ONE Tory MP who should have some sympathy for his fellow Conservative Nadine Dorries, the latest to come under the cosh in the unending saga of MPs’ financial skulduggery, is Sir Paul Beresford, perhaps better known as Putney’s top dentist than as a part-time Surrey MP.
Not so, however. Beresford and his fellow members of the standards and privileges committee ordered Mad Nad to apologise to the House two weeks ago for not declaring money she earned for her Gallowayesque performance in I’m a Celebrity.
Unlike Sir Paul, she didn’t take the dosh from the taxpayer. Beresford claimed thousands to cover running costs and mortgage payments for his lucrative dental practice, where he worked three days a week. He claimed his waiting area was his sitting room and filled in expenses forms so that three-quarters of the running costs of his surgery would be met by taxpayers. Three other dentists worked in the house to generate an income far in excess of Beresford’s salary as an MP.
As a member of the double standards committee, he sits in judgment on MPs while escaping judgment on himself. He censured Dorries and approved the complaint against former Labour minister Denis MacShane for illegally claiming £12,000 in European travel costs – while letting off the Lib Dem David Laws, who had illegally given £40,000 in “rent” to his partner, with little more than a rap on the knuckles.
Beresford waxed indignant about MacShane but agreed that Laws – the Tories’ favourite Lib Dem – was a good chap who had made a mistake. Laws repaid the £40,000 and is back in the cabinet. MacShane also repaid his £12,000 but was referred to Inspector Knacker, had to resign as an MP and may well be jailed when he is sentenced next month.
Shome inconsistency, shurely?
Sir Paul and his colleagues are guided by the parliamentary commissioner for double standards, Kathryn Hudson, who works two and a half days a week for a salary of £50,000. How she fills those days is a mystery. Statistics on her official website show that since she started on 1 January Hudson has received 85 complaints, of which 77 were “not inquired into” – suggesting that she and her five staff investigate less than one per month.
Popular tearoom Tory
One group Hudson certainly won’t investigate is the standards committee itself, whose chairman, Kevin Barron MP, made a £500,000 profit in the London property market using taxpayers’ money to pay for his mortgage. MPs are now wondering if she will also find reasons to “not inquire into” David Cameron’s favourite A-list MP, Nadhim Zahawi, who claimed money under the “cleaned-up” expenses scheme to pay for heating the stables where he keeps his horses. “Nad” Zahawi is a popular tearoom Tory, whereas “Nad” Dorries has few friends and so could safely be targeted.
We still await Hudson’s verdict on culture secretary Maria Miller, who claimed £90,000 in four years for a so-called second home that just happened to be inhabited by her parents. It’s a tricky decision for Ms Hudson – as her delay in reaching it suggests – but Conservative MPs are confident she will do the right thing.
She has already done so, astonishingly, in the case of Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for the Wrekin, who was caught by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters this month offering to use his political contacts to set up foreign business deals in return for a six-figure fee. Pritchard referred himself to the commissioner – who announced that she would not investigate because there was “insufficient evidence”.
As the Telegraph pointed out, this was because Ms Hudson let Pritchard off without bothering to ask the paper for its, er, evidence.