Friday, June 20, 2008

Is that blood in the water I can smell?

It might well be, as the sharks seem to be circling. The Supernanny saga drags on as the Mirror finds a British expat with a little story to tell about Ms Spelman and her nanny.

Remember this clear and unequivocal statement?
I had advertised my home as my consistency office, as there was no other office that Ian Mills had, nor staff in the constituency.
Well, Janet Parry begs to differ. She was a work experience volunteer who worked out of an apparently non-existent office in 2 Manor Road, Solihull in the summer of 1997.
"I was specifically instructed to report to the office in Solihull - there was never any mention of constituency work taking place at the Spelman family home. At that time there were at least two people doing secretarial work there. I am certain that much of the work being done at that office was for the MP herself. I was doing menial admin work, which wasn't what I had hoped for - a lot of putting letters in envelopes and filing."
But hang on - wasn't that volunteer duplicating work being carried out by Ms Haynes? Caroline said that
Tina would answer the telephone for me and open the post and sort it for me and arrange it into files
Meanwhile, the Torygraph reports that
Caroline Spelman's former nanny may have to prove she has basic secretarial skills before the parliamentary standards watchdog to back up the Conservative Party chairman's claims that she used her as a part-time personal assistant....Miss Haynes faces having to prove her ability to perform such tasks as taking dictation and word processing to support her former boss's defence.
Perhaps the Tories should fund a crash course in those things over the summer recess...

Iain Dale, predictably, jumped to her defence when this all kicked off.
I remember she had an Association which was trying to deselect her. I remember various MPs telling me at the time that she was finding it incredibly difficult balancing her family life with her new life as an MP. Her statement today explains that because her predecessor died six weeks before the 1997 election there was a huge backlog of mail. There was no constituency office. There was no secretary to deal with it. As a new MP she didn't have an office until a couple of months after the election. So she did the best she could. But she was drowning. That's not to plead sympathy for her, it is a statement of fact.
He's swallowed the line completely - the hook and sinker must be choking the poor lamb. What is evident is that Spelman's statement was not factual. If Ian Mills coped without an office, it seems unlikely that six weeks would create a huge backlog of mail, but as we know, the Tories have had their Solihull headquarters at 2 Manor Road in Dorridge - well inside the constituency - since 1986. Is it likely that the staff - dedicated to the Tory cause - would have decided that the death of their MP just prior to an election was a good time to pack up and go home? Or would they have stuck around to help in the election and then support their new MP? Which is more likely - even without the evidence.

I fully accept that being an MP is a tough job to combine with family life. A friend said to me a little while ago that they admired me for being able to do the amount of political work I do and still have a family life, and I don't do a tenth of what an MP does. I also agree that the process for sorting out MPs' offices is ludicrous - the parliamentary estate knows that whatever the result, there will be an MP from a particular constituency to house, so that needs to be done as a priority and two months is ludicrous, but that's not the issue and we mustn't let Iain cloud our thinking. Iain then throws up this defence:
Caroline Spelman had never worked in Parliament before she was elected. She wasn't a career politician who knew the ways of Westminster. It was, of course, up to her to find out what rules she had to follow. The fact that the chief whip had to have a word indicated she had fallen foul of the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules. Remember, this was ten years ago - the Fees Office rules were not as clear and detailed as they are today and were easy to misinterpret..
I don't believe that Caroline Spelman is stupid, so I can't accept that she would have thought it reasonable to pay the nanny out of the public purse. Ignorance is no defence - there are plenty of people from whom she could have sought advice.

A comment from 'narcissa' on Dale's Diary sums up his post nicely
Your defence of your friend is touching, but you have left us (well, me) with the impression that she was selected in the face of opposition by the constituency party, that she was ill-prepared for public office, and that she was so disorganised that she did not think to engage a proper PA, although she did manage to find out about, and claim, the allowance which should have enabled her to employ one. This is not the best recommendation for her position within the party, however nice and well-meaning a person she may be
Quite.

This still has some distance to run.

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