Beith and Swinson latest Lib Dems named in expenses row

by Stephen Tall on May 22, 2009

Jo Swinson and Sir Alan Beith have both found themselves dragged into the latest set of allegations to be circulating – for the record, and avoidance of doubt, looking at the newspaper reports it doesn’t seem either of them have any reason not to be able to look their constituents in the eyes.

Sir Alan Beith

The Telegraph’s story about Sir Alan relates to a rented flat in London he shares with his wife, former fellow Lib Dem MP (now a Lib Dem peer) Baroness (Diana) Maddock. You can read the story here. I assume the Telegraph is publishing now because Sir Alan is one of the early favourites to occupy the soon-to-be-vacant Speaker’s Chair.

The couple point out that they have tried to stick to the spirit and letter of the expenses rules by Sir Alan claiming only half the rent, and Baroness Maddock claiming only half her Lords allowance. She notes: “We have tried to claim half and half. I have always claimed half of what I could claim for and Alan only claims for half the rent. It isn’t an exact science. We tried to solve the rent issue by claiming for half in a system that isn’t perfect. We could have sat down and we could have worked out the half much more accurately perhaps, but we did our best. We have always been in favour of everything being out in the open.”

More to the point, at least as far as I’m concerned, this is a rented flat – so any improvements made will not benefit them financially, a stark contrast with some of the Telegraph’s genuinely serious allegations.

Jo Swinson

There seems (at least to my eyes) to be even less of a story here, as featured in the Express. Apparently some cosmetic items – for which Jo did not claim – appear on receipts alongside other items for which Jo has made expenses claims. This is all the excuse the Express needs to make the usual casually sexist swipes about Jo being “known at Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance”. As Jo has long published her expenses in full on her website, I think we can safely file this story in the file marked ‘Desperate’.

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I’m not sure I understand the point on Alan and Diana’s flat – if they both claim half the rent surely the public purse is no worse off? They both need the flat for their parliamentary business. What’s the problem?

And as for the Jo story – all I can see there is “Young woman buys make up”. Big surprise. There’s not one single shred of evidence that she either claimed for or got any money for cosmetics. Of all the Telegraph’s stories so far, this and Alan Reid’s have made me angriest because they are so unfair.

by Caron on May 22, 2009 at 10:28 am. Reply #

“More to the point, at least as far as I’m concerned, this is a rented flat – so any improvements made will not benefit them financially, a stark contrast with some of the Telegraph’s genuinely serious allegations.”

Yet they spent money on things like renovating kitchens…I’m sorry but there’s a line where what you do in a household isn’t for the benefit of anyone but yourself, and that shouldn’t be paid for by the public through any other means than a salary.

by Lee Griffin on May 22, 2009 at 10:49 am. Reply #

Oh, right. If the gas pipe leaks and they both get blown sky high, that’s OK?

In all this media frenzy, barely a word about the two Labour peers who accepted cash for making amendments to bills. Now, that’s what I call corruption.

by Sesenco on May 22, 2009 at 10:56 am. Reply #

Presumably one concern is that if the maximum Lords subsistence allowance is greater than their rent, their total claims will exceed what they are actually paying. But the Telegraph article doesn’t seem to give enough details for that to be worked out.

by Anonymous1 on May 22, 2009 at 10:57 am. Reply #

I am FURIOUS about the Jo Swinson story.

by Jennie on May 22, 2009 at 10:57 am. Reply #

This is getting ridiculous. The Express story says that Jo didn’t claim for the cosmetics, but that appears to be the main part of the story. And when you go to the story you find that the “Have Your Say’ facility is not available for that story.

Some of the stories coming out are appalling, but I’m concerned that a lot of MPs who have done nothing wrong will be tarred with the same brush.

by David from W5 on May 22, 2009 at 11:14 am. Reply #

Jennie: Best not to look at the Express. Ever.

by Andy Hinton on May 22, 2009 at 11:14 am. Reply #

Andy – the problem is that a lot of voters DO look at the Express.

by Tabman on May 22, 2009 at 11:25 am. Reply #

Does Mrs Desmond use cosmetics?

Now who launched a campaign against the use of cosmetics by ladies some 70 years ago?

by Sesenco on May 22, 2009 at 11:32 am. Reply #

“This is all the excuse the Express needs to make the usual casually sexist swipes about Jo being “known at Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance”.”

WTF??

