Political

What is it about London Conservatives and expenses?

London Conservative Assembly Member Brian Coleman’s huge expense claims are nearing the stuff of legend, his free travel card notwithstanding.* Even when the figures last year showed he had cut his taxi claims by a fifth, they still came in at over £8,000 in a year, compared with £685 on average for other London Assembly members.**

However, he is by no means alone when it comes to expense bills that, shall we say, don’t exactly leave the impression of someone taking care over taxpayers’ money.

Boris Johnson has a bit of form when it comes to big taxi bills, but despite past criticism he continues to run up the bills. As Tory Troll reports, in the two three months around Christmas he ran up more than twice as large a taxi bill as Ken Livingstone ran up in the whole of his last year as Mayor. It all makes the comment made by his staff about his travel arrangements back in January rather rum:

He cycles everywhere he possibly can, and if he cannot he happily uses public transport or very occasionally a taxi.

“Very occasionally”, hmm…

But both Brian Coleman and Boris Johnson are in good company. For as Nick Carthew reported via Twitter yesterday:

Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes arguing against GLA rules restricting business class travel and level of hotel accommodation.

Somehow I don’t think that keeping Conservatives in taxis, business class tickets and posh hotels would be most Londoners choice of what to use their funds on. Nor would the unusual travel claims by Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind. His constituency is in London. Parliament is in London. And so what has he claimed in travel expenses? £2,500 in flights between London and a house he owns in Scotland.

Nor is he alone amongst London Conservative MPs. Jacqui Lait, MP for Beckenham, also has a constituency in London, goes to work at Parliament in London – but claims travel expenses to go somewhere else instead. As the Daily Telegraph puts it:

An MP whose constituency home is 11 miles from Parliament claimed for 15,344 miles worth of petrol money … in 2007-08, enough for 697 round trips to her constituency, or more than five round trips for every day Parliament sat. Mrs Lait, the shadow planning minister, was allowed to make her claim because her family home is a £1.5 million farmhouse near Rye, East Sussex.

Politicians do need to sometimes run up expenses as a part of doing their job. But there’s a difference between running up the minimum necessary to do the job properly and exploiting the ability to get others to pay your bills for you. Barnes, Coleman, Johnson, Lait  and Rifkind all seem to have missed the huge public anger over the issue of expenses. Their smarter party colleagues may well be embarrassed by their behaviour, but will anyone take action?

* Amongst the many figures to choose from, I think my favourite is his April-December 2007 taxi bill. It was more than the combined taxi bills of all the twenty-four other Assembly members added together. Or maybe my favourite figure is £656: the taxi bill he managed to run up in just one day. Or maybe my favourite number is the figure three. For all the previous criticisms of his expense claims didn’t stop him trebling his travel and subsistence claims as chair of the London Fire Authority between April-December 2007 and April-December 2008.

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