On his blog you will, set out in extenso, details of David Cameron’s travel since December 2005. The point this individual seeks to make is that this is an awful lot of flying about, some of it unnecessary. Mr. Cameron, who is trying to present the Conservative party as one having ‘Green’ credentials, is therefore laying down a huge carbon footprint and is therefore a hypocrite, Mr. Watson wishes you to understand. Mr. Watson would also have you understand that he is a man of virtue who is a supporter of openness and freedom of information in public life.
One is fascinated that Mr. Watson should be so big on utilizing the Register of MPs Interests. This exists so that electors and others may see what interests an MP has so that, when considering and judging the worth of what this or that MP has had to say on particular topic.
Whilst there is much which is wholly unsatisfactory about the Register, it is in principle all about openness and transparency in public life. In this regard it goes hand in hand with the provision of details concerning an MP’s expenses which is now available for download as an Excel spreadsheet so that any citizen might study how MPs are spending their money and whether they are getting good value for money from their MP.
So Mr. Watson is keen that you should have the benefit of his research into Mr. Cameron’s expenses. He has been able to bring you his thoughts on Mr. Cameron’s travel precisely because this register exists and because it is open to public. And so, dear reader, you could be forgiven for thinking that, given that proposition, Mr. Watson is also a wildly keen enthusiast for the proposition that information provided by Parliament concerning MPs expenses should be freely available.
Er, well, um, that is not exactly so.
For Mr. Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, is actually dead against you having any information whatsoever concerning his or any other MP’s expenses. How do I know this? Well, you may recall that earlier in the year David Maclean, a former Conservative Chief Whip, tried to get a disgraceful piece of legislation onto the Statute Book called the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2007. This, you may be surprised, had actually nothing to do with freedom of information at all. Rather it should have been called Concealment of Information (House of Commons) Bill 2007.
This bill’s ostensible purpose was to exempt the Parliament from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The spurious reason advanced to justify so major a step was that MPs wished to protect from public gaze their correspondence on behalf of constituents with Ministers, notwithstanding that such material is almost certainly protected under other legislation and no significant evidence was ever produced that any such correspondence had been made public improperly.
The real purpose behind the bill was to enable details of MPs expenses to be withheld. For a Bill introduced by a former Tory Whip, its third reading attracted, on an otherwise dull Friday, an extraordinary amount of support from the Labour party and, indeed, from the Government. At Third Reading, of the 76 Labour supporters of the Bill, no fewer than 36 were members of the government (including Parliamentary Private Secretaries). Labour made up 76 of the Bill’s 95 supporters, the Tories providing the rest. Nine of those voting in favour of the Bill were at this stage Government Whips (out of a total of thirteen in the Government Whips Office).
One theory for this extraordinary state of affairs is that Labour have been particularly hurt by the significant evidence provided by publication of details of MP’s expenses that it is, by and large, Labour MPs who have their snouts deepest in the trough of public money. [This is something I hope to return to shortly, when I have cast my eye over the spreadsheet a bit].
Anyway, surprise, surprise, one of those who voted that day FOR the bill (and thus for concealing MPs expenses) was none other than our very own Mr. Tom Watson.
As I say, a gold-plated hypocrite and humbugger.
Mr. Watson’s expenses for 2006/7 totalled £151,388, including £19,740 Housing, £24,459 Office costs, £82,748 Staff costs, £2,381 Car travel expenses £4,138 Rail expenses, £4,823 Stationery, £11,366 Postage and £1,049 IT.
He was 73rd. most expensive MP.
I am grateful to ConHome for the initial lead.