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The real scandal is that we always, always end up paying

The Jacqui Smith case and the grotesque sight of her husband apologising for watching porn films at the taxpayer’s expense are just the latest symptoms of a well-advanced political disease, says Rod Liddle. They take the voters for a bunch of mugs

1 April 2009

12:00 AM

1 April 2009

12:00 AM

The Jacqui Smith case and the grotesque sight of her husband apologising for watching porn films at the taxpayer’s expense are just the latest symptoms of a well-advanced political disease, says Rod Liddle. They take the voters for a bunch of mugs

At last the politicians have done the decent thing and called in the police over an issue which has enraged and outraged the public these last six months or so: the leaking of MPs’ expenses details to the press. One hopes that there will be a prosecution soon. Like you, I have been appalled at the regularity with which these selfless public servants have seen their privacy transgressed and have demanded something be done about it. Clearly, something is very wrong if the fat, weird-looking, superannuated husband of the Home Secretary cannot enjoy a quiet evening at home watching Anal Boutique or Lesbian Lavatory Lust at taxpayers’ expense without being subjected to ridicule and scrutiny.

Now, at last, given the outpouring of public anger, something is to be done. Sir Stuart Bell, the MP for Middlesbrough, Commons commissioner and voice of the Church of England in parliament, has announced that the mole will be hunted down and prosecuted. Good for him. The way things were going we might have ended up discovering just how much Jacqui’s husband claimed each year for multiple boxes of man-sized tissues. After all, we know that his wife put through a bill for 88 pence for a bath plug for you and me to pay for (it’s that attention to detail and sense of rectitude which is so important in a politician, don’t you think? Remembering that she’d bought a bath plug and then deciding — hey, you know what? We’ll get the mugs to pay for that too. Brilliant). We know about the Prime Minister and his Sky subscription; how much they all spent doing up their kitchens at our expense. And their gardens — would a gazebo look nice over there, do you think? Right, the mugs can pay for that as well. We know that they will screw out of us every penny they can, fraudulently or merely immorally, based on rules which they themselves adjudicate upon.

There is not the remotest sense of shame; the MPs are, almost to a man, eaten up with self-righteousness over their criminal allowances — it is what they deserve, the very least they deserve, because of their brilliance and selflessness, because they are underpaid. A meagre £150,000 in Jacqui’s case, plus those enormous allowances of about £20,000 per year for a boxroom in her sister’s house which she has lied about and claimed to be her main home, when it clearly isn’t, plus weirdo fatboy’s salary of £40,000 per annum, plus a copious allowance for man-sized tissues and accompanying pay-per-view porno-fun. This is one reason why David Cameron has been so — uh — relaxed about the Jacqui Smith business, why he has insisted that, contrary to popular public belief, she shouldn’t resign. His lot are no better at all. His lot are pretty much the same, aren’t they, Caroline Spelman?

Where do we begin with Jacqui? Maybe we begin with fatboy, whose name is Richard J. Timney. Paid a salary of £40,000 per year from the taxpayer to w**k himself blind for Harry, England and St George in the family’s ‘subsidiary’ home in Redditch. It’s lucky, isn’t it, that he got the job at all. A sort of bizarre coincidence. Here’s Jacqui Smith needing an assistant and by pure luck who should get the job but fatboy, her husband! Do you think she advertised for the position? I wonder what the advert said: ‘Weirdo goateed onanist required to spend evenings alone in Worcestershire outpost of the West Midlands. Salary £40k plus unlimited expenses. Must have the ability to knock one out every so often at the taxpayer’s expense and be married to Jacqui Smith.’ Do you think, regarding the appointment of Mr Timney, there was due process? Do you think there were rival candidates and a representative from Human Resources sitting in on each interview? Was Jacqui required to absent herself from the interview because of conflict of interest, knowing the candidate too well, etc? What do you think? Don’t forget, this fairness in recruitment is something New Labour has urged upon us all. Does Jacqui Smith have one of those Investors in People certificates? Or an Investor in Your Close Family Members certificate? The family, remember, trousers an extra 40 grand every year from us through having Mr Timney sitting at home in Redditch browsing through the pay per view.

And then there’s her home, or homes. Remember again, she is claiming that her principal home is a single room in her sister’s house in Nunhead, south London, while her second home is a nice big house in her constituency in Redditch. She has claimed a total of £116,000 as a consequence of this arrangement and the matter is currently being investigated. But what is there to investigate? It is absolutely clear that her primary home is in Redditch, rather than a boxroom in her sister’s house. She has played fast and loose with the rules in order to trouser still greater sums of money from the taxpayer; it is, I would argue, fraud. But Jacqui Smith claims she has done nothing wrong and is presumably hopeful that she will be cleared in the investigation.