Lol! Not saying you DON’T look good Jo! But erm, that’s sooo petty….

by rantersparadise on May 22, 2009 at 11:32 am. Reply #

Personally I’m getting sick of trying to defend the latest story full of half truths and insinuation on the doorstep.

The Telegraph has started a band wagon of a witch hunt that suddenly after years of people doubting what is written in the press they are taking at carte blanche. Fortunately most Scot’s do understand Argyll and Bute. No doubt I’ll be getting questions about lipstick tonight.

by Stephen Glenn on May 22, 2009 at 11:42 am. Reply #

The Libs need to start talking with the ‘gutter’ press….

They sell millions more then any other relatively ‘normal’ paper..

by rantersparadise on May 22, 2009 at 11:47 am. Reply #

Dave said: ‘I’m concerned that a lot of MPs who have done nothing wrong will be tarred with the same brush.’

Or maybe just flossed, Dave? It sounds like she did submit a claim for a £19 ‘tooth flosser’ which was rejected. Indeed that is the headline of the story, though I accept it is pretty small beer compared to some. She does not appear to have attempted to justify asking the public purse to pay for it. The Express has rather undermined their own story by hyping the cosmetics element, since she did not claim for them.

Anyone know when the Federal Executive’s pronouncement comes out, btw? I think it has been promised today? It better be good.

by Terry Gilbert on May 22, 2009 at 11:50 am. Reply #

Yet more evidence that the right wing press is getting more like the Daily Mash by the day.

Well I am one taxpayer who would delighted to contribute towards Jo’s personal grooming. I think she always looks great.

Regards

by Fred Behr on May 22, 2009 at 11:53 am. Reply #

I do think everyone is missing the point here, we the average “Jo public” who for years has voted for people we thought were acting in our interest and asking us to trust them (with hindsight a slightly naïve state of affairs) to lead the country on all matters whether they be health, fiscal, or security, suddenly wake up to the fact that the money the government takes of us in tax is subsidising the day to day living costs of the very people we elected to look after it.

The term “public service” appears to have been silently sidelined, in the Schools, Hospitals, Armed and Emergency services including the Civil Service, the average wage is less than £25000 pounds, expenses can only be claimed upon evidence of a receipt, the claims are subject to stringent verification and in one case in particular “housing allowance” steadily eroded over 20 years to virtually nothing, clear rules that if a married couple were entitled to the allowance, only one could claim.

So for a comment to be made that “this and Alan Reid’s have made me angriest because they are so unfair.” Is quite right, in fact ask the public generally and they are very angry. An MP gets £64,000 pounds plus at basic level others get more, almost £40,000 more than other “Public Servants” if figures are correct the “average” MP’s expenses bill is around 130,000 pounds or more, they asked us the electorate to send them to Parliament, they knew what the “job” entailed or should have done, a full review of any new career would be commonsense.

So what is the point that everyone is missing and let’s get past “party politics” and look at the issues, “Young woman buys make up”, yeah OK, but would a nurse of a similar age, buy make up and a “tooth flossier” then put in the receipt in an attempt to claim part of it back on expenses? MP’s can not claim for B&B or Hotel accommodation in their own constituency, that’s the rules, why should it be different for a Scottish MP, to one who is serving in North Devon also with large travelling distances.

Why should we trust Sir Alan Bieth to be Speaker of the House and sort out the expenses issue, when he and his wife can not sort out half the rent on their London flat and for Baroness Maddock then to state that (mathematics) “half an half” is not an exact science is laughable, she goes on “We could have sat down and we could have worked out the half much more accurately perhaps, but we did our best” explain that to a retained Fireman who works as self employed taxi driver when HMRC come calling because his claimed tax relief on half the day as a “cabbie” the other fighting a fire all for less than £30,000 a year (based on factual evidence) if this is the state of today’s “political class” no wonder our country is virtually financially insolvent.

by Nick on May 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm. Reply #

EXPRESS IN SEXIST BELOW-THE-BELT SMEAR SHOCK

I believe that’s how they would have reported it…

If anyone wonders why so few women are in Parliament, such petty swipes may be part of the reason. Much as I dislike the tabloid press, I feel we should bombard the letters pages when such unfair attacks are made. It might give them pause for thought…

@Fred Behr: Jo does look great, but I’m not sure I’m so besotted that I’d like to pay for her eyeliner 🙂 Besides, she’s too honest to claim for it in the first place, which is why the nasty attack in the Express is so unfair.

