Monday, 23 November 2009

No "vindication" for expenses row MP

MERIDEN MP Caroline Spelman said she did not feel “vindicated” by revelations over members’ expenses months after being rapped over her own claims.

In a Q&A with readers of The Independent newspaper she said: “In all honesty there was no sense of schadenfreude – others have asked me the same question but I'm just not made that way.”

Mrs Spelman was told in March to repay £9,600 by a Commons watchdog over claims her secretary looked after her children.

Two months later the storm of MPs’ expenses broke when The Daily Telegraph began publishing details of claims.

Mrs Spelman told the left-wing newspaper: “The public are absolutely right to expect the highest standards from their MPs, and MPs from all political parties have let them down.

“But I think it's also important to remember there are a good many MPs who were not involved in the expenses scandal and are simply trying to do a good job for the communities they represent.

“One of the saddest things for them and their families is that all MPs have been tarred with the same brush.”

Two of the nine questions directly addressed expenses.

Abigail Burton of Sutton, Surrey, asked: “Even if it was ‘entirely within the rules’ why did you think it reasonable to use my money to pay your nanny?”

Mrs Spelman said: “The full report of the findings is available from Parliament and all I can do is ask people to read it before they form a judgement.”

She re-iterated the Standards and Privileges Committee’s findings that the overpayments were “unintentional”.

Rebecca Fielding of Northampton asked: “If the public hate politicians so much and you're not very well paid, why don't you go into another career?”

Mrs Spelman said: “I had a career before politics but I went into politics because I passionately wanted to help people. I certainly didn't go into it for fame or money.”

Thomas Broadbent, from Hereford, asked whether, as a Tory, she supported “widening inequality, the desecration of poor communities in Wales and the North and a return to Victorian values?”

The MP said it is “painfully ironic” that Labour had widened the gap between rich and poor.

Elsewhere, Mrs Spelman, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, pledged a Tory annual limit on immigrants and denied one questioner’s claim that party women were “seen and not heard”.

She said: “Far from it. A fifth of the shadow cabinet are women and I can tell you they are both seen and heard!”

Labour could only “crack it” to get more women MPs by having women only shortlists, she said. This move is now being considered by party leader David Cameron.

She also played down claims of a hung Parliament. She said: “I don't think all the polling suggests that, and there is still a lot of work to do between now and the election.”

Read the full interview here.