21 May 2009


The Labour National Executive Committee on Monday threw out the proposal to reopen selections for all sitting MPs who have been reselected to stand again at the next general election – which would have been by far the quickest and most sensible way for the party to lance the boil of the parliamentary expenses scandal, as it would be for the other parties.

Instead, there’s going to be an NEC panel to investigate Labour MPs expenses, which will then make recommendations to the NEC, which will then decide on various MPs' fates. (This is not the same thing as the independent investigation of the whole scandal,agreed between the party leaders earlier.)

The details and timescale for this NEC panel are currently vague, but it is imperative that it completes its work very quickly. MPs might complain of summary justice, but it is essential that any necessary disciplinary action takes place in time for constituency Labour parties to choose new candidates over the summer.

This would at least means that Labour could go into its conference - or even an autumn election - with sleaze no longer hanging over it quite so obviously. I don’t think there will be an autumn election, though the current situation is so extraordinary now I wouldn’t rule it out, say if Labour is almost wiped out in the Euroelections or a very big fish is caught in the expenses-fiddling net. But even if Labour manages to carry on until spring next year, it needs to neutralise the expenses story (in so far as it can) as soon as possible if it is not going to suffer utter humiliation at the polls.

16 May 2009


The more that has emerged from the Telegraph about MPs' expenses, the clearer it has become that the only way any of the main political parties can hope to recover credibility is to hold new candidate selections in every single seat they hold where the sitting MP has been confirmed as the candidate for the next general election.

If Labour's National Executive Committee goes for anything less when it meets next week it will destroy any chance the party has of avoiding a catastrophic defeat at the next general election.

The parliamentary expense-fiddlers and property speculators need to be cleared out, and the best people to do that in the Labour Party are the members. They know their MPs and they can read.

This isn't ultra-left posturing, it's plain common sense.

15 May 2009


Paul Anderson, Tribune column 15 May 2009

It’s that time of year again. I’ve got to sort out my accounts and file a tax return. I spent hours last weekend sifting through invoices, receipts, bank statements and wage slips, working out what to declare to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about my freelance income and related expenditure for tax year 2008-09.

I used to hire an accountant to do it, but I realised that he was charging me £500 to fill in a form, so for years I’ve done it myself. It’s a lot easier now than it used to be, partly because I’m not doing as much freelance work as I used to and partly because HMRC has made it easier with self-assessment. Whereas ten years ago the process took three days, this week I did in one.

Believe it or not, I’m meticulously honest about what I declare to the Revenue. That’s not down to asceticism or stupidity: I had a nasty scare 20 years ago after I failed to file a tax return and was threatened with court action for not paying the £12,000 the Revenue told me I owed. It took a lot of grovelling to get out of that, but I learned my lesson. Ever since, I’ve sent the taxman a return soon after the end of the financial year that scrupulously details my economic activity.

Except … well, I do what everyone does. The income is always right, but the tax-deductible expenses are less precise.

I know I can’t claim travel to and from salaried work against tax but can claim travel for freelance jobs. Quite often, I have to go to London to do research as a freelance – but I also travel to London to get to my place of employment or just to go out. Of course, I keep all the ticket receipts, but by the time I do my accounts I can’t remember which was for what journey. Had I gone to the LSE library, or was I off to the Guardian for a shift? Or was that the day I spent canoodling in the park with the nubile Letitia? What the hell, the Revenue isn’t going to know, just put down 25 trips to London that are claimable against tax: it’s about right and I’ve got the paperwork to cover it. And so it goes with the share of the heating bill related to working at home and a whole lot more besides.

In other words, I do a certain amount of estimating, then put the ball into the Revenue’s court. And so far the Revenue has believed me. OK, we’re talking piffling sums – I earned £50,000-odd last year and only £5,000 was from freelancing. It might be that I’m such small fry I’m not worth bothering to catch. I like to think, however, that there is a bond of trust between me and the taxman. He hasn’t a clue what I earn or what I spend, but he accepts what I tell him because I’m not taking the piss.

You can see where this is going. If only our parliamentary representatives had taken a small fraction of the minimal care that most taxpayers take when filling in their tax returns, we wouldn’t now be facing a frighteningly complete collapse of public confidence in the entire political class.

They didn’t, however, and we are. The leaked expenses claims published by the Telegraph show that MPs of all parties have been taking the piss big-time for years.

True, the Telegraph paid for the info. True, the sums are not huge in terms of GDP or Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension – and, given the cost of accommodation in central London, £24,000 a year is not a ridiculously generous sum to allow non-London MPs for nights they have to stay in the capital. True, MPs are not particularly well-paid by comparison with bankers or lawyers. And of course the system for paying MPs’ expenses is absurd – although we only know how absurd thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

But there really are no acceptable excuses for what so many MPs have done. Four nights a week in a modest hotel, rent on a two-bedroom flat in Pimlico, mortgage interest on a small town house in Kennington – any of that is fine. So too are a cleaner and a bit of gardening and home maintenance. Beyond these basics, however, it’s impossible to see any justification for claiming. Many if not most MPs have used expenses allowances to fund blatant speculation in the housing market, home improvements they could have afforded from their salaries and luxuries that are in no sense related to their work.

On the evidence so far, at least 50 MPs should resign in shame. But I’ll put a tenner on no one doing so (as long as I can claim it on exes).

10 May 2009


I discover that my entry on David Miller's disgraceful left-McCarthyite website Neocon Europe, listing supposed "neocons", has been changed after I objected to it.

I am now listed as being "not a neoconservative, though he is involved in a number of organisations linked to neoconservatives such as Democratiya and the Euston Manifesto".

But there is a further page in which I am said to be "involved in pro-war left organisations" – Democratiya and Euston again, though neither is "pro-war" in fact – and am quoted (more-or-less accurately) on various subjects. Then comes an editorial comment:
Anderson's defence of the neoconservative trope of 'Islamic fascism' ignores the reality that this has not been limited to a caricature of authoritarian movements like Al Qaeda, but in the hands of Douglas Murray and others, it has been used to smear Muslim communities as a whole. Nor has its use been limited to an analysis of ideology and practises. Rather, it has been employed in neoconservative propaganda campaigns that sought to portray Iraq as a military threat analogous to Nazi Germany.
I don't mind vigorous criticism, but this is bollocks. So – I'm not a neocon but a fellow-traveller who deserves a listing because my arguments objectively play into the hands of the neocons? Get lost, you cretino-leftist, and stop your blacklisting.

"Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"


My good friend Padraig Reidy from Index on Censorship and I were talking in the pub about columnists last week, and we concurred after 30 seconds that the best in any UK newspaper is DJ Taylor in the Independent on Sunday.

His latest is a gem.He is doing Orwell's "As I Please" better than anyone since Orwell. And I'm not saying that just because I know him very slightly, like him and share many of his enthusiasms (but not Norwich City). This is how to do it!

9 May 2009


OK, I know how bad the MPs' expenses claims look. But £24,000 a year as an allowance for accommodation in central London on the money most of them are on seems to me to be about right.

London is bloody expensive. You're not going to get a decent cheap hotel room midweek near Westminster for much less than £120 a night unless you spend hours on the budget hotels' websites -- and it takes only 200 nights in town to make the total allowance.

I'm not defending the disgraceful expenses scams, but why not just give all MPs outside the M25 a £24,000 non-London-weighting supplement and let them spend it as they will?

4 May 2009


I have just been informed of a tragic incident last year in which 65 canaries died of asphyxiation while being transported cruelly from their native habitat in Norfolk. There can be few sights more moving than this: