Public's fury over MPs' expenses
Published 16/05/2009 | 03:11
Politicians suffered a public backlash over the MPs' expenses scandal yesterday as they went back to their constituencies after Parliament's blackest week in modern times.
Ministers, backbenchers, local councillors and party workers reported a rising tide of voter anger over the damaging revelations about how MPs had milked the system.
Another parliamentary career hung in the balance last night after a second MP admitted claiming money on a mortgage that had been repaid years ago. David Chaytor, the Labour MP for Bury North, said he had made an "unforgivable error" in claiming almost £13,000 between September 2005, and August 2006, for interest on a mortgage that had been paid off in 2004.
Mr Chaytor faces a criminal investigation into the expenses claims and almost certain suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. The former environment minister, Elliot Morley, was suspended from the party for an almost identical offence on Thursday. Mr Chaytor said he apologised "unreservedly" and promised to repay the money. A Downing Street source said it was a "very serious matter".
After a surge in the number of complaints from the public, the Metropolitan Police announced that a panel of senior Scotland Yard officers and prosecutors will meet next week to decide what action to take over claims that MPs misused parliamentary expenses.
Yesterday, the Justice minister Shahid Malik became the first minister to lose his job since the controversy began. Although he denies any wrongdoing, Gordon Brown ordered him to step down pending an inquiry into whether he had breached the ministerial code by benefiting from a subsidised rent on his home.
A ComRes survey for the BBC found that two thirds of people believe that MPs who have been "named and shamed" over their expenses should be forced to quit parliament. Some 34 per cent disagreed.
Sadiq Khan, the minister responsible for Community Cohesion, admitted: "I am feeling bruised and battered by all of this but it is as nothing compared to the hurt, anger and betrayal the public rightly feels at the moment."
Diane Abbott, the Labour MP, raised fears over public anger. "Saying sorry isn't enough. Giving money isn't enough. The public ... want to see dead MPs hanging from lamp-posts," she said.
Don't Panic magazine editor Heydon Prowse, an eco activist, dug a flower bed in the shape of a pound sign in the lawn of the shadow Leader of the Commons Alan Duncan in protest at his claims for gardening. Last night Mr Duncan pulled out of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions to address a meeting in his Rutland and Melton constituency.
A window was smashed at the Tory office in Bromsgrove, constituency of Julie Kirkbride whose MP husband Andrew MacKay quit as an aide to David Cameron after admitting they had "double claimed" the second homes allowance. The Shadow Cabinet and several backbenchers are publishing expenses online to try to beat the backlash. William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, will quit directorships and after-dinner speaking, which brought in £95,000 in the final two months of last year.
A survey by the ConservativeHome website found seven out of 10 party members believe Douglas Hogg, the ex-minister who used expenses to clean his moat, should no longer be a Tory MP.
Some MPs have gone into hiding. Mr Morley, criticised for claiming £16,000 for a 'phantom' mortgage, told friends he had "gone away for a few days".
Meanwhile, other MPs have been drawn in to the row. Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire, has been accused of claiming an allowance for a second home when she has only one. Ms Dorries claimed expenses on rented premises in her constituency on the basis that it was her second home.
Labour and the Tories denied they would halt campaigns for the 4 June county council and European elections. George Lord, the Tory Worcestershire County Council leader, said after canvassing in Bromsgrove, he faced hostility on the doorstep. "They think we are all crooks," he said. Louise Bag-shawe, Tory candidate in Corby and East Northants, where the MP, Health minister Phil Hope, will return £41,709 in expenses, said her team faced anger.
"The feeling is incendiary. It hits people where they live, as they can't afford these things in one of the worst recessions we've seen. It's obscene," she said.
MPs' expenses The latest revelations
- David Chaytor, Labour MP for Bury North, claimed £13,000 on a mortgage that was already paid off. He said it was an "unforgivable error" and he will repay the sum.
- Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, denied claiming a second home allowance while having only one home.
- Liberal Democrat MP Richard Younger-Ross claimed £1,200 for four mirrors. He said he will pay back £4,000.
- Anthony Steen, Conservative MP for Totnes, claimed tens of thousands of pounds for his country mansion.
- Chris Bryant, deputy leader of the House of Commons, "flipped" his second home twice in two years, claiming almost £20,000. He said the allegations were 'unfounding and inaccurate'.
- Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the shadow minister for international development, claims for a mortgage on a £2.75 million Cotswolds house.
- Sir Gerald Kaufman, former Labour environment minister, put in a claim for £28,834 for improvements to his London flat.
- Tam Dalyell, former father of the House of Commons, tried to claim £18,000 for bookcases.