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Archive for May 12th, 2009

It’s a moat point…

OK… OK… I’ll stop all these expenses based Charon after a glass pics soon… but I just could not resist this… or the appalling pun in the title. My friend @Sobk13 on twitter with whom I play Scrabble online  will groan and threaten excommunication with this latest one.

It has been a day for bizarre interviews. First we had Stephen Fry telling us that the  expenses fiddling didn’t matter (below), then we had Lord Foulkes, the Eversheds consultant, asking the BBC news presenter how much she earned and revealing that he couldn’t count when he discovered that she earned £92,000 and gasped  that ” she was being paid nearly twice as much an MP – to come on and talk nonsense”. MPs earn a basic £62k.  I was rather surprised that Lord Foulkes could not count because he was certainly able to do so when the Times reported in January that he was being paid to “effect introductions” for one of the largest law firms in the world (Eversheds)

And finally, my favourite expense claim interview: About Douglas Hogg  apparently claiming expenses to dredge his moat. Douglas Hogg stridently denied this as he strode down the street followed by a BBC reporter who was almost running to keep up.  Wonderfully surreal.  The film interview is cut with footage of Douglas Hogg’s moat; the camera operator lovingly panning in from the helicopter above Hogg’s estate, lingering on the moat,  as Hogg explained his position – agreed, of course, by  The Commons Fees Office.

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A fan… for the use of…

The journalists are hyperventilating, the bloggers are almost beside themselves, like kids in a sweetshop, not knowing which particular trough to look into first and Mr Fry is asked to speak to the nation by the BBC to give his view. I half expected David Dimbleby to do the voice over and say in a very dignified way… “We go over now to hear Mr Fry’s statement to the nation.”

Mr Fry is an excellent actor, writer and  QI host.  He is usually interesting on twitter,  but I am baffled as to why the BBC decided to interview him about the MP expenses.  It may have been something to do with him promoting some new political voting website.  I seem to recall seeing something of that nature on twitter last night.  Mind you, I was over refreshed and I see many things on twitter to amuse and spur the surreal.

Fry expressed the view that the excessive claiming by MPs is not as important as other issues – the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example,  and to that extent I agree with him.  Stephen Fry told us that it was hypocrisy in the extreme for journalists (noted expenses fiddlers) to take such pleasure in the misfortune of our political masters and he even admitted to fiddling expenses himself.  He suggested that I/we did as well when he turned to camera and spoke directly to me and other viewers of the film.  See for yourself.  Here is the video.

I’m not sure I agree with him that the expenses issue is not important.  It is important. Members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituency, form a government to run our country or act as The Opposition.  They are called honourable members for a reason – for they are trusted to act in the interests of the country and are trusted to take on the burdens of office and opposition.

Guido Fawkes, in a rather good piece entitled “Sorry” isn’t good enough points out that Members must abide by The Green Book – A guide to Members Allowances. He notes…“The rules are very clear, in signing for allowances, “the MP’s signature verifies that the expenditure was wholly, exclusively and necessarily  incurred in the performance of their duties”.

The “My expenses are all within the rules” mantra being churned out ad nauseam is not credible when read against the fact that MPs are on their honour to verify that the expenditure was wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties. It is only in recent years that MPs have had to put in detailed expense claims and be subject to some measure of control by those they employ. The Commons Fees Office is not, I understand, a wholly independent organisation and there has been coverage about the fact that MPs have put pressure on Commons Fees Office staff – something they would not be able to do if audit was truly independent and backed up by law.

The whole thing is a shambles, a mess – but we can be proud of one thing… Britain leads the world again… we must be right up there with the nest featherers of other nations – and we laugh about third world nations and their tin pot dictatorships and corrupt politicians. Ironic, is it not? Maybe Guido is right in suggesting that where expenses claimed were not wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties the money should be repaid.

Interestingly, the rubric ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred’ is similar to the wording in tax legislation for expense claims.  Perhaps HMRC should look into the affairs of MPs more closely to determine whether these items were properly disclosed or should be treated as benefits in kind?

Hang on… the taxman is investigating… they got there before us – they usually do.

Finally… the fan pictured at the top of the post. It is portable and could be a good acquisition for any MP worrying about what his or her constituents will feel and particularly useful for the MP who claimed for manure for his garden when it is flung back at him.   I understand that portable fans are available at John Lewis – and they do provide receipts.

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12th May: Insite Law… daily…

Insite Law is developing – this is a typical front page daily… and there is a lot more….

The extract below is just the front page editorial section, done each weekday and usually up by 8.30 – 9.00.  There is news, profession updates, law reports and news of what the UK and other bloggers are up to.

Have a look, if you haven’t before or don’t go there that often – it may be useful… it may not. The detailed sections of the mag are on the right hand side panel.

Lawyers’ baked-bean protest over government plans for ‘Tesco Law’
Times: The first signs of a fight-back against reforms that will enable supermarkets and other stores to offer customers legal services came yesterday with a “baked beans” protest by solicitors.

MPs’ expenses: Paying bills for Tory grandees
Telegraph:
Senior Conservatives have subsidised their country estates at the taxpayers’ expense, the Telegraph can reveal.

