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…