Friday, June 19, 2009

Cameron’s expenses repayment timing

‘I’ve taken the opportunity today to bury some bad news’

By astonishing coincidence, David Cameron has announced his repayment of £947.29 in inappropriately claimed expenses on exactly the same day that the (heavily censored) official details of MPs’ expenses were published. This larger story tragically deprived his own tale of much of the media coverage he had doubtless hoped for.

His repayment covers the £680 claim for the repairs to his constituency home that the Telegraph revealed back in May (the wisteria) and that he’d already promised to pay back, as well as a few other smaller claims and £218.91 for mortgage overclaims that were made in error.

His statement started on the censored publication and then moved on to his own case (emphasis added):

…but I think we need a more common-sense approach to releasing this information and I hope we can do that in future.
As for myself, I’ve taken the opportunity today to, er – I’ve been through my accounts in great detail, and I have discovered an inadvertent error I made in 2006 with respect to some mortgage payments – an overclaim of £200 – and I’ve paid that money back today to the Fees Office, along with other announcements that I made previously. I’m very sorry about making a mistake like this, but I think the best thing to do when you discover it is to deal with it as quickly as possible.
…it took a long time to get to the bottom of this particular mortgage claim…
As soon as I got the information to hand, I made the announcement today and I returned the money today.

It could be an innocent coincidence, although the hastily abandoned “I’ve taken the opportunity today” line (watch the video from about 20 seconds in) might suggest otherwise.

But let’s say that it did in fact take exactly this long to sort out the mortgage claim details. Why delay the repayment for the other things, most notably the wisteria clearing that came to light over five weeks ago? This sort of delay isn’t what he suggested when he said, on 12 May:

I want to set out this afternoon the action I’m taking right now. … I mean things that my Party, the Conservative Party; Conservative MPs, the things that they will do – right now.

I will pay back the only maintenance bill I have claimed in eight years as a Member of Parliament.

He added:

We need money paid back now.

Well, so far this looks like little more than standard politician’s slipperiness. But perhaps there’s more to it.

On 22 May, the Oxford Mail covered a public meeting that Cameron held in his Witney constituency:

Mr Cameron said he had voluntarily paid back £680 he claimed for fixing a leaky roof and removing wisteria from his chimney.
He said: “It was for maintenance not decoration, but I felt I had to take a lead and pay back anything questionable.”

But, of course, he hadn’t yet done any such thing. If this report is accurate, it does rather suggest that he was lying.

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