If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 18 October 2010

Justice delayed but not denied

I wrote in March, (and updated here) when the CPS decided there was 'insufficient evidence' to prosecute Baroness Uddin:
So Baroness Uddin will not be facing criminal charges over her designation of a flat she hardly ever visited as her 'main residence', in order to claim between £25k and £30k a year in attendance allowances for the House of Lords. The property was not, according to neighbours, occupied or even furnished. Constantly Furious points out that her claim for 2007/8, even at the maximum rate allowable, represents more days than the Lords actually sat. But no charges are to be brought.
Well, the good ol' House of Lords have shown themselves made of sterner stuff. According to the BBC, the House has demanded that she repay £125,349 in expenses unfairly claimed, and has suspended her until Easter 2012. She has also been suspended from the Labour Party.

In other news, Lord Paul (Labour) has offered his resignation from the Party after being suspended from the Lords for four months and being ordered to repay his overclaim. Interestingly, he has tried to play the race card on this one:
The Labour peer and donor Lord Paul "freely admitted" he never spent a night at the one-bedroom flat in Oxfordshire he designated as his "main residence" between late 2005 and end end of July 2006, the report said.

The report on his claims states: "Lord Paul explained his interpretation of the term 'main residence' by reference to his cultural background. He insisted that 'anyone coming out of India would not understand what main residence means'. He accepted that he had 'not once' looked at the guidance on the back of the claim forms."
The House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee report said:
... they could not claim, on the balance of probabilities, that he acted dishonestly or in bad faith but added: "However, his actions were utterly unreasonable and demonstrated gross irresponsibility and negligence."
In other words, bang to rights. I wrote at the time
Reminder: Lord Paul is a billionaire who gave £400,000 to Labour, and £45,000 to Gordon Brown's leadership campaign. Totally unconnected to this, he was made a peer in 2006 and a Privy Councillor in 2009, despite the allegation that he was spectacularly unqualified for either role.
Lord Bhatia (cross-bench peer, but a big Labour donor), meanwhile, has been suspended for eight months and has already repaid the £27,446 he overclaimed.
The committee found he did "not act in good faith" in the way he designated his "main home" - for the purposes of claiming an overnight allowance - nor in mileage claimed for journeys to that property, in Reigate.
All I can say is that I am delighted. I never thought we would see justice for the taxpayer in all the greasy corruption of the expenses scandal. Most of the others have got off lightly - and you could say that suspension and paying back what you stole is still a fairly lenient 'punishment' - or got away with it completely, but at least some form of justice has been done here.

Meanwhile, David Chayter (Labour), Elliott Morley (Labour) and Jim Devine (Labour) want their cases to be heard by Parliament and not a criminal court. They say:
... this is not an attempt to ''take them above the law'', but to ensure they are adjudicated by the ''correct law and the correct body''.
That's a bit like a gang of armed robbers saying it would only be fair if they were tried by a jury of other robbers, and judged against the laws of the criminal underworld. I hope and trust that the Supreme Court will see through this impertinent and self-serving stunt.

Can anyone see the common thread in all of the above - one factor that binds all of these thieving scoundrels together? Thank God we threw the whole nasty, corrupt lot out in May.


  1. Please have some sympathy for Uddin-the-Trougher.

    She's been suspended, yes suspended, until Easter 2012. Have you any idea of the financial hardship she'll face, not being able to claim expenses for 18 months?

  2. Yes, it would have been good to see them sent to an actual prison, in the way that other frauds and cheats are, even for a short period. They would have had a lovely time there. But that was never going to happen. I think the tone of the Lords' report is pretty damning, and more hostile than I would have expected, so we get what comfort we can from that.

  3. I sort of have some sympathy for them. Wait, wait hear me out. I suspect that there was a sort of unwritten agreement to behave the way they did, communicated through a panapoly of non verbal exchanges, nods, winks, rye smiles that sort of thing. In short a culture where it was not just accepted, but became the norm where only oddballs refused to go along. Part of this unwritten agreement would have been that they would not be exposed in the way they were. It was a kind of betrayal. Still crooks though.

  4. Heh. Only my third ever post on this blog (June last year), and I was saying the same thing. I wonder how I would have responded to the nudge-nudge of all my senior colleagues if I were a new MP. That's why I have only ever attacked the ones who I could be certain were engaged in actual dishonesty - the stuff that I know in my heart of hearts I would not have done myself in the circs. So yes, I have some sympathy for them. "Still crooks though". Yup.

  5. You have a partial point there - that's how expenses and claims worked in the Civil Service about twenty years ago and it was eminently possible, for example, to obtain a free lunch...

    However, the particular offenders here are quite noteworthy in making no effort to abide by the spirit of the rules, the official guidance of the time, or to moderate their greed. So I have some sympathy for the MPs who were up on charges for claiming a packet of biscuits, for example - excessively venal it may be, but it was legitimate when they did so. However, the abuses of residency, with excess mortgage claims, flipping and residential designation were not, ever, justifiable "mistakes". They were clearly exploiting to the system to the absolute maximum and, in some cases, beyond.

    That being the case, a statement to the effect of "Yes, I exploited the system to the maximum, regardless of any moral implications, because the rules allowed me to" would be an acceptable response and hard to argue with. A bit difficult to respect, but at least an honest admission. A billionaire businessman claiming he can't quite understand what "main residence" means - but thinks it could actually be somewhere he has never even stayed - is simply ridiculous. He's either a liar or a fool, or both, and therefore under no circumstances should be trusted in a position of power.

    So, good on the Lords for essentially making that point, along with an example of them. Unfortunate it's only through a brief(ish) suspension, but I'd be surprised if that stain on their reputations will ever be entirely forgotten by their peers.


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