Friday 24 April 2009

"Tory MEP's expenses..."

Himmelgarten Café exposes in detail the huge scale of sleaze in the case of Tory MEP, Den Dover, outlined in less detail in my previous post.

I think it is very important in these days when the focus is turned on Labour sleaze, not to forget what the country might end up replacing them with. It would be very definitely a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

Friday 17 April 2009

A man for all sleazons

This may seem an odd time to talk about the Tories when attention is concentrated much more on Labour's misdoings, but I think a comparison is instructive. What is going on in Labour at the moment has been called a tsunami, but, if that's a tsunami, I cannot think what word could be used to describe the continuing tale of Tory corruption and nastiness. A little while ago Mark Pack asked if anyone believed that the Tory party had really changed. I certainly don't. There is a wave of new Tories coming to the fore who cut their teeth on Thatcherite moralism (which carries its own acute dangers), but they don't appear to have much in common with other elements of the Tory party that David Cameron has been vainly trying to make presentable. I'm sure that there are in this country a lot of decent, hardworking and well minded people, who simply have different opinions from me about levels of tax and benefit (they want both lower), the right way to run the economy (they want more laissez faire - or is it less nowadays?), the European Union (I want it better run, they want to be out of it) and so on. One of the biggest problems in this country's political landscape currently is that so few of those people are represented by decent hard working and well minded politicians. The swamp of corruption in the Conservative party that Thatcher bequeathed to Major and that finished him off does not seem ever to have left them. In fact it seems to have allied itself to a meanness of spirit and simple nastiness that gives the Conservative party at large a peculiarly charmless character.

I've spent a little while collecting examples, and I present here a simple list. I had assumed that at some point the list would end, when all the sleaze and the nastiness had been squeezed out of the Tory party. But the worrying thing is that it doesn't end, it just keeps on going. I may well have missed some out; I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

We'll start with the man at the top, Lord Ashcroft. (Yes, he is at the top, whatever David Cameron thinks.) When Ashcroft was made a lord it was after a promise from the Tories that he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. That was in 2000. For nearly a decade he has simply ignored that promise. He has recently, and grudgingly, let it be known that he pays tax in the UK. That is a different thing from being a UK taxpayer, and Lord Ashcroft is not ignorant of the difference in meaning between the two forms. So basically we get this recurring theme of one rule for the Conservatives and one rule for everybody else. As the self appointed guardians of the country's moral fibre, they lecture the rest of us endlessly about morality, telling the truth, keeping promises etc. But when it comes to the Conservatives, it's OK for them to break promises.

Then there is the issue of the origin of the money that he is giving to the Conservatives, which is - at long last - under investigation by Parliamentary authorities. The Channel 4 Dispatches team demonstrated that the money is transmitted to the official donor Bearwood via a long and circuitous chain of companies. If there were no need for deception, there would be no need for the chain. And if it were all above board, Lord Ashcroft could simply demonstrate where it comes from openly and transparently. He refuses to do so.

And at the cheaper end of the scale in 2000, we have Conservative MEP Robert Goodwill (now an MP for a Yorkshire seat) when he divulged a particular scam: he would buy flights to Brussels for £250 and claim the allowance for a full-priced ticket of £500. He said in defence of this: "I can pocket the difference and, as a capitalist, also as a British Conservative, I see it as a challenge to buy cheap tickets and make some profit on the system." (The Times, 28 February 2000)

Moving on to 2002, Michael Trend was forced to resign as the Tory MP for Windsor in 2002 after it emerged that he had claimed £90,000 for a fictional second home. He lived in his constituency but told parliament his 'main home' was a friend's address in London, allowing him to claim additional costs allowance on the Windsor property. When it emerged that he had broken the rules, Trend was forced to stand down as an MP. Fraud.

Returning to the lordly theme, we move on to Lord Laidlaw. This is a simpler case. In 2003 Lord Laidlaw gave a written undertaking that if he were made a lord, he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. He was duly made a lord. He still lives in Monaco and pays taxes there. A promise was made and a promise is broken every day he continues to refuse to honour it. That's just cheap. But we have not had one word of condemnation from David Cameron. Not only that but they continued to take large quantities of money from him for a long time after he broke his promise.

