Monday, October 06, 2008

Betting on President Palin?!

Mike Smithson of the Political Betting blog likes to have an occasional flutter on the outrageous, but his latest suggestion on the US election had more than bets fluttering. He is now considering whether Sarah Palin, the knowledge-challenged running mate to John McCain might not 'flip the ticket' and seize the front spot for herself! Actually, nothing would surprise me in this election, and Smithson acknowledges this as being merely better than a 0.23% chance, but it is horrifying nonetheless. Palin's latest gem - outside of accusing Obama of cosying up to terrorists - is to say that she didn't perform well in the Katie Couric interviews because she wasn't asked the right questions. Er, no, she didn't perform well because the pleasant but persistent Couric kept asking such real blinders as what are your main news sources, and what is your foreign policy experience, and Palin's gibbering, incoherent ignorance was thus given full reign. That the Republican party thinks this woman is fit to occupy the second highest office in the land speaks volumes about their suitability to ever hold office again!

And, while we're on it, Palin's debate performance against Joe Biden was execrable. She gloried in her ignorance, tried to suggest her utter lack of national preparedness was basically about being a 'maverick', and performed the whole debacle as if she were a star-struck loser who had just been allowed on a local talent show through a sympathy vote. Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey has achieved considerable fame by sending up Palin's ludicrous persona, and got it right again with her take-off of the debate performance. And to think some Republicans seriously thought Palin had quashed the doubters.

The Tina Fey debate spoof on SNL is here, while her take-off of Palin's Couric interview is here, given added spice by being placed alongside the actual interview. Gems both; if only it was Fey who was running!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What up Gangsta? You appear not to have a contact e-mail so this has nothing to do with the above post... got to put it somewhere.

Update 07/10/08: The Parliamentary Standards Committee has met today. The BBC understands from off-the-record sources that the report into Caroline Spelman's alleged misuse of her Parliamentary Allowances to pay for a family nanny will not be released until around Christmas time.

Publication of Tory expenses

Conservative Expenses and Allowances- from Conway to Spelman

Publication of Tory expenses

On 16 July 2008, the Conservative Party published a breakdown of all their front bench MPs and the vast majority of their backbench MPs.

The full list of returns can be found here.

The information covers the first three months of 2008.

185 MPs in total have published their details. Those not on the list who were elected as Tory MP are:

Sir Paul Beresford

Bill Cash

Chris Chope

Alan Haselhurst (Dep Speaker)

John Howell (new MP)

Michael Lord (Dep Speaker)

John Stanley

Anthony Steen

Ann Winterton

Sir Nick Winterton

Other nuggets of information from the information include:

- 64 MPs employ at least one family member of staff. 4 employ 2 family members;

- The mean number of staff members employed from allowances is 3.6. 162 employ 3 or more members of staff. 23 employ 2 or fewer members of staff. 38 employ 5 or more.

- 118 of them (including David Cameron) claimed money from the Communications Allowance, despite voting against it when it was introduced and the fact they plan to abolish it.

- The MPs claimed at least £25524 in food from expenses. This means that, projected over a whole year, they would claim over £100,000 from the taxpayer for food.

- Boris Johnson, who was an MP for the first few months of the year, is not included on the list;

- Many Tories use their Communications Allowance, despite saying they will abolish it (for example, Mark Simmonds used it to spend £2504 on newspapers for his constituents)

- Sally Hammond, who was involved in the Caroline Spelman nanny-gate, gets between 30 and 39k working for her husband Stephen Hammond;

- Richard Benyon claimed £576 for annual cost of hosting and daily updating of his website: expensive web hosting; likewise, Francis Maude spent £460

- Caroline Spelman claimed £3k for employing agency staff to produce a pamphlet (as well as the Communications Allowance of over £1k);

- Peter Bone spent £564 repairing a window;

- David Burrowes claimed £254 on "water", presumably water bill!

- Alistair Burt claimed £335 on "consumables"

- Geoffrey Clifton-Brown claimed £498 on advertising a staff vacancy (advertising on W4MP is free!)

- Nadine Dorries claimed £2938 for Media Intelligence Partners (run by Nick Wood): I think this was for her abortion campaign; Andrew Mitchell also claimed £1762 for them;

- Many MPs are claiming hundreds of pounds for their daily newspaper (eg, Philip Hammond £615 on daily newspapers)

- Des Swayne claimed £2k for European Research Group, which is an academic institution;

- Theresa Villiers claimed £600 for business cards;

- Ken Clarke claimed £650 for cleaning

- Peter Luff claimed £475 for a chest of drawers and £350 for a mattress

- Ann McIntosh spent £1300 on furniture and £840 on food, groceries and essentials

- Michael Fabricant claimed £1178 on food;

- Robert Goodwill claimed £1200 on food;

- Damian Green claimed £720 on cleaning and £949 on food

- David Heathcoat-Amory £650 on cleaning and housekeeping

- David Davis does not declare the salary band of his wife who acts as his Executive Secretary;

The information is set out in a "Right to Know" form which is reproduced below. The form was designed by the Tory Whips and launched by David Cameron on 5 February in the light of the Derek Conway scandal (see here for more on that). It was mandatory only for front bench MPs.

On 9 July, David Cameron announced a similar form for his Tory MEPs. See here for more on that.

