Observers were quick to question how well Nigel Evans’ complaints about the bill for his defence sat with his admission that he “might well” have voted for the government’s cuts to Legal Aid if he were not deputy speaker at the time.
Indeed. The former deputy speakers’ website reveals he was lobbied by a number of local legal professionals exactly one week after he was first arrested and bailed on 4 May 2013. They included QC Tony Cross, solicitor Simon Farnsworth and barrister Kend Hind CBE — who is also a Conservative councillor in Evans’ Ribble Valley constituency.
Evans did write to Chris Grayling but failed to elucidate his own position on the issue:
“I am sympathetic to their concerns and will be making sure that I raise them with the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP. The concerns of the legal profession are based on knowledge and experience. It is important that they are duly considered during the consultation process.”
The legal profession’s entreaties were obviously less persuasive than that £130,000 legal bill.
A Channel 4 News report broadcast in the wake of Nigel Evans’ acquittal revealed that a third of parliamentary aides claimed to have been sexually harassed — victims of a Westminster culture which allegedly turns a blind eye to MPs making drunken passes at young staff.
But breaking his silence on this wider issue in an interview with the Today programme, the ex-deputy speaker claimed such suggestions were “completely wrong” – despite a majority of Westminster workers interviewed by researchers saying they had first or second hand knowledge or inappropriate behaviour.
“It’s certainly not like that. I think a lot of that was in the can way before the verdict came out and they decided to run it anyway.
“I spoke to one of my councillors, Geoff Driver, who was [Conservative] leader of Lancashire County Council and he’s been to Westminster hundreds of times. I said ‘Geoff, do you ever see any of this because I don’t and maybe I’m missing something’ and he himself said ‘No I don’t’.
While Evans was acquitted of rape and sexual assault, the jury is still out on the ‘Palace of Sexminster’.
So is Cllr Geoff Driver — a white male 69 year-old provincial Tory grandee who has never worked in Westminster — really the best witness for the defence?
With former deputy speaker Nigel Evans acquitted of rape and sexual assault this afternoon, his allies have stuck the boot in to the Crown Prosecution Service — and hard:
One alleged victim has even told reporters that — while a culture of inappropriate sexual behaviour in parliament should be acted on — he did not think it was a criminal act:
“I don’t believe he [Evans] should have been charged. I don’t think it was a criminal act. It’s the sort of thing that happens in every bar. It wasn’t a big deal.”
With ‘not guilty’ verdicts for Coronation Street actors Michael Le Vell and Bill Roache in North West courts, Evans becomes the third high-profile acquittal on sex charges under the watch of the region’s chief crown prosecutor, Nazir Afzal OBE.
But the fallout from the Evans trial could get really political when it comes to the role of ex-CPS boss Keir Starmer. While the leftie human rights QC is on the Labour Party’s victims’ taskforce and is currently positioning himself for a run for parliament, one of his last actions before leaving in October was to front the final decision to prosecute the deputy speaker.
Scrapbook has already heard Tory whispers of a politically-driven ‘Get Starmer’ plot.
With Tory Nigel Evans charged with sexual offences against seven men, party campaigners will have maintained a keen interest in the possibility of a by-election in Ribble Valley since his initial arrest in May. But as the only credible challengers in the event of a conviction for the (now former) deputy speaker, the UKIP operation in the seat is in disarray.
Party spinners have been away briefing that they are in with a chance:
“A conviction would almost certainly force him to resign [his seat], however, and the UK Independence Party has suggested it would hope to do well in any by-election.”
Indeed, an August council by-election in the constituency’s main town of Clitheroe would have provided fertile soil for UKIP to test their ground operation — if it weren’t for the fact that their lynchpin activist in the area, errrr, quit the party and stood as an independent.
Steve Rush, the party’s Westminster candidate in 2010 and former Lancashire vice-chair demolished Tory opposition in the Littlemoor by-election, securing second place as the Lib Dems surged to victory. UKIP didn’t even bother standing a “paper candidate” with nominal campaign support.
Though Rush might well have been forced to step aside for any hypothetical future contest, the state of UKIP in Lancashire’s wealthiest enclave does not augur well for Nigel Farage’s parliamentary ambitions.
Evans is bailed to appear before Preston Magistrates’ Court on 18 September.
Last week’s own goal in which a council leader remarked that the Conservative shadow cabinet “haven’t run a piss-up in a brewery” has renewed the promotion hopes of one Tory backbencher. Positions within licensed industry bodies have raised the prospect of a return to the front bench for former shadow Welsh secretary Nigel Evans.
Speaking exclusively to Political Scrapbook the MP for Ribble Valley said:
“With my varied roles as vice-chair of the All-Party Beer Group and president of pub safety group National Pubwatch, I have most certainly run a piss-up in a brewery.” – Nigel Evans
Friends of Evans claimed last night that several hospitality events the MP had helped to organise took place on brewery premises. A source within CCHQ has confirmed that Team Cameron are looking at ways his experience could be utilised in government, with the possibility that Evans could fill a new role as “Piss-Up Czar”.
Trebles all round!
Tory minnow Nigel Evans MP has been happy to hide in the shadow of frontbencher Alan Duncan in the wake of their unguarded comments on expenses.
What an opportune moment to revisit Evans’ pious remarks on the expenses scandal, which were posted on his parliamentary website:
Even though I was the 570th lowest spending MP out of 646 I am hardly complacent concerning the rot at the heart of our system … These rules now need to be torn up and replaced with something which is not tainted with the murky smog of snouts in troughs.
Snouts in the trough, eh? Scrapbook wonders what those Ribble Valley constituents living on minimum wage make of the following statement, which was secretly recorded in the Houses of Parliament:
“Got to have a second income, mate, couldn’t survive on £64,000″
As he is teased about “trading down” in his choice of drink, Mr Evans adds:
“This is what it has come to now – actually, I’m paying, that’s what it has come to.”
Evans told the Lancashire Telegraph he was being “ironic”. Talking of irony, Evans concluded the article on his website with the following:
I do hope that this same transparency which has acted as a catalyst for urgent change of MPs allowances will be introduced into every corner of public life.
One assumes being filmed secretly by Heydon Prowse wasn’t the sort of transparency Evans had in mind!