2006 - James Gray, MP for Wiltshire north, while his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, left her for the woman he had been having an affair with for some time. Said lover was then in 2008, according to the Daily Mail, installed as his office manager. They call themselves the party of the family.

2008 - Giles Chichester steps down as leader of the Conservative group in Europe (but does not have the party whip withdrawn) after it emerged that he had paid more than £440,000 of allowances into a company of which he was a director. Chichester denies any intentional wrongdoing and said the payments were simply "a whoops a daisy moment" - a whoops a daisy moment that lasted several years.

And on the same theme we have Den Dover, Conservative MEP for North West England. You have to admire them - when they cheat they cheat big. He had £758146 paid to company run by wife and daughter. And apparently he still hasn't paid it back. He had the whip withdrawn. But that's not the point (and this is a recurring theme). When he was practising his large scale cheating, he was not only in the Conservative party, he was one of its highest representatives.

Then we have Derek Conway, famously paying his son over £40000 to do research for him, while said son was a full time student at Newcastle University. The whip was ostensibly withdrawn, but apparently said whip still advises Conway how to vote.

And they don't mind where they get their money from. I quote New Northumbria, who I think is quoting someone else, "Alan Duncan, the shadow business secretary, also faces questions over a donation of almost £160,000 from Ian Taylor, an oil magnate whose company was fined for trading in Iraq in defiance of sanctions. The donation was registered with the Electoral Commission as a gift to the Tory party. But a spokesman for his firm said he had made donations to Duncan’s private office."

For a bit of light relief from corruption, let's go back to the nastiness front for a moment. Alun Cairns, South West Wales AM, doesn't like Italians much. He thought "greasy wops" was an acceptable way to describe them.

Back to sleaze. I was going to leave Caroline Spelman out, till it became obvious that she was trying to cover up something much more persistent than a mistake. Nanny being paid for out of public funds, and a party aide being paid for out of public funds. Over a considerable period of time.

Back to nastiness. Nigel Hastilow, while the Conservative candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, said Powell was right. he got thrown out, but the point is that he'd already risen to being a PPC when he made those comments.

Jacqui Lait. It seems almost pointless to pick out any one MP in the expenses scandal, but Jacqui Lait puts even Geoff Hoon's chutzpah to shame. £100000 for a second home when her constituency is half an hour's drive from the office. At least she didn't try to justify it like Eric Pickles did.

Back to the nastiness again. Philip Lardner rose as far as being Tory PPC for North Ayrshire and Arran before saying that Ian Smith was a great man and Edward Heath a rat. OK, he was suspended, but how did he get there in the first place?

Probably the piece de resistance in the nastiness stakes, Ian Oakley. The Conservative PPC for Watford for three years ran a sustained deliberate and vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation against local Liberal Democrats. When he was charged the Conservatives said goodbye to him and then refused to comment on the basis that he was no longer a member of the party. But he was when he was carrying out his persistent and vicious campaign. 68 offences were taken into account. Another 75 have not been cleared up, which means either that he was even worse than he has confessed or he had help. But David Cameron has never apologised for that whole sick episode.he was recently put on the spot in Watford and demonstrated the fine political art of using the word sorry without actually apologising.

Spongerjibe. Tory candidate Glenn Broadbent types in Facebook, apparently before engaging his brain, "Proud to be English and sick of paying tax to support lazy people, imported spongers and subsidising the Scots and Welsh". They made him say sorry, but now we know what he really thinks.

Nadine Dorries. What she did was not exceptional by cesspit standards - she fell foul of rules about making a clear separation between Parliamentary commentary and party political material. I mention it only to illustrate the attitude that is so prevalent. She was censured by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner on three counts. But she now says of this incident that she was "completely cleared". As Mark Pack says in his account of this episode, "'Completely cleared' or found to have breached the rules three times? It’s so easy to confuse the two."

