Flipping scandal

The story has got hotter. The biggest scam, it’s now clear, is entering the property business by switching second homes, doing them up on exes and in some cases, making a profit on the sale. The second home switch has even acquired a homely name suitable for a scam – “flipping.” Sounds like petty crime, doesn’t it? Even if it fell “within the rules.” Upping the anti, the Telegraph’s political editor Andrew Porter accused MPs of being “ on the take” on Newsnight. Stung by the Commons authorities calling in the police to consider whether to investigate the source of the leaks, the paper is now calling for ministerial resignations. Ex-editor Charles Moore goes further and calls for prosecutions and by-elections, and concludes:

I’m afraid that for many people in the European and local elections in June, it will seem perfectly logical to vote for the BNP. The old “they’re all the same” refrain seems true; therefore people will want to vote for a party that isn’t.

Even though the story that “a businessman” was hawking a computer disc with the exes details round the press for a month is well-known, I’d be stunned if the Met, twice burned over “cash for peerages” and then the Damian Green affair would touch this with a forty foot bargepole, particularly as the public interest defence is so overwhelming. I understand the Information Commissioner is holding fire over the likely breaches in the Data Protection Act incurred by publication, for the same reason. As far as both main party leaders are concerned, it’s every MP for him/her self. Gordon Brown has refused to give blanket support to ministers in question. Main allegations below the fold.
• Keith Vaz, the former minister who now chairs the Home Affairs select committee, bought and furnished a flat in central London at taxpayers’ expense despite living just 12 miles away with his wife in a £1.15 million property. He claimed more than £75,000 for the flat.

Mr Vaz also changed his designated second home for a single year to a property he owns in his Leicester constituency. During this year – 2007-08 – he claimed £1,000 for a table and chairs, £750 on new carpets, and £2,614 for a pair of leather armchairs. He also claimed for 22 cushions, including 17 made from silk costing £15 each. During the course of the year he rented out his London flat.

• Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton, spent £22,500 of taxpayers’ money treating dry rot at her and her husband’s seaside house 100 miles from her constituency – days after switching her “second home” there.

The parliamentary authorities were concerned that the work broke the “spirit” of the rules. However, the MP’s claim was not blocked. Miss Moran’s expenses appear to be among the most questionable of any MP.

Over four years she also spent thousands of pounds on three separate properties, switching between Westminster, Luton and Southampton and renovating each home in turn.

• Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, has spent more than £37,000 on refurbishing and furnishing a modest two-bedroom flat in south London.

• Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister, switched the designation of his second home to a property he shares with his partner in west London. Although the couple initially split the mortgage costs, Mr Bradshaw now claims the entire interest bill on the property – despite owning only half the property.

• Greg Barker, the shadow climate change minister, made £320,000 after buying a flat with the help of taxpayers’ money, and selling it after only 27 months. He is the first senior Tory to become embroiled in the expenses row, but details of other prominent Conservatives will be disclosed in coming days. Mr Brker denies the accuracy of this statement, saying he put ” a substantial six figure sum”of hos own into the purchase.

• Barry Gardiner, the former environment and NI minister, made a profit of almost £200,000 after buying a Westminster flat and claiming thousands of pounds to renovate the property. Mr Gardiner’s main home is only eight miles from Parliament.

• Phil Woolas, the Home Office Minister, claimed for items of women’s clothing, tampons and nappies. The parliamentary rules only allow expenses which are “exclusively” for MPs’ own use so it is not clear these items were justified. Woolas angrily denies the claims and is threatening to sue the Telegraph. The Telegraph is sticking by its story.

Only one commentator the ex-MP Matthew Parris, shows much sympathy for MPs today:

I’d go for (a). I’d add £30,000 to their salaries (half of which would come straight back in tax) and abolish all their housing and living expenses. And I’d do it before the next election, having secured the tacit agreement of the Opposition not to make too much of it. And do you know what? After the most almighty hoo-hah for about a week, MPs would still be paid less than many GPs and everyone would lose interest.

Wishful thinking I’m afraid Matthew, to up salaries by 30k in a recession. Particularly after such scammy behaviour.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • This is manna from heaven to the BNP and I’m not convinced that the leaker wasn’t well aware of that.

    Not that I have a problem with the information being released, but the timing, just before what is likely to be the biggest far-right breakthrough in British political history is significant.

    Still, I suppose rather Jacqui Brown’s husband’s pr0n than the Reichstag Fire…

  • ACS

    [i]Still, I suppose rather Jacqui Brown’s husband’s pr0n than the Reichstag Fire…[/i]

    You are quite the drama queen Sammy. A large BNP vote will give the political establishment in Britain a massive kick up the arse. Uncontrolled mass immigration and egregious lack of integration on the part of the immigrant communities in England must be addressed. If it takes the BNP winning 5 or 6 seats in the European Parliament for Cameron to realise this then I think it’d be a brilliant thing. Brown will never get off his fat, ugly arse to address this pertinent issue for three reasons:

    1. The majority of the immigrant populations in Britain vote Labour.

    2. He’s an incompetent fool.

    3. The radical, Marxist left of ZaNuLabour would kill him.

  • OK, you’re a right wing Tory with defined fascist tendencies. We’re never going to see eye to eye, are we? Or else, you’re a BNP activist and this is the current party line for the Reichskeyboardenkameraden aiming at pushing the party line.

  • ACS

    Er, I’m neither. I’m an Irish republican, actually. If I had a vote in British elections I’d probably lend it to the Lib Dems (especially if they move more towards their liberal roots). I never want to see the day when the BNP, or their ilk, are in charge of the UK. Put simply, if the BNP win a few seats here and there it will give the political establishment a much needed but up the arse and one that will, hopefully, have them land a million miles away from their current uber-politically correct tendencies.