Conservative Expenses and Allowances- recent developments

Conway and aftermath

The issue of use and abuse of Parliamentary allowances has been high on the agenda in recent months. See the Parliament & Legislation chapter for more on the general issue of allowances.

It was however, a Conservative MP, Derek Conway, who had the dubious honour of really thrusting the entire issue to the top of the political agenda. On 28 January, the Standards Committee published a report on his employment of his younger son Freddie using his Parliamentary staffing allowance.

The report concluded that it could find no evidence that Freddie had actually done the work for which he had received both a salary and bonuses. The recommended sanction was a 10-day suspension from the House of Commons, which was duly approved by the House.

This ignited a furious media reaction, both on the general issue of MPs employing family members but also on the specific issue of how Mr Conway could remain as an MP. After an initial delay, David Cameron removed the whip from Conway and, shortly afterwards, Conway announced that he would stand down as an MP at the next general election.

In an attempt to draw the poison from the wound and be seen to be taking the lead on cleaning up the use of allowances, David Cameron announced on 5 February that he was taking unilateral action to get more transparency from his own MPs.

All Tory frontbenchers would, as of July 2008, be required to fill in a single form, designed by the Whips, which would set out the use of expenses and allowances in greater detail, with particular emphasis on declaring whether any family members are employed. It would not be compulsory for backbenchers, but they would be encouraged (a nice euphemism) to do likewise.

Other allowance controversies

In a climate where all MPs were under increased scrutiny over the use of taxpayers’ money, it is not surprising that other stories of alleged misdemeanours should emerge.

On 15 May, the Standards Committee released a report on the practice of senior Tories, including George Osborne not declaring money that was paid by donors to sponsor members of staff for them in their capacity as Shadow Cabinet members.

The report upheld the complaint against George Osborne but concluded that "in all the circumstances, it would not be fair or reasonable to criticise him."

The report also noted the confusion caused among other Shadow Cabinet members as to whether staff paid for by donations to the central party should be recorded in the register of members' interest in addition to being recorded on the Electoral Commission register.

Several of the Shadow Cabinet donations were latched upon by the Labour Party as evidence of a "secret web" of donations, particularly for those Shadow Ministers who received money from people related to their briefs.

The report recommended that the whole system of declaration of donations should be simplified, with a one-stop-shop replacing the 'double declaration' system that currently exists.

On 6 June, Newsnight produced evidence suggesting that party chairman Caroline Spelman had used parliamentary allowances to pay for her family nanny. This was denied by Ms Spelman, who claimed that the nanny, Tina Haynes, had been paid to act as a constituency secretary for 18 months in 1998, but had performed nannying duties in exchange for bed and board. She further claimed that, after discussion with the Tory Chief Whip, she had ended the arrangement

On 7 June, Ms Spelman referred herself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who agreed to investigate despite the fact that nearly 10 years had elapsed since the alleged misdemeanour.

Newsnight subsequently produced additional incriminating evidence, which suggested that the nanny had worked for Ms Spelman for longer than she had claimed and that, instead of working at the listed constituency address for Ms Spelman, the nanny worked at the family home in Kent. It was also revealed that a former employee of Ms Spelman, Sally Hammond (wife of Tory MP Stephen Hammond) had told Peter Ainsworth about how Spelman was using her allowances, who then informed the Chief Whip.

The Spelman case was additionally embarrassing for David Cameron because she had been given the job of dealing with the associated problem of MEPs’ expenses. On 1 June, the Sunday Times revealed irregularities in how Giles Chichester, leader of the Tory group in the European Parliament, was using his Parliamentary allowances. Mr Chichester had in March 2008 been asked by David Cameron to investigate how his MEPs were using their allowances.

Mr Chichester initially played down the severity of the issue, calling it a “whoops a daisy” moment, but, on 5 June resigned at Tory MEP leader. He was replaced by Philip Bushell-Matthews. The following day, Den Dover, Chief Whip of the MEPs, was replaced after he too became embroiled in allegations of misusing parliamentary allowances. At the same time, David Cameron sent the Conservative Party’s Head of Compliant, Hugh Thomas, to Brussels to conduct an audit of Tory MEPs’ expenses. On 9 July, David Cameron announced a new code of conduct and a Right to Know form which MEPs would have to fill in or face deselection.

On 18 June, the Standards Committee upheld a complaint against MP couple Sir Nicholas and Lady Winterton for the use of their parliamentary allowances to pay rent on a flat which they had placed in a trust to avoid paying inheritance tax.

The report accepted that the Wintertons did seek advice from the Commons' authorities on this practice several years before setting the trust up. This advice appeared to give the green light to their plans.

However, it concludes that they should have re-checked the rules at the time of actually entering into the arrangements. In the intervening period, there were a couple of changes to the rules which did make the practice unacceptable. They were given a few months’ grace to end the arrangement.


Mildly diverting.

Anonymous said...

The link to the Tory website, of course, doesn't actually work.

GM said...

Thanks anonymous, and the email contact is now in place. Certainly quite a bit of dirty laundry in that report, although it is useful to note that the Tories are trying to do some of the cleaning themselves!. The Spelman affair is particularly vexing, as she certainly had a working constituency office at the time she claimed she needed a secretary at home (see past posts). For proper comparison, we need the Labour and Lib Dem lists as well!