And let us not forget that David Cameron himself is not above, er, mistakes in this regard. Until he was found out and stopped, he used Parliamentary facilities to host fund raising events for the Conservative Party. Cheap stuff, to be honest, certainly by the standards of some of his party chums mentioned above, but what is significant is this easy assumption the Conservatives fall into that if it belongs to Parliament it belongs to them.

Another example is their "creative" use of Parliamentary funds to campaign in Cornwall by making Mark Prisk, the MP for Hertford and Stortford, the "shadow minister for Cornwall" and using Parliamentary funds to pay for his campaigning trips there. There is no minister for him to shadow. He was apparently born in Cornwall. OK, if the Tories want a Cornish man to campaign there, fine. But could they not get one of their billionaire donors to pay for it, instead of getting the taxpayers to?

Then we have vote fraud. Conservative activist John Hall was convicted of vote fraud carried out in Hampshire during the 2007 election. For the 2005 election Tory activists used empty houses in a voting scam. 6 Slough Conservatives committed electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. It happens in all parties sometimes, but so many?

And we go on. Daniel Smy, former deputy chairman of South Dorset Conservative Association, found guilty of theft and forgery in 2009.

Then from the Leicester Mercury, "Robert Fraser, county councillor for Groby and Ratby, said Romanians would "stick a knife in you as soon as look at you", and that some Europeans "make the Irish look like complete amateurs". What makes it worse is that Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell doesn't think that's racist.

And another example which I can't put better than Antony Hook did, so I'll quote him:
"Guess which party has a Councillor in Kent who said this: "white skin like the British", "you are English, you’re entitled to f*** all"? BNP? National Front? British Union of Fascists?.... Let me introduce you to Conservative Councillor from Dover, Roger Walkden." Apparently Councillor Walkden was joking...

I think that's as far as I want to go at the moment. But, sad to say, I don't think this story is going to stop.

Just for the record, here are a few that I do not count under the categories of corruption or nastiness, which people may remember and wonder why they haven't been included.

Andrew Pelling - lost the Conservative whip after allegations that he beat his pregnant wife. He was arrested but not charged. Subsequently he took leave of absence to be treated for depression and has announced that he will not stand for election again. At best this is a story of a man who cannot cope and who deserves our sympathy - on the premiss that the allegations about wife beating are unsubstantiated. Or it's a case of nastiness but unproven.

Bob Spink is evidence of the very rightward leaning Europhobic end of the party. He left in 2008 to join UKIP - I have the impression jumped before he was pushed. He now doesn't like UKIP, apparently denies that he ever joined them, and sits as an independent. The fact that he's been shoved out in the boy Cameron's attempt to whitewash the party doesn't make a great deal of difference - he was clearly perfectly comfortable in the Conservative Party till 2008.

George Osborne and that meeting with Deripaska. I don't believe that anything untoward happened here. I think the most we can convict Osborne of is naivete. But, unfortunately, stunning naivete.

The councillors Bourne - Conservative councillors in Wolverhampton, and on the board of governors of the local C of E school, while selling sex at home on the side. It was a big scandal at the time. As a liberal, I see nothing wrong with what people do in their own time as long as it doesn't hurt other people. They would be open to the charge of hypocrisy if they pontificated about family values while doing what they do - but there is no evidence of them doing that.

I live near Brighton...

... and old age is not that far away. I might end up in the Royal Sussex in a dodgy geriatric ward. I hope to God I won't, but if I do, I'd far rather be looked after by Margaret Haywood, than by the bunch of self serving nonces who have taken away her right to be a nurse.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Well done Daniel

If only everybody could be as forthright when they got things wrong.

Sunday 12 April 2009

McBride, Brown, Cameron..... Oakley?

So David Cameron is furious with Gordon Brown and is demanding an apology from him. He should get one. McBride's cheap little scheme has no place in politics.

On the other hand, the Conservative PPC for Watford carried out a vicious and criminal campaign of vilification and intimidation against Liberal Democrat party members, deliberately and persistently sustained over three years before he was finally arrested, charged and convicted of those crimes. And we have not had one single word of apology from David Cameron. We are still waiting.

