James Forsyth

Tory backbenchers in deep water

Tory backbenchers in deep water
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The Tories have had a bad night. First a poll put them below the 40 percent mark and now the Telegraph’s revelations have caused serious embarrassment to the party without providing David Cameron with a case where he can expel an MP from the party without suffering the call to remove several others on the same grounds.

Here’s the beef from the Telegraph’s story:

“Douglas Hogg, the former agriculture secretary, submitted a claim form including more than £2,000 for the moat around his country estate to be cleared. The taxpayer also helped meet the cost of a full-time housekeeper, including her car. The public finances also helped pay for work to Mr Hogg’s stables and for his piano to be tuned.

Sir Michael Spicer, the Conservatives’ most senior backbench MP, claimed £5,650 in nine months for his garden to be maintained. In December 2006, he submitted a detailed invoice which included “hedge cutting ... helipad”, although he claimed last night that the “helipad” was a “family joke”. The Conservative grandee successfully claimed for the costs of hanging a chandelier in his main manor house.

James Arbuthnot, the Conservative chairman of the defence select committee, announced last night that he would be repaying money he had claimed from the taxpayer to clean his swimming pool. This was among a series of payments made to maintain a country residence he rented before buying a £2 million home without a mortgage in 2007.

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, spent more than £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on home renovations and furnishings, including a new £5,700 portico at his home in Yorkshire.

David Heathcoat-Amory claimed for more than £380 of horse manure for his garden.

Michael Ancram, who is the Marquess of Lothian, claimed more than £14,000 a year in expenses while owning three properties, none of which have a mortgage and are worth an estimated £8 million.

Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Deputy Speaker, has claimed £142,119 for his country home over the last seven years, despite having no mortgage to pay. He has charged the taxpayer almost £12,000 over five years for gardening bills at his farmhouse in Essex.” On first read, it is difficult if not impossible to see how these claims can be justified.  Politically these revelations play into the image of the Tories as the party of the privileged few. In terms of the damage this causes to them, I suspect much turns on what is revealed when attention turns to the Lib Dems.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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