Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Expenses Mole Hunt Is Spinning Smokescreen

A senior New Labour MP, at the centre of a row over lobbists links to parliament, is also at the centre of a planted smokescreen in a pathetic attempt to spin away minister's shameful expenses. 

The spin machine is working overtime today trying to dig Brown and Smith out of a hole, putting up the smokescreen with a spurious 'expenses for sale' mole hunt whipped up by the BBC, with Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell in the thick of it. 

The mole hunt, which has been topping the news, is a blatant attempt to manipulate the news agenda away from the beleaguered home secretary and the whole sordid scandal of MPs' expenses. 

The BBC placed the mole hunt up top, throughout the morning, after Bell popped up on BBC Newsnight with allegations of an 'expenses for sales' scandal: "All of the receipts of 650-odd MPs, redacted and unredacted, are for sale at a price of £300,000, so I am told."

But what is not reported by the BBC is that only few months ago, Bell was at the centre of a row over lobbyists' links in parliament, accused of failing to fully disclose their connections to business.

Sir Stuart, one of Blair's political knights for "services to parliament", was among three MPs accused by campaign group, Spinwatch, of withholding information from the electorate and parliament about their business activities, reported by the Guardian in January. 

The MPs denied they had broken any rules and it was not suggested they had. But Spenview was listed in Bell's register of members interests only on February 11, 2009 and the website is now password-protected. 

Spenview, before password-protection, was described as "a private boutique of companies" including Spenview Communications, a consultancy firm claiming to "have represented multinational banks, accountancy firms, PR companies, property companies as well as private clients from the Arabian Gulf, UK, Russia and France".

It also claimed to "offer exciting insights into government thinking on a broad range of legislative and regulatory topics covering all aspects of commerce and business". 

Bell said at the time: "None of the people have anything to do with parliament or lobbying. This is a private family business." But he declined to give any more information.

All that came after the day when two homes secretary Smith was up to her neck in her expenses fiddle with some at Westminster calling for her scalp. The Orange Party sensed a mood that some MPs were looking for someone to be thrown to the wolves to assuage voters and unpopular and ridiculed Smith could be that fall-guy. 

Of course there's a mole. That's all part and parcel of investigative journalism. The Orange Party along with some quick kids off the political block saw that yesterday - and chose to flag it up as just part of  Smith's  sorry story. After all the outrage and anger is over the expenses scandal, not the mole: 

"That's prompting some to ask if there's a mole at work, leaking juicy titbits ahead of publication." 

Commons officials began the hunt for moley after MPs were left looking over their shoulders of parliamentary perks, forcing Brown to defend his home secretary after she claimed for hubby's penchant for taxpayer porn.

But one person's mole is another person's whistleblower. The home office is a powerful place, as Damien Green and the ONS have found. It comes as no surprise that Downing Street and the home office would stoop to spin and media manipulation. 

Meanwhile damage limitation continued over at the  Independent with a sad deflection piece by Steve Richards

"Believe it or not British politics is relatively clean. MPs are not especially well paid or generously resourced compared to their counterparts in equivalent democracies. Most of them work hard. They are not all in it for themselves."

Only Richards then goes on to highlight ministers who are high up on the shame-o-meter of sleaze and their whopping expenses claims, including employment minister Tony McNulty, Brown's favourite cabinet couple Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper and home secretary Jacqui Smith.  

Up there also are 'Mr and Mrs Expenses', Labour MP couple Alan and Ann Keen, and Labour left-winger Harry Cohen who claimed every penny of his maximum £104,701 allowance. For the Tories there's Carol Spelman, Derek Conway and Sir Nicholas and Anne Winterton.

Blissfully ignorant of the MPs' expenses scandal everyone is talking about and what other newspapers were screaming from their headlines, the Independent splashed on a 'magic pill' for the heart - only those pills are as old as the hills. Bless.

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