Gordon Brown should apologise to David Cameron. Not least because he can take the high ground.

Because David Cameron is a hypocrite.

Update: Eaten By Missionaries points out that David Cameron has apologised, albeit seven months late, and only when he had no alternative, having been put on the spot publicly in Watford. But, examining the record in the Watford Observer, what it says he says is "I am extremely sorry about what happened. Of course I regret what has happened. I think everyone on the Conservative Party regrets what has happened." That strikes me as a typically political choice of words. He's sorry "about" it, but he's not sorry "for" it. On the assumption that the Watford Observer is accurate, he still hasn't actually apologised.

An Easter message to everyone, but primarily to fundamentalists...

... of all persuasions. I do not know what will happen when I get to heaven. I am fairly sure that I will meet my maker. What will happen next? I will suffer an extraordinary pang of monumental guilt for the things that I have done and not done. It will not last a moment. My knowledge of physics makes me sure of that; the chief ingredient of time is limit, and God is beyond limit, so I am sure that when I meet him, it will be outside time. So my pang of guilt will probably take no time at all, though it will equally probably encompass the whole universe. The guilt is there because he knows all that I have done and not done, and I can no longer hide from it. And then, I think, he will welcome me. He will say, "You have let me down, but you can still stay".

So I think. There are quite a few million fundamentalists, Christian, Islamic and of other kinds around the world who are certain that this will not be my fate. They intend to meet their maker, and I will apparently not be there, because I do not share their particular version of certainty. That applies to all sorts, not just to Islamic ones who blow people up because they do not agree with them, but also to Christian ones who murder doctors whose practices they disagree with, and think they have the right to beat their wives, to Jewish ones who flatten other people in their tanks, to Hindu ones who think it is justified to murder Christians, and so on, and so wearily on. So this message is addressed to them. I do not flatter myself that this blog is the first stopping place of those of the fundamentalist persuasion here there and everywhere, but perhaps it will get noticed somewhere by someone, and if I sow a tiny seed of doubt in the mind of even one person of fundamentalist persuasion, then this post will have done its work. Because one thing I am sure of is a lack of certainty in this life and about the next, and those who think they have certainty do not in fact have it. What they have is tunnel vision.

So if anyone of a fundamentalist mindset is reading this post I ask them to think of what will happen when they enter heaven. Virgins to right and left, pots of honey, mango dip, nectar.... Let me just suggest a different possibility. Read on, don't be scared. After all, you know you're right, so what harm can I do?

You will get to heaven. You will probably experience the same monumental pang of guilt as me (after all, even fundamentalists aren't perfect.) And then God will welcome you. But what he will say to you will be different to what he says to me. To you he will say, "What on EARTH did you think you were doing in my name?" Then, I think, you will feel a cataclysmic pang of guilt. He will say, "You can stay", just as he says it to me. He will say, "The virgins are over there". (Fundamentalist heaven seems to be primarily male and therefore one assumes that the virgins are female. But I think the fundamentalists will be surprised to find that the virgins are of both sexes.) "But first", God will say, "I want you to come over here and meet all the people who you killed, and maimed, and executed, and slaughtered, and beat, and tortured, and crippled, and disfigured, and scarred, and made miserable, and blocked in their life, and passed by on the other side, and mocked and belittled, and enslaved all because you did not read my beloved [insert here Bible, Koran, Torah, Veda, text of your choice] properly.

"You tried to trap me in the words. Me. I who exist beyond time and space, beyond language. You were determined to see me in the words. Did you never think to look through the words rather than at them?"

And then, it is my profound hope, you will feel ever so slightly foolish.

God will say, "Go and meet those people now. It will take you a long time. It will take you forever. And ask them, humbly, to share my heaven with you."

Still certain?

Tuesday 7 April 2009

What kind of trouble were the police expecting

The Guardian now has video evidence of a police assault on Ian Tomlinson. It's difficult to know what to conclude from the evidence that we have so far, but I suspect that the police had probably been prepared for battles that did not materialise and were having a hard time keeping their own adrenalin under control. Whatever the reason this kind of attack is inexcusable.