    Need you tar all those who would like to see immigrant communities integrate more with the natives and the emergence of a selective immigration policy with the ‘fascist’ brush? That really is a bloody lazy approach, Sammy, and one that utilises one of the most misused words in the English language in an incorrect manner (yet again).

  • Dave

    What’s the argument – ‘don’t expose the endemic corruption within British political parties because the people will vote for alternative British political parties’? Switching the topic to the BNP when the actual topic is politicians sticking their snouts in the taxpayers trough is a disingenuous diversion tactic.

    What is actually required is a culture change in politics where we begin to elect people to serve the people rather than elect self-serving careerist hacks who have a statist mentality wherein the people only exist to serve the state and its ruling class. It was a very bad mistake to allow politics to become a bog-standard career when it should be the great and the good (as, rather obviously, with proven worth) serving the nation for a period of not more than three terms. The way these political parties look at it, particularly in Ireland, is that there are only a small number of jobs available within their ‘profession’ compared to other careers, so they adore the EU because it creates more career options for the careerist hacks and more power for the mandarins of the political parties. We really need to be looking at options for democracy that exclude political parties (power cartels) and that focuses on individuals. This is something the people need to do because those power cartels will not reform themselves – they operate toward a selfish interest, not a national interest.

    Look at the three top jobs in the Irish government (Cowen, Lenihan, Coughlan) and you’ll see that all of them are held by those who have ‘inherited’ their seat from a deceased relative. You’ll also see three people who are not fit to hold those offices. This culture of Royal inheritance of power (where the people merely endorsed the choice of the political parties) continues with the son of the late minister Sheamus Brenen now seeking his father’s seat. If the people don’t demand reform of the system, then they deserve the corrupt self-serving careerist muppets they elect.

    Ms Moran above, for example, should be serving a sentence for fraud rather than serving the people of Luton.

  • blinding

    The problem with Democracy and Capitalism is that there seems to be no way to chastise/punish the incompetent and the embezzlers.

    Bring back hanging/flogging/stocks for incompetent/thieving politicians/capitalists

    and the final coup de gras “strip them of their pensions”

    I notice not even the politicians friends in the media are coming out to spin “how hard they work” or “they are in politics for the good of the people”

    They have been caught with their financial underwear down and thats £50 notes jammed in the crack.

  • wild turkey

    ‘The way these political parties look at it, particularly in Ireland, is that there are only a small number of jobs available within their ‘profession’ compared to other careers, so they adore the EU because it creates more career options for the careerist hacks and more power for the mandarins of the political parties. ‘

    Dave, this is why politicians also cultivate and grow and fund the bloated quangocracy. Example? The late lamented Women’s Coalition might be a memory, but the ‘spirit’ persists on quanogs and ‘commissions’ througout the north.

    With respect to the Westminister scam. Anyone have the answers to the following questions.

    1. Amongst the economically active population, what percentage have their main occupation as solicitors or barristers?

    2. Amongst UK MPs, what percentage have their previous main occupation, or qualification/degree as solicitors or barristers?

    3. Is the difference between the percentages is 1 and 2 above statistically significant?

    4. If answer to 3 above is yes, is not the current soap opera at Westminster a mere reflection of the filth, sorry self-regard, that is prevalent amongst our learned friends?

  • Rory Carr

    Political commentator, George Oborne, was certainly pulling no punches on Radio 4 earlier today when he condemned the whole political class without exception as men and women without honour, honesty or shame, obssessed only with their own material gain.

    With the resignation of Alice Mahon MP I cannot now think of one single member of the House of Commons whom I would trust or or one that I believe would ever dream of placing the interests of their constituents or the welfare of the country as a whole before their own misbegotten aims.

    The only real hope for the body politic is a deepening of the present crisis to the extent that there is such a mighty roar of outrage from the populace that those who own and control the commanding heights of the economy take heed.

    The problem is that with the death of the Communist Party and Labour sold out and shamed there is no mature, responsible political leadership to give direction and that creates great danger of opportunity for the thuggish Right underwritten by their backers among the self-nominated of “the great and the good” to exert their muscle.

    We live in interesting times indeed.

  • DC

    Time for MPs to put on those bright orange Community Payback jackets.

    Shadow banking, shadow journalism and now shadow expenses. Nanny state the Tories cry but it would seem the MPs are being nannied by the public, not the other way round. Getting benefits is hard, jumping through hoops for pounds and pennies, whereas MPs per person rake in thousands of the back of their own authorisation, flea like, they leap through their own system. Some maxing it out all the way to the top, paid for via private sector tax.

    Anyone for a wiped assed and new toilet seat with that?

  • DC

    Brian, Matthew Parris is wrong, it isn’t about money it is their mindset. It is exploitative. An exploitative mindset stinks.

  • willis


    “Shadow banking, shadow journalism and now shadow expenses.”

    Very well put. It is all of a piece. How good it is to know that Freedom of Information was bought by a payment to a thief, by a paper whose current owners are secretive to a fault and whose previous owner languishes in jail in the US.

    Not that I am not glad to have the information. I can now re-assure myself that any failure to gain public office was purely on account of my probity.

    What is to be done? Whatever it is I do not see David Cameron and George Osborne doing it. Too sleek, too well-connected.

  • willis

    Actually there is one fairly innocuous thing that both big parties could do which would root out a lot of this:

    Hand back total control of candidate choice to constituency parties. Less central control = less career politicians = more respect for voters.

  • joeCanuck

    Gordon Brown has refused to give blanket support to ministers in question.

    Is that because blankets can’t be “expensed”?