Duddridge blocks me on Twitter rather than answer my questions!

james duddridge working for himself

Earlier this week, I published James Duddridge’s reply to my letter about his expense claims. His reply, almost two months in the drafting, is entirely unremarkable, being exactly the combination of ‘Not up to me, guv”, and disinterest of a safe-seat Tory that I had expected.

I’m still debating whether to take his suggestion and write to IPSA about how I don’t think it’s acceptable for my MP to spend nearly £12k of my money on London hotels and apartments because he doesn’t want to make the same commute which I make on a daily basis. I can’t decide if it would be better to be ignored by a civil servant than my elected representative.

But James’ lacklustre and disappointing response aside, he has shown a worrying aversion to actually engaging in discussion. I’m not, generally, rude, and I don’t think I have been in this situation. And yet, for some reason, the MP for Rochford & Southend East, my MP, has blocked me on Twitter.

Read on…


James Duddridge’s response to my letter about his expenses

Regular readers may recall that I wrote to James Duddridge, MP for Rochford & Southend East a few weeks back, about his having claimed over £11,000 of expenses for hotels and rent in London, despite his constituency being less than an hour from the capital. Below is his response (received on Friday).

Dear Mr Dent,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding my expenses.

Since 2010 MPs expenses have been reviewed and quite rightly, for understandable reasons, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created in order to form an autonomous oversight of expenses, seperate to MPs.

Please find below the website for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who set the framework for what can and cannot be claimed. I know, having spoken to the Chief Executive, Marcial Boo, that they are keen to receive feedback from everyone regarding how MPs should be paid and how state money should be used to support parliamentary activities. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr Boo with any concerns you may have regarding my expenses.


Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

James Duddridge MP

A letter to Southend MP James Duddridge, regarding his expenses

The below letter was sent to Mr Duddridge on Monday 22nd September 2014, via Royal Mail first class postage. For the background to the sending of this letter, see the original article in the Southend Echo here, and my response to the issues raised here.

Dear Mr Duddridge,

I am writing to you, as your constituent, to express my concern over the recent local news reports around your claims for parliamentary expenses. In particular, I refer to the front-page report carried by the Southend Echo on Monday 15th September 2014, entitled “MP IN ROW OVER HOTEL EXPENSES”.

In the intervening week since this report was published, I have attempted to contact you on Twitter in order to ask your response to the allegations made, that:

  • You claimed in excess of £11,000 of expenses for accommodation in London for the 2013/2014 year.

  • You did this despite:

    • Owning two properties in London, and;

    • Living less than an hour’s train journey from London.

I am concerned that, if this is indeed true, it demonstrates that you have learnt none of the pertinent lessons of the 2009 expenses scandal.

We are fortunate to live in a town in which a commute to London is not only possible but convenient, and like many others living in Southend it is a commute which I make daily to work in central London. I frequently work late, but have not yet encountered a situation where I have needed to stay overnight in a hotel in place of the return journey.

Your claims may be within the letter of the rules, but I cannot see that they are within the spirit. The last train from Fenchurch Street departs at 11.50 p.m., and with the legislative agenda being particularly light at this stage of the present Parliament it would surely be a rarity that even the last train would be required.

I am, as I have been throughout the past week, eager to hear your response to this. As you are no doubt aware, there is a growing sense of apathy and of disconnect between voters and politics, and it is stories like these which are the cause. I am particularly concerned that despite approach by myself and others – including a letter printed on the letters page of the Echo – you have not yet seen fit to make a response or answer questions.

I hope that this letter will evoke exactly such a response. In the interest of transparency and openness, I will be displaying this letter on my website, and will do likewise with any response you choose to send.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew S. Dent

Southend Labour candidate won’t claim accommodation expenses

ian gilbert southend

Earlier this week the news broke, that Rochford & Southend East’s MP James Duddridge claimed £11,000 in the last year on accomodation costs. This was, apparently, split between renting a flat and hotel bills. Except, James Duddridge not only lives within an hour’s train journey of London, but he owns two flats in the capital, which he rents out.

Since then I’ve been trying in vain to get a response out of Mr Duddridge. He is happy to tweet insipid lines-to-take straight from CCHQ. But answering constituents’ questions? Not so much.

Fortunately Ian Gilbert, the Labour candidate for Rochford & Southend East, has had the fortitude to actually say something on this matter: Ian has promised that, if elected as the constituency’s new MP, he won’t claim accommodation expenses.

Read on…

Independent Audit into Thames Valley PCC’s Expenses

anthony stansfeld jon harvey chauffeurI’m not sure if blogging does make any difference to the real world, but on the strength of recent evidence I might have to start trying fancy dress. It certainly seems to have d for my good friend (and fellow PCC-scrutiniser) Jon Harvey.

After turning up to the local Police and Crime Panel meeting dressed as a chauffeur we actually seem to be getting somewhere on Anthony Stansfeld’s cavalier use of expenses.

