Six days after David Cameron offered expense abuser Maria Miller his “warm support”, the culture secretary has quit. Her approach to the investigations, the insincerity of her Commons apology were probably more damaging than the fact of her original overclaims – so at least her resignation letter doesn’t try to blame the press for hounding her out because she is responsible for the Leveson process.
“Of course, implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on the future of media regulation, following the phone hacking scandals, would always be controversial for the press. Working together with you, I believe we struck the right balance between protecting the freedom of the press and ensuring fairness, particularly for victims of press intrusion to have a clear right of redress.”
Cameron does make a play of leaving her a lifeline in his reply, however, stating:
“I hope that you will be able to return to serving the Government on the Frontbench in due course”
She should ask Liam Fox how that one’s likely to pan out.
With 10 Downing Street using taxpayers’ money to send out Tory propaganda, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has tabled two parliamentary questions. The news comes after Scrapbook revealed the message was posted to 1.9 million individual businesses:
“To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, what the total cost to the public purse was of the letter sent to businesses by the Prime Minister on the employment allowance.”
“To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to how many businesses the letter from the Prime Minister to them about the employment allowance was sent to; what criteria was used to select those businesses; and where the addresses and other details of the businesses to which the letter was sent were obtained.”
More details are emerging regard a brazenly party political letter sent on Number 10 headed paper. 1.9 million businesses have received the Tory propaganda note — despite only 1.25 million being eligible for the tax relief it discusses, Political Scrapbook can reveal.
With Number 10 casting the net wide in a bid to promote a £2,000 relief on National Insurance for employers, puzzled business owners have received letters addressed to out-of-date company names and vehicles which are not trading. The news leaves the PM’s office open to the allegation that the letter initiative has rather more to do with the Tories’ European and local election strategy than anything else.
Even the return address will raise eyebrows:
A quick Google indicates that this PO Box seems to be the return address for a large amount of debt collection mail.
So is this actually HMRC data — or have Number 10 bought in some spivvy marketing list?
David Cameron is using public resources to send potential voters materials with Tory messaging in a blatant attempt to disseminate party political materials using taxpayers’ money.
A letter regarding National Insurance relief would normally come from HMRC. But thousands of businesses across the country are receiving a letter from David Cameron on Number 10 headed paper.
While the letter never references ‘Conservative’ directly, there can only be one inference drawn as to who ‘we’ is in the following sentence:
“We came into government with a long term economic plan to rescue the economy”
The phrase ‘long term economic plan’ is also wholly owned by the Tories — a main pillar of their campaign materials while appearing precisely zero times on the Lib Dems’ website. Naturally, this comes in the context of copy trashing the last government:
“Britain has been through some very tough years. We endured on of the biggest bank bailouts in the world and the deepest recession in generations.”
The letter states that around 1.25 million businesses will benefit from the changes.
Even a fraction of those That will be a whopping postage bill.
- Miller given “warm support” from Cameron after £5,800 overclaim
- As minister for disabled people Miller was silent on ‘scroungers’ rhetoric from colleagues
- Abuse is more than 100 times value of benefit fraud per claimant
UPDATE: Given the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards originally recommended she repay £45,000 (this was overruled by a committee of MPs) her abuse is arguably 800 times the average benefit fraud per claimant.
A cabinet minister has received the “warm support”of David Cameron after overclaiming nearly £5,800 on her expenses. Culture secretary Maria Miller made the most transparently insincere 30-second apology to MPs after abusing her mortgage expenses.
Scrapbook has previously highlighted the hypocritical gulf between the ‘scroungers’ hate language encouraged by the government against benefits claimants and expenses overclaims by MPs themselves. While the vast majority of claimants are law abiding, the £1.2bn cost of fraud averages out at £55 across 22 million claimants. Contrast this with the £1.2m paid back from the Commons — an average of £1,858 per MP.
Miller’s case is compounded by her previous role as DWP minister for disabled people, where she ignored calls to address “outrageous and outlandish comments” from her senior colleagues — despite strong evidence that rhetoric on fraud and scroungers was leading to hate crime against disabled people.
The report (PDF) from the Standards Commissioner absolutely damning:
“The documentation that is available of Mrs Miller’s interactions with the House tends to show a pattern in which officials would press her for information and the information that was provided appears to have been the minimum necessary. This pattern was repeated in both the Commissioner’s inquiry, and our own investigation.”
“The system relies on Members responding to the Commissioner’s inquiries fully and frankly, rather than trying to argue a case in a legalistic way. It should not have required our intervention to produce the material and explanations required to complete the investigation.”
What would happen to a benefit claimant who ‘overclaimed’ nearly £6,000 and then tried to block an investigation by DWP officials?
A source close to David Cameron has told the Telegraph that the 2015 Conservative manifesto will include measures to “eradicate” wind turbines — nine years after David Cameron waged a planning battle with his own neighbours to erect a turbine on his house.
In a sop to campaigners in traditional Conservative countryside seats, the manifesto will reform subsidies and planning laws — making renewable energy generation more difficult.
But hypocrite Cameron fought for two-years to re-erect a turbine on his former £1.5m Edwardian property after it emerged he didn’t have the right planning permission from Kensington and Chelsea council.
Back in 2008 one of Cameron’s neighbours told the Daily Mail:
“This wind turbine will be an awful eyesore in a conservation area. It is a false attempt to show he is environmentally friendly.”
She was right about the second bit.
With get-rich-quick internet spiv Grant Shapps in charge at Tory HQ, it should come as little surprise that they might shell out £7,500 for Facebook ads generating nearly 70,000 ‘likes’ for David Cameron on the social network.
While this is slightly embarrassing, it would have been worse if Cameron had paid for completely fake followers from so-called ‘click farms’ based in South or Central Asia. Guardian tech hack Alex Hern observes:
“At least in buying likes through an advert, Cameron ensured that he’s probably getting them from actual British voters.”
But Scrapbook isn’t so sure if figures from analytics site Social Bakers are to be believed. 15.4% (around 23,000) of David Cameron’s likes come from India, Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries — nearly six times the proportion of such ‘likes’ for any other active British politician or party:
And while you might argue that the PM name recognition would carry weight abroad, even Tony Blair draws less of his Facebook likes from the region.
So it this really all “above board”, as Shapps’ people have claimed?
With his shift to leave the door open to an in/out referendum on Europe — but only if a transfer of new powers to Brussels were proposed — it was inevitable that Ed Miliband would be accused of a fudge by both Eurosceptics and Europhiles.
Ed follows in the footsteps of David Cameron, who also promised a referendum on the EU — but only in 2017 when he probably won’t be prime minister.
If only for amusement purposes, it’s worth revisiting the European travails of Tory MP James Wharton, who warned his party over EU headbanging, only to be forced by whips to adopt a pre-drafted referendum bill when he won the Private Member’s Bill ballot the day later:
After attempts by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers to bring a poll forward to this year, Wharton’s bill was finally killed off by peers at the end of January.
With George Osborne posturing over the revival of a 2017 poll last week, however, Westminster’s EU can-kicking competition looks set to run and run.
Video: BBC interview with Norman Smith