So farewell then… (and good riddance)

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Many MPs stood down at the election, realising that their corrupt activities would lead to defeat at the ballot box. There were, however, a few ‘Portillo’ moments, when MPs who richly deserved to be defeated received their just deserts:

Jacqui Smith, Oxford graduate. A ‘Blair babe’ who remained loyal, she wept when Blair departed. As Home Secretary she tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days and declared war on immigrants. She introduced the ID cards system and stated that most people were in favour of it – a lie. Designating her sister’s spare bedroom in London as her main residence, she claimed more than £110,000 for her ‘second home’ in her constituency where her husband and family lived. Her husband claimed expenses for pornographic films and wrote letters to the press praising his wife’s activities without revealing their relationship. Smith said that she would not feel safe on the streets of London at night and that walking the streets at night was not ‘a thing that people do’.

Tony McNulty, elected in 1997, sometime Immigration Minister and Minister of Employment and Welfare Reform. A staunch supporter of the Labour government’s attacks on asylum seekers and its various wars. He was vitriolic against ‘benefit cheats’: ‘We are absolutely determined to stop benefit thieves stealing from the British taxpayer … we’re closing in on benefit fraud.’ Unfortunately his own free-loading activities became public. McNulty claimed a second home allowance of almost £14,000 a year on a house in his Harrow East constituency where his parents lived rent free. The property was 11 miles from Westminster and eight miles from his main home in Hammersmith, yet McNulty claimed he needed to stay overnight at weekends. Like Smith, perhaps, he thought walking the streets at night inadvisable. He resigned as minister and repaid nearly £14,000 – a benefit fraudster would have gone to prison for a lot less.

Charles Clarke, privately-educated, Cambridge graduate. Former Chief of Staff to Neil Kinnock and public management consultant. As Education Secretary he defended the elite Oxbridge universities and promoted top-up fees for students. Clarke is not a liberal thinker: ‘Universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change.’ As Labour Home Secretary he promoted ID cards, introduced control orders, attacked trial by jury and civil liberties in general.

Vera Baird, Solicitor General. Late on the political scene, Baird was rapidly promoted to join the attack on the legal aid system. As a Brown loyalist and self-styled socialist, she supported the Iraq war, extension of detention without charge to 90 days, ID cards, government intervention in inquests and attacks on asylum seekers. She probably lost her seat due to the closure of local steelworks in Redcar, but minor embarrassments have included an expenses claim for Christmas decorations worth £286 and a current charge for driving at 98mph whilst still the Solicitor General.

Peter Robinson, MP for 31 years, Northern Ireland Assembly member, successor to Ian Paisley as First Minister, well-known Loyalist bigot and born-again Christian. The Robinson family (known to some as the Swish Family Robinson) have been accused of financial dirty dealing. Wife Iris, also an MP and Assembly member, famous for attacking homosexuality as an abomination, suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ after it was revealed she had a 19-year-old lover and had raised £50,000 in loans for his business. Further accusations of corruption against Peter Robinson concerning development land have followed.

and one Law for the rich ...

With all the scandal about expenses you might have expected MPs to become more careful about their gob-smacking greed. Not so. Within two weeks of the birth of the Coalition, with neo-puritanism all the fashion, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, LibDem cabinet minister David Laws was exposed as claiming £40,000 of taxpayer’s money to feather his lover’s nest, in the shape of a rented bedroom paid for by us. He was quick to apologise, of course, promising to pay it back and arguing that he had only claimed the money in order to disguise his gay relationship. This is difficult to believe. Had he wished his relationship to remain secret, it would have been easy to rent a room elsewhere. Laws is a millionaire and ex-investment banker, so he didn’t need our money to fund his ‘second’ home with his lobbyist partner.

Laws supports cuts in public sector pensions, housing benefit and incapacity benefit, and was relishing his role axing the public sector. He is a closet Tory as well as a closet gay and tried to hang on as a minister. He fell on his sword within 24 hours. We say no second chances for expenses cheats ... Off with his head...

Carol Brickley

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010