Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flipping heck

Eleanor Laing, shadow minister for justice, has been told by Sir Thomas Legg that she need repay nothing. Good for her.

But, “in recognition of the public anger”, she feels “honour bound” to voluntarily pay back £25,000, i.e. “approximately one year’s ACA [additional costs allowance]”.

This is odd. Not that an MP is being so nobly self-sacrificing despite having done, as she puts it, “nothing wrong” – her action, as she herself implies, is pure and simple PR.

What’s odd is that £25,000 is somewhat less than the £87,000 she claimed to pay the mortgage on a pair of flats that she later sold for a handsome profit, and it’s very much less than the £180,000 in capital gains tax that she avoided when she sold them. She had told the parliamentary authorities that the flats were her second home so that she could claim for the mortgage, and she told the Inland Revenue that they were her primary residence so that she could dodge the tax.

Her self-congratulatory press release neglects to mention this, but what it means is that she can now comfortably afford to spend the average UK income on demonstrating her moral purity.

Another odd thing is what Laing says in her letter to Legg about this £25,000:

Given that this amount does not represent a repayment for any particular item, nor to any particular account, may I request that you and your committee consider sending the money to a charity which helps homeless children, such as Barnardo’s?

Barnardo’s is wonderful (you can donate here), but this is taxpayers’ money she’s returning. She doesn’t get to say what it gets spent on, and, unless Westminster has gone completely mad, nor does a retired civil servant.

This case study illustrates another aspect of the arbitrariness of Legg’s repayment requests: he decided that mortgage claims need only be looked at in relation to the maximum limits that were in place and not as regards any manifest gaming of the system. But take the piss with your cleaning and gardening claims and he’ll have you.

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