by Niklas Smith on May 22, 2009 at 12:21 pm. Reply #

Nick has a point. If you have made a duff £19 expenses claim, you are entitled to say oops, sorry, my mistake, I hope you understand it was trivial. But you are not entitled to get angry about it.

by David Allen on May 22, 2009 at 12:45 pm. Reply #

Nick, should the public be equally angry with Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond and the Barclay brothers, all of whom earn far more than any MP? Or with tabloid journalists, who claim expenses for cigarettes, beer, whisky and prostitutes? Oh dear, I forgot. The right tells us to worship the rich. Only the ppor are to be condemned for being greedy. In the days when MPs couldn’t claim expenses, only the rich could be MPs, as Tony Greaves points out in these columns. And that may be the case again, if we’re not careful.

I will make the point aonce more, as no-one seems to have picked it up. None of these MPs who have claimed expenses has taken any action that has influenced the way they have behaved as MPs. By contrast, two Labour peers have been caught accepting bribes to amend legislation. Surely that is a far worse act than anything Anthony Steen, Douglas Hogg, et al, have done? So why all the attention on the former category of Parliamentarian and so little on the latter?

Here’s the answer: Murdoch, Desmond and the Barclays are quite happy for MPs to be willing to take bribes (a facility they themselves might wish to use), but they don’t want the public to have any confidence in Paliamentary democracy because MPs might do something to threaten their interests.

These past two weeks we have been witnessing an extraordinarily successful exercise in mass manipulation by the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex and their surrogates. Fooling (almost) all of the people (almost) all of the time. That’s right, Nick. Appeal to their envy. Always works.

Question: Do I care about MPs over-claiming expenses?

Answer: In the overall scheme of things, not a lot.

Question: Do I care about MPs taking bribes, extinguishing our liberties and starting illegal wars?

Answer: You bet I do!

by Sesenco on May 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm. Reply #

What exactly is a £19 toothflosser and how does it differ from my £1 version.

by Kevin on May 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm. Reply #

Re Nick’s comment: would a nurse of a similar age, buy make up and a “tooth flossier” then put in the receipt in an attempt to claim part of it back on expenses?

No, I hope a nurse wouldn’t. The point is neither did Jo Swinson as far as I can see. Unless you have evidence to the contrary?

by Stephen Tall on May 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm. Reply #

Stephen

The report says that a claim for the flosser was rejected.

by Anonymous1 on May 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm. Reply #

Do you know what? I actually don’t really care about whether someone claimed for a tooth flosser, a packet of hobnobs or other minor items. What I do care about is that three MPs (I’ve lost count) have admitted to defrauding the Fees Office by claiming for mortgages which no longer existed and are not being prosecuted for it!

by KL on May 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm. Reply #

Nadine Dorries may be insane, but it is certainly true that the Telegraph’s allegations are rapidly turning into a witch hunt. We saw that first over Andrew George etc., now more here. The problem is that in the vote to be Speaker, the Telegraph could quite easily make allegations about all candidates but the select few that they approve of, and MPs would be scared into not voting for those ‘tainted’ by the Telegraph’s touch.

I feel the party needs to get out there and attack the Telegraph over this for smearing decent MPs – otherwise Alan Beith’s candidacy to be speaker will be dead in the water, as with that of many others. If we don’t refute some of these claims and show that the Telegraph isn’t always 100% right, it will have a dangerous amount of power.

by carrion on May 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm. Reply #

This illustrates why when you are buying stuff on expenses, that any personal items bought at the same time should be on a separate reciept, to save complications and confusion if and when accounts are audited.

This doesn’t excuse the Express’ sexist and disingenuous reporting by the way.

by Biscit on May 22, 2009 at 2:52 pm. Reply #

Please do not get my responses wrong, I am just trying to add to the debate as I have in other blogs on this site, I have never in 30 years of public service been resolved enough to get embroiled in political argument, but this has galvanised political debate within my local community the like of which I have never seen, and the comments here are right, we are being “press lead”, more should be made of the MP’s who have not made excessive claims, I refer to three LibDem’s who returned nil for ACA, however we are all wise and old enough to know that does not sell newspapers

I agree with Sesenco’s comments, we do not need a review or a select committee or a special panel to determine if someone has committed a criminal offence, we all know right from wrong, and if my mortgage on my house was paid for, I’d be celebrating with my family, not letting my claims continue for months on end, in these cases there is a clear prima facia case for a fraud investigation, as for 2 Lords attempting to obtain payment for questions, why have they only been suspended and not had their respective “collar felt” by Yates of the Yard?

