. But I am glad you emphasised that his flat is rented. You have to read right down the Telegraph article to see that.

    As for Andrew George if you read his website he actually says that he has claimed 70% of his interest payments from his ACA which would allow, I would have thought, occasional use of the flat by his family. I also note that his website and This is Cornwall already carry statements from George saying he believes no MP should profit from a property bought with the help of the ACA and that they should hand back any profit from a sale and also hand back furnishings etc. So if he is as good as his word (and Clegg has said that all LibDem MPs will be required to hand back any profits from sales of ACA funded second homes) I think he is on the level.

    I would strongly suggest that Julia Goldsworthy needs to get her well used running shoes on and make a statement PRONTO saying she will hand some money back. Leather rocking chairs from Heals are NOT needed to operate an MPs second home.

    by Paul Walter on May 13, 2009 at 12:49 am. Reply #

    “that they should hand back any profit from a sale and also hand back furnishings etc.”

    The thing is. None of these MPs have broken the rules so why are they willing to hand back money now rather than last week?

    Answer. Because the system they have (mostly) been complicit in operating has been exposed.

    The scandal here isn’t about moat cleaning or expensive cushions. It is about MPs deliberately setting up a system to enrich them by about £20k a year – and then taking active steps to limit the public’s knowledge of what was happening.

    by Hywel on May 13, 2009 at 1:19 am. Reply #

    Let’s not forget the stolen millions the Lib Dems are holding onto knowing full well now that what was donated to them in 2007 was the result of criminal deception on the part of the donor.
    You cannot claim to be any better whilst you refuse to return money that you now know was obtained as a result of fraud.
    If this had happened to Labour or the Tories you’d all be on this issues like fleas on a dog.
    Don’t think you can preen and congratulate each other simply because none of your MPs own a moat when you are financed by a criminal on the run from a prison sentence.

    by Old Hack on May 13, 2009 at 5:39 am. Reply #

    Old Hack – that old chestnut? I think the point is, the money was accepted in good faith (as most donations to parties are) and the relevant checks were made and doesn’t appear to have been an impermissible donation according to the Electoral Commission. It was spent on the 2005 election – no one’s holding on to anything. Are you also argung that the Tories should be paying back all that money Archer donated?

    KT – I think it depends on our response. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

    by Grammar Police on May 13, 2009 at 8:14 am. Reply #

    When Ming Campbell was forced out of the leadership, he accused the media of being “obsessed with trivia”. And he was right. Except this time it’s his furnishings, not his socks, that have come under the spotlight. I guess Ming has an aversion to feeling the crackle of static every time he sits down and has to fork out the exorbidant cost of cushions with covers made of natural fibres. I don’t suppose it ocurred to Ming that some high-living journalist (too drunk to notice what he’s sitting on) would consider this inordinately extrvagant.

    The way to stop this kind of thing is to put a cap on the amount that Members can claim for second home furnishings. So simple, one wonders why it wasn’t done long ago.

    by Sesenco on May 13, 2009 at 8:14 am. Reply #

    Some of these are a bit dodgy, but allowing your daughter to live in your house? I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s not like he got the flat just for his daughter – it’s serving the purpose which it is intended to serve, giving him somewhere to stay in London. MPs who have a second home paid for by the government should be allowed to let their immediate family stay there too. Let’s not turn this into a witch hunt.

    by Andrew Suffield on May 13, 2009 at 8:57 am. Reply #

    Alix, normally I’d agree with you that Lembit’s Council Tax fine is the most serious of these issues, but I’m prepared to give him some benefit of the doubt for that fact that this apparently happened when he was distraught by his brother’s death. The thing I find most dubious about the Lib Dem expenses revealed so far is actually Nick’s £2,000 p.a. claim for gardeners at his Sheffield home, if the Mail has that right.

    None of this exactly fills me with enthusiasm for Euro-canvassing, though. Bound to lead to some difficult doorstep conversations, to which we no longer seem to have a good answer with these revelations.

    by Liz W on May 13, 2009 at 1:34 pm. Reply #

    I am appalled that Lib Dem MPs have been caught up in abusing public trust by taking advantage of an appalling expenses excess system. How can Chris Huhne MP, as a millionaire with 7 properties, claim any expenses in the first place? Julia Goldsworthy’s splurge on expensive furniture is also obscenely unacceptable. As a Lib Dem councillor, I have never abused my council’s allowance system in Woking – I have not even claimed transport or subsistence allowances! I thought that Lib Dem MPs had more integrity to know that this was morally wrong! I dare anyone to tell me that they are now getting a good reception on the doorstep. My experience is that I am being tarred with the same brush. And I did not do anything wrong!

    by Denzil Coulson on May 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm. Reply #

    I’m all for the Lib Dems but this is so disgraceful. It’s not the point of the rules and what can be done and can’t be done. It’s the simple fact that they get paid to be MP’s – it’s not something they do for free – if I live further from home can I claim a second home? NO I CAN’T – I have to commute and pay for the travel on 1/3 of the money they get paid. In this current climate when nurses, doctors and police have seen no increase in their pay due to there being no funds It’s nice to see the MP’s are being really frugal and helping UK plc get back on track – OH NO THEY’RE NOT ARE THEY!
    The only one that can hold his head up high is Vince Cable well done to you sir and perhaps Mr Clegg should take a few tips if he wants to look half as electable

    by Dan on May 17, 2009 at 7:31 pm. Reply #

    Julia Goldsworthy will not answer any requests about her expensies, or why she rents out one of her homes ( in london ) and charges the tax payer £2000 per month in interest charges for her so called second home. ( round the corner from her first ) This is on top of her home in Cornwall.Guess she will be looking for a new job soon

    by Taxpayingmug on May 18, 2009 at 11:44 am. Reply #

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