Well, it is entirely possible that she may be cleared, even though the rest of us know that it is a clear case of fraud and should be handled by the police. You may remember what happened when the House of Commons had a principled and fair-minded commissioner of standards: Elizabeth Filkin was forced out of her job by a campaign of whispering and threats back in 2002. She had been appointed when the MPs, frightened by a growing antipathy among the public, decided that something must be done in order to make it clear that MPs were entirely straight, above board and more sinned against than sinning — tireless upholders of propriety. So they appointed Elizabeth Filkin. But Filkin went too far; she did not exonerate everybody all of the time. In the Hinduja affair, for example, she accused Peter Mandelson of plying her with ‘smarm and charm’ (surely not) and later ‘threats’ (surely not?) as a means of restraining her inquiry. She accused that slippery little eel Keith Vaz MP of obstructing her investigations and indeed much more besides. She was forced to resign, of course. You can’t have a parliamentary standards commissioner who does her job properly. She was forced out, much in the way that a defendant might wish to force out a high court judge if the case seemed to be going the wrong way.

Henceforth, then, pay no attention to anything ruled upon by the ‘independent’ parliamentary standards watchdogs. If they were truly independent, Filkin would still be there. They are not. And in any case, the question should be asked again: what is there to investigate? We know the facts.

And we know the facts in the case of the Minister for Work and Pensions, Tony McNulty, too. He claimed an allowance on a home which he scarcely if ever visited and which was occupied by his parents. He lived two or three miles from Westminster, in Hammersmith, and claimed for a constituency home — a second home — in Harrow, six or seven miles away. He is on record as saying he thought that claiming for these two homes, 15 minutes away from one another, was ‘appropriate’. But then he decided it was not appropriate after all, once he ran the risk of being vilified by the press when his claims became public. Both Smith and McNulty have trousered almost a quarter of a million pounds from the taxpayer. Why did not McNulty buy a home in his own constituency, which is only a half an hour away from Westminster? Why did he think he needed two homes? It was a con, as simple as that. And McNulty and Smith knew bloody well that it was a con, but they thought that they could get away with it.

And then t
here’s the husbands, the spouses, these flawed individuals wheeled out to take the blame, blinking before the cameras, every time some gross manipulation of the rules has taken place. First, Richard Timney, issuing an apology to his missus for having charged his porno-fest to the electorate. An apology to his missus. And we are presumed to believe that Jacqui Smith was wholly oblivious to the fact that her husband charged every conceivable household expense down to the taxpayer. We are expected to believe all that when we know that she herself charged the taxpayer 88 pence for a f***ing bath plug. We are invited to believe, further, that she is cross with her husband, that his doing such a thing is beyond her imagination — when we know, de facto, that it was precisely what she had been doing for the past half a dozen years. Not with Anal Boutique porno films, maybe, but with everything else. Charge it up to the taxpayer — they should be bloody grateful, etc. Smith cannot have it both ways; Timney is not merely her husband, from whom she can cheerfully disassociate herself, but her paid employee for whom she therefore has some sort of responsibility. And it does not cut much ice to say that if any of us were married to Jacqui Smith we’d probably resort to the pay per view, too. You make your bed, etc.

His exoneration of Smith, the blame being placed squarely upon her husband’s shoulders, is similar in a way to the strange and largely forgotten case of Tessa Jowell. Her husband, the lawyer David McKenzie Mills, has recently been sentenced to four years and six months’ imprisonment in Italy for accepting a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi, and faced allegations of money laundering, tax fraud and perjury. Again, when the story broke, we were faced with a gloomy and repentant Mills insisting that his wife, who is now the Minister for the Olympics, knew nothing whatsoever about the extremely large sums of money flooding into the family home. Tessa was entirely oblivious to the whole thing. Yeah, as they say, right. Jowell did not resign or even express an apology.

The truth is they are sorry about nothing, aside from the damage that is done to their benighted careers once the cat has been let out of the bag. They will even try to justify the whole business as being a legitimate perk, much as Harry Cohen, the left-wing Labour MP for Leyton has done. He claims for a second home near Colchester; it is useful, his wife has opined, because it means that they can go out and get drunk in Colchester without being spotted by members of the electorate. Getting pissed or one off the wrist — either way, we end up paying.

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