Do I care about illegal wars, persons in authority taking bribes, and the constant threat by this governments actions on our civil liberties, yes any right minded person does (that’s if you accept the premise that I’m right minded) but that’s the point, people do care, they just really never bothered to get involved before, there was some form of political malaise in about 80% of the population which meant we left it to others, if local opinion here is anything to go by, that’s changing.

I even wrote a letter to my local paper lambasting Anthony Steens ridicules interview where he blamed “Jealousy” and the “Freedom of Information Act” for his downfall, not the £88,000 ACA claimed for his “second” home at his constituency in Totnes, for things such as specialist care and advice on 500 trees, his mansion has been likened to “Balmoral” and obviously he will not need it in 12 months time when he gives up his Parliamentary position so he can return to his main residence, a two bed roomed London flat.

This debate has given the ordinary man in the street an insight into the wonderful fairy land that we call Westminster and in one of the worst recessions for 70 years they want action, everyone says the same thing “if that had been me”, this has gone beyond political parties, the three main ones will suffer unless concerted action to take decisive action by the leaders is taken then everyone will be “tarred” with the same brush, which is quite obviously unfair.

MP’s and who may not have committed fraud, may have, in my opinion, committed “Malfeasance in Public Office”, (It’s what Public servants are charged with, being easier to prove than fraud or misconduct) the fees office has stated as in line with Green Book guidelines that individual MP’s have an implied duty of care to claim for expenses associated to their parliamentary work, if they have failed to do this then they have failed in their public duty and should be referred to the authorities for investigation.

Sesenco, if I can find anything which we can throw at the likes of Murdoch, Barclay Brothers etc. you will be the first to know through this site.

Nick

by Nick on May 22, 2009 at 4:53 pm. Reply #

When I saw Swinsons name I was surprised as I really rate her and I think she has a great deal of integrity. Seeing the story about her all I can see is the bottom of a barrel being well and truly scraped.

by Martin Kinsella on May 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm. Reply #

The response Sir Alan gave the Telegraph when they asked him about this story can be found on his website (www.alanbeith.org.uk). From what I can see he has done nothing wrong. The Telegraph did not include Sir Alan’s response it their storey – I can only assume this was because his claims were justified.

Alan claims for half of the rent and his wife claims for the other half and the costs of living in London are split 50/50. – The Telegraph also use figures for an eight year period, when they have had stories about other MP’s the time period they used figures for was much shorter time period so it is obviously going to look more.

As for the kitchen Alan has rented the same flat for over 30 years – the kitchen was over 30 years old and needed replacing – renting a new flat would have cost the tax payer much more!

by james on May 22, 2009 at 9:43 pm. Reply #

Why has the “Daily Getsmuchworse” picked on Jo Swinson? Because she’s a young woman, and “Getsmuchworse” readers are sexist bastards who are patronising about young women generally? Perhaps. But I can think of another reason. The “Getsmuchworse” has calculated that Jo Swinson can’t afford to sue. Tabloid newspapers will be very slow to libel Lynne Featherstone or John Hemming, you bet your bottom dollar.

Now, behold the breathtaking hypocrisy. Richard Desmond, this seedy smut-peddler with his tarted-up mansion in Bishop’s Avenue, who gave money to the Labour Party so that the government wouldn’t refer his purchase of the “Express” titles to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, this walking slime and corrupter of politicians, has the bare-faced gall to lambast a backbench MP for submitting a mixed receipt to claim expenses. Doesn’t it knock you out of your chair?

by Sesenco on May 22, 2009 at 9:44 pm. Reply #

Actually, most of the Express’s story about Jo Swinson – including the sexist innuendo – is lifted bodily from yesterday’s Telegraph (the report seems to have been updated today):
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5357437/MPs-expenses-Jo-Swinson-submitted-receipts-for-tooth-flosser-and-eyeliner.html

by Anonymous1 on May 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm. Reply #

Sesenco, yes it does. Had Stephen Fry not made such a pigs ear of his comment about the press and media he would have had an excellent point. I cannot believe Jo Swinson, a bright capable young person who has so much to offer, is being treated like this.

by Martin Kinsella on May 23, 2009 at 11:02 am. Reply #

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