Thursday, June 18, 2009

MPs Play Blankety Blank At Taxpayers' Expense

Taxpayers have been left with a Westminster game of Blankety Blank as the MPs' expenses sham has been begrudgedly dragged screaming and kicking online. Making a mockery of any pretence at openness, the public will get a little from today's squalid exercise in deception. Still left wondering where all their cash was spent.

Journalists and the public swinging over to the parliamentary web site to find out what MPs have been up to with their hard-earned cash shouldn't get too excited. It's all there in black and white. Just a little too much black.

Hundreds of thousands of carefully censored documents setting out some details of MPs’ expenses claims have been published with details dutifully blanked out. What's not there is more interesting than what is. But there are quite a few juicy titbits festering away in the pdfs. PoliticsHome is rounding them up.

The best 'bung it all on expenses' so far? Bashful Brown claimed £176.25 for a CD of photographs of himself. Wannabe orator Osborne claimed £47 for a DVD of his own speech.

The extraordinary lengths MPs have gone to hide their shabby dealings holds no bounds.

Vast swathes of information have been blacked out, in particular crucial addresses which would allow taxpayers to see how expenses had been fiddled and second homes flipped.

MPs were given weeks to pour over the exes-files and blackout information, with an army of security consultants brought in to cut out “sensitive” information and help blank out the gory embarrassing details.

Without full details of crucial addresses many of the Telegraph revelations would still be secret, including the squalid practice of "flipping" second homes to make a mint out of claims.

Today's blackout blanks out all rejected claims and their addresses and at a stroke disguises the extent to which some MPs used the flippin' flipping fiddle.

Blanked out too are the heartfelt pleas between MPs and the commons fees office to try to twist their arm over a claim. Rejected claims, such as the Remembrance Sunday wreaths, don't see the light of day. So just what did triple flipping Balls have to say on his and wife Yvette's claim forms? (opposite, click to enlarge). ConservativeHome is on their case.

Today's pointless PR exercise in 'openness' is a sham.

If the public had been left to rely on today's deceit, the fiddle over identifying the home flipping and the avoidance of capital gains tax would never have been exposed. Without the Telegraph's stirling job using uncensored claims, taxpayers would have been left in the dark, none the wiser.

And it gets worse. It's reported the commons won't be publishing documents relating to MPs who have since left the House. So that should let Lord Mandy and Boris off the hook. Some of Blair's expense claims have been mysteriously 'accidentally shredded' already - and he claimed for the shredding on expenses!

The shame list of fiddling MPs has been endless as crooks, spivs and chancers were exposed in a relentless Telegraph campaign.

The publication comes hard on the heels of the latest fiddler, treasury minister Kitty Ussher, ushered out following allegations that she avoided paying capital gains tax by "flipping" her second home. More are sure to follow sure as golden eggs is rotten eggs.

Meanwhile her serial flipping boss Darling got off Scot free and has managed cling onto his job by the skin of his teeth.

If today's blanked out claims was all the Telegraph and taxpayers had to work on, then MPs like Ussher would still be in their cushy jobs and bleating Blears, up to her neck in a similar CGT scam, wouldn't be facing constituency de-selection.

Freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke kicked the ball off fighting tooth and nail for the expenses to be published. The High Court agreed. But those with most to hide didn't, leaving the shameful spectacle of a government and its stooges blocking the details.

Time and again taxpayers have to suffer boring Brown repeating the tired old mantra of openness and transparency - a root and branch reform of parliament. Today's publication exposes the deceit behind those weasel words.

It could have been so different if MPs had the guts to be honest and tried not to hide their greed.

It's now nearly a year since Bunkered Brown didn't turn up to vote, leaving 33 ministers to throw out a string of reforms and vote to keep themselves in the lap of luxury, despite the best efforts of Cameron's whipped shadow cabinet to support the reforms, ending in the sham of today's game of Blankety Blank.

But all is not lost. The Telegraph plans to publish a Saturday supplement of all MPs' expenses and Downing Street has set up a helpline for distressed MPs. Bless.

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