Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Jacqui Smith and Lodgergate

This story in the Mail on Sunday does not look at all good for Jacqui Smith. There are allegations that she is claiming her primary residence as being a house in London that her sister owns and hence can have claimed up to £20,000 per year for this residence. The estimated cost of the police protection she requires because of her residential choice is close to £200,000. As Home Secretary she could have a grace and favour apartment which already has police protection anyway but she refuses to.

In order to be able to legitimately claim the £20,000 per year, the rules state that MPs must get value for money. According to the article they are also warned to "avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds".

The part of that article that seems most damning to me however is this:

The allowance must not be used to meet the costs of rent or a mortgage from 'a partner or family member'. And the rules say an MP's 'main home' will normally be 'a matter of fact' and 'where you spend more nights than any other'.

So if the primary residence is to be claimed against, then she should be there on average for the majority of nights. Her spokesman when asked stated: "She tends to go home Thursday evenings and returns on Sunday or Monday." which has been pointed out is an average of three and a half days per week, not a majority and it will be interesting to see how many Mondays as opposed to Sundays there actually are.

The thing that I found most interesting here however is that when this was pointed out to the spokesman, he said: "She doesn't count the number of nights.". In that case, how is she supposed to be able to know which is her primary residence!? The spokesman is trying to make it seem like a trivial irrelevance that is beneath the HS to be bothering with details like how many nights she spends at her primary residence. However because it is critical to determining if the rules have been broken, this is nonsense. Either she has not spent the bulk of her nights there which means it looks like the rules have been broken or she has. Ignorance should be no defence. Imagine if I could not be bothered to count how much tax I needed to pay each year and just submitted what I reckoned was right? Would I be able to get away with this?

I think it is worth mentioning also that the spokesman said "She goes home on Thursday evenings...". This could be a slip of the tongue but even he seems to be referring to her Redditch residence as her home which most people usually use to mean her primary residence.

Guido has pointed out that her advisers claims that the fees office have cleared her claim is disingenuous as they take the members word for it. This is typical Campbellesque spin to try and limit the damage which shows how deep the mire the HS could be in here.

This all smells very bad to me and does not augur at all well for her prospects of holding onto her position as Home Secretary.

Morus of Political Betting thinks that she will be able to tough all of this out and that Gordon Brown will do everything he can to save her. I was going to argue against this and that the allegations are so serious that once the media feeding frenzy starts her position will become untenable. However I have just had a look on the BBC News website and I cannot see any reference to this story, even on the Politics page so maybe he is right. It will be a disgrace if this is not followed up rigourously by the rest of the media. Perhaps this is another situation where bloggers may have to do the media's duty for them...?

Further blog reaction here, here and here.

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