Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Imagine, if you will

If I were to charge a client £40,000 for work not done, do you think I would
  1. Have to pay back £14,000 of it and be suspended for two weeks.
  2. Be planning on a long holiday at her Majesty's Pleasure

While you ponder the joys of a world where I'm unable to get to a keyboard to annoy you, the answer is, of course (2) - as it is for everyone, unless you are Derek Conway. Last week, we had the sight of the media in full cry after Labour sleaze, but this week, they are more muted. Peter Hain was a fool not to ensure that his campaign was properly put to bed - nobody believes that he has benefitted from the undeclared money, nor that it was anything other than an oversight. He should probably have resigned as a minister when the scope of the failure became apparent, but it was right that he went last week, once his authority was fatally compromised by the police investigation. Alan Johnson is a different kettle of fish - his donations were declared to the register of members' interests and he claims that they were also reported to the Electoral Commission, but were not recorded on their website - he and his team clearly audited their reported donations to ensure transparency, so top marks to him for spotting what appears to be an admininstrative error by the Electoral Commission.

There is nothing wrong with politicians employing members of their family - providing that they are actually doing some real work. I thought that the days of sticking the wife on the payroll as a notional 'secretary' were gone, but it seems I was wrong. Roger Gale (Con, Thanet) popped up on the Today programme this morning for a very aggressive and bad-tempered (on his part) interview with Sarah Montagu, the chief line of which was that Derek was an honorable man and if he said that his son did the work, then his word should be good enough. I fear he did his cause no good, as the available evidence doesn't support that statement. Let's remind ourselves that the investigation showed three things, not just the issue regarding work actually done.

Firstly, Derek Conway paid his 'researcher' more than the approved scale in terms of bonus - something that he admits (we'll gloss over the administrative issue of using the wrong forms). Other staff in his office received bonuses in line with recommended terms. Secondly, that he paid his son more than the approved and appropriate rate for the job, given his skills and experience. This ties in to the main complaint about the work done or not done by Freddie Conway - work for which there is little or no evidence. Given that there Freddie was unavailable during term time - at Newcastle University, which is some distance from the House or from the Kent constituency, it seems unlikely that he was able to carry out the basic clerical work required by his job. The fact is that he was paid 40% more than the recommended entry level minimum for his job.

The conclusion is pretty damning

We note that FC [Freddie Conway] seems to have been all but invisible during the period of his employment. For the majority of that time he was based at Newcastle where he was engaged in a full time degree course at the university. He had little or no contact with his father's office, either in the House or in the constituency. No record exists of the work he is supposed to have carried out, or the hours kept. The only evidence available to us of work carried out was that provided by FC and his family.

Given that these reports are typically couched in cautious language, this next paragraph is damning

This arrangement was, at the least, an improper use of Parliamentary allowances: at worst it was a serious diversion of public funds. Our view is that the reality may well be somewhere between the two.

Derek Conway has made a name for himself as one of the more traditional Tory MPs - deeply Eurosceptic and in favour of tough action against criminals, to the point where he has backed the return of the death penalty. He's now facing a further query about payments made to his other son as a part-time researcher - this isn't over yet.

For a thorough dissection of Mr Conway, try Unity at the Ministry of Truth. It isn't as gentle as the parliamentary report. Hat tip to Bob for that one.

1 comment:

Matt B said...

As for the other guys that's more than I know but I am led to believe that Mrs S Gale is at least as qualified as Roger Gale is, if not more so. I have my suspicions that she is the "power behind the throne". I am open to correction if this info is not so correct.