MPs’ expenses: Cameron considers removing whip as Brown says sorry
Guardian


Speaker faces no-confidence threat after he turns on MPs

Guardian: Parties round on Martin for defending ‘vested interests’ as he accuses Commons critics of courting headlines on expenses

More law news….12th May…

Comment…

The extraordinary revelations, drip fed each day by The Telegraph on MP expenses, have thrown up some extraordinary claims from politicians on both sides of the house and Gordon Brown, David Cameron and others have been rushing to newspapers and television and radio studios to apologise. The Speaker, Michael Martin, by contrast, revealing yet again his unsuitability for one of the great offices of Parliament, took a different approach and called the Police in not, I hasten to add, to investigate the troughing MPs but to find out who had the temerity to leak the information which MPs tried so hard to suppress. MPs, I suspect, would have preferred the expenses to be revealed quickly and after the June elections – preferably, perhaps, in late July when the summer holidays are  under way. The Telegraph has ruined this plan.

Polly Toynbee writing in The Guardian seems to have unilaterally terminated her on-off support for Gordon Brown and says that he must go. It seems that Gordon Brown is no longer a credible leader of the Labour Party, let alone a credible prime minister. i suspect that a lot of people agree with Toynbee. The revelations on expenses, however, have not been perhaps as damaging to Labour as the Tories – the stark contrast in the lifestyles of Labour MPs and Tory made all the more clear by the nature of some of the claims.

It is amusing to hear that an MP has claimed expenses to dredge his moat – a fact apparently denied – but it does point to a need, perhaps, to provide expenses to those who need it to ensure parity of opportunity rather than for expenses to be seen as a bonus on top of salary. By this I mean – expenses  to compensate for travel and  the costs of accommodation when the house is sitting – a  standard expense rate  for MPs who live away from London.  It is not realistic, as some have suggested, that as no-one forces MPs to go into politics, prospective candidates should check that they can afford to do so. We need men and women with experience, who are prepared to work in the interests of governing the country and we must attract across a wide political and social spectrum. I would go further – and this would possibly not be of interest to some MPs or prospective MPs, that they should devote their time, fully, to parliament while they are Members of Parliament and not engage in outside work or take on other jobs.

This latter idea, put forward by many, is unlikely to gain favour –  but the time has come to look closely at salaries and expenses and ensure that adequate provision is made to ensure that MPs enjoy a reasonable rate for the job and that expenses incurred as a result of their being members are re-imbursed. For a rather more blunt and prosaic assessment – I commend Geeklawyer’s analysis which is not for the faint hearted: The beginning of the end? or Gordon’s Big End?


Editor pick of the day
12th May 2009

Guido Fawkes: +++ Hogg Claimed for Moat Dredging +++

PoliticalBetting: Are the Tories coming out worst from the expenses row?

Editor
Mike SP
Email

On this day…

1999 David Steel becomes the first Presiding Officer (speaker) of the modern Scottish Parliament

1926 UK General Strike 1926 : in the United Kingdom , a nine-day general strike by trade unions ends.

More Editorial….12th May …


12th May 2009

Charon QC: Peccable political palaver puts PM under pressure….


Capitalists@Work: The Apology Bandwagon
Bill Quango MP writes…

In light of the recent outcry surrounding the Telegraph’s unwarranted publication of MP’s expense claims, I have been asked by my parliamentary colleagues to join the Prime Minister and the Shadow Prime Minister, and the other fellow in apologising for the recent scandal..

We are very sorry. Very sorry that the gravy train has temporarily hit the buffers. More…

Family Lore: A sign of the times

Bearwatch: Chinese Yuan now challenging US dollar as trading currency.

Geeklawyer: The beginning of the end? or Gordon’s Big End?
You’ve got to sympathise with Gordon Brown’s predicament. No, really, you’ve got to: it’s in Section 213 of the Coroners Bill 2009. Five years in the slammer if you don’t. The joke is, in political circles – as Geeklawyer understands it, that Tony ‘Phony’ Blair was coated in Teflon: he could have been caught on HD video opening the Zyklon-B tins at Auschwitz and yet still emerge from the Nuremberg Trials with an apology from the Allies and £500,000 in damages. Poor Autistic Gordon, by poigniant contrast, could discover a cure for cancer, cause the Lord Jesus to return for the Second Tour and yet still be compared to Pol Pot’s evil half-brother. More…

Blawg Review #211
President Barack Obama has completed his first 100 days in office, and while we passed that marker a week or so ago, now it’s time for a Blawg Review roundup and analysis of all that has happened in, or grown out of, that time (as blogged about in the past week, of course). More…

Lords of The Blog: The Annunciator
Baroness Murphy – Today my annunciator i.e. my office  TV screen reporting events in parliament, suddenly went blank. I was in my office in Millbank trying to make sure I didn’t miss the Lord Speaker’s Procession before question time in order to give myself plenty of time to get in for Lord Cobbold’s question on drugs, tabled third.  I frantically pushed all the buttons on the remote but had to abandon it until a few minutes ago when an attendant showed me how I had inadvertently switched it off. More…

Employment Law Blog: The Equalty Bill | Corporate Law and Governance: UK: Takeover Code – extending the disclosure regime consultation | EU Law Blog: Commission Report on Monitoring of Compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights | PSL Blog: Protecting privacy – why bother? | Nearly Legal – a housing law specialist blog: The Equality Bill

New Walk Chambers blog: Are horse owners strictly liable for personal injuries caused by their horses?

IPKat: Keywords to go even more global
The Times Online reports today the announcement by internet search engine Google that it will extend to 194 countries the scheme which lets businesses use their rivals’ trade marks for online advertising. Accordingly, from Thursday 4 June Google will no longer consider requests from brand owners to take down “sponsored links” that use their trade marks to sell rival or even counterfeit goods. On this basis, the best they can hope to do is to buy back the right to use their own trade marks at a higher price than their competitors are prepared to pay.

Bar of Bust: And the award for the most ridiculous OLPAS question goes to…..
“How do you hope to contribute to your future chambers?”

Cearta.ie: Why protect free speech?

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