The Telegraph tonight makes two substantial revelations. The first is that nine Cabinet members – including Alistair Darling – have charged the taxpayer for accountants to do their personal tax returns. And while the figure – £11,000 – is bad enough it’s the principle that’s damaging. This government has had millions of British taxpayers submerged in paperwork, with self-assessment turning us into accountants. But they can’t face the burden themselves, so get in an accountant in and send us the bill. I’m especially shocked at Darling – if he can’t handle a tax return on his own, how on earth does he cope with the nation’s finances?
But Ed Balls faces his most damaging allegation to date: that he “attempted to claim for two Remembrance Sunday poppy wreaths” but his claim “was rejected by the fees office.” There is no reason at all why the price of a wreath should not come from a minister’s ample salary, and to claim for it would be the depth of tight-fistedness and mean-spiritedness. CoffeeHousers will remember that James Gray, Tory MP for Wiltshire, was accused of doing precisely the same and faced instant calls for him to be dismissed from the Tory party as a matter of principle (Iain Dale called him a “class one copper bottom shit”). It wasn’t to do with the cost of the poppies, just the principle. We haven’t hard Balls’ response to this, so I will reserve judgement. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding. But suffice to say that this is a very serious charge indeed. It’s bad enough for a Tory backbencher to do this, but unforgivable for a government member. I do hope Balls is able to reject this allegation quickly.
UPDATE: Balls’ poppy claiming does look like an administrative error which – had it been Balls himself, trying to save a few bob – would have been unforgivable.