Read on…

Thames Valley Police Commissioner Proves Me Right

anthony stansfeld would you buy a used car from this manCast your minds back to last October/November. The political sphere was abuzz with the impending elections for Police and Crime Commissioners across the country. I, at the time, was warning anyone who would listen that the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley — one Anthony Stansfeld, always the favourite to win the poll — was unfit for the job.

He was, I said, lacking in any ideas to improve the police, any ingenuity as to what the role was for, and a “cavalier attitude to transparency“. His only discernible policies were that the new commissioner would have a chauffeur, and that he would focus on “rural crime”. Predictably, come voting day a combination of atrocious turnout, atrophied safe Conservative areas, and some truly dreadful independent candidates, Mr Stansfeld won.

Now, I genuinely don’t like saying I told you so. Me being right about Mr Stansfeld gives me no pleasure, for the simple fact that it changes nothing. But it seems that was right, and that my concerns were well founded. So bully for the voting residents of the Thames Valley.

Mr Stansfield has achieved his only concrete policy, and acquired a chauffeur (on an apparent salary of £19,700 of taxpayers’ money), as well as one of Thames Valley Police’s Audi A6 cars. This despite the millions of pounds of cuts to front-line policing that the police service is having to make.

But that’s not all. According to the Daily Mail (and believe me, I hate to link you there) Stansfield’s acquisition of said car came only after he tried to fiddle expenses rules so that the police force (i.e. all of us) paid for his journey to work. Mr Stansfeld couldn’t claim the 37 mile journey from his home to the HQ in Kidlington. So he moved his office to a small, part-time police station in Hungerford, meaning that travel to Kidlington was no longer travel to his main place of work (and thus could be claimed).

Money well spent, then.

For a bit of political balance, here’s what the chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (the bleedin’ Taxpayers’ Alliance, for God’s sake — it’s practically a Tory campaign group) had this to say:

Anthony Stansfeld’s pop-up office appears to be part of a cynical scam to milk the system for as much cash as possible.

It’s hard to disagree really, particularly when it seems that the man is still a councillor (with an allowance) on West Berkshire Council.

I think that Anthony Stansfield is a disgrace. But the problem isn’t limited to one bad egg. The entire Police and Crime Commissioner system is flawed, and should be torn down at the earliest available opportunity. Salaries of £85,000 are being handed out to these people in order to politicise police budgets and take accountability. Whatever party banner that person stands under, this cannot be a good route to be taking.

Anthony Stansfeld is not the only problem with Police Commissioners. But he is an excellent example of why we should not have them.

UPDATE: The man himself has spoken up. Anthony Stansfeld has told the Witney Gazette:

I am extremely good value for money. If I could hire myself I would charge a lot more.

Modesty and humility is the order of the day then? The biggest emerging problem that I can see is that there is no actual way of holding Mr Stansfeld (or any PCC for that matter) to account. There is no oversight body, no review tribunal, no ethics board. Police and Crime Commissioners really do seem to be a law unto themselves.

One Rule For Them…

Can David Laws really just walk back into the cabinet after being found guilty of fiddling his expenses?

I must confess, I’m somewhat confused about this whole David Laws affair.

The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who, let it not be forgotten, was responsible for orchestrating last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review with George Osborne, and is responsible for the current cuts which are causing so much woe) resigned as a minister last year as it came to light that he had claimed £40,000 between 2004 and 2009, to pay rent to a man who happened to be his husband. This blatant breach of expenses rules was explained as Laws trying to keep private his sexuality.

This didn’t wash with me at the time, and it doesn’t wash now. Did he really need to pretend that James Lundie was his landlord? And did he need to pay him a small fortune? It seems incredibly iffy.

Today he was censured by the Parliamentary authorities, made to apologise to the House, and suspended for seven days. This is a fairly harsh punishment, as far as Parliament goes. And yet, the Lib Dems and apparently the Tories are eager for him to return to cabinet. Witness David Cameron; “I think he has a lot to offer public life and I hope he stays in public life.

This is a man who falsely claimed £40k of taxpayers money. This being the man who nearly caused a rebellion in his own party when the original expenses scandal broke, with his hardline approach to expenses offenders. And yet now he wants David Laws back in his cabinet? That doesn’t seem to tally.

And just to add to that, remember Eric Illsley? The former Labour MP for Barnsley Central, who was jailed for his expenses? He falsley claimed £14,000. David Chaytor? £18,500. But David Laws falsely claims £40,000 and he gets an invitation back to the cabinet. Could it be because he’s one of the so-called “Orange Book-ers”? Or because he’s one of the increasingly rare friends of Clegg?

The really galling thing, though, is that the Liberal Democrats spent the 2010 general election campaign running on a “new politics” platform, as the only party untouched by the expenses scandal. David Laws campaigned along those lines- despite clearly knowing that he had breached the rules and abused the system. So he’s a liar and hypocrite. As I recall, Phil Woolas lost his seat for that very crime.

And the idea that he did it to hide that he was gay? This is supposed to be an enlightened age. Sexuality is not supposed to matter. If Laws wanted to maintain his privacy, he could have done. Blaming it on his sexuality seems to me like a cheap, sensationalist attempt at distraction, and really it only brings shame to Parliament and the Lib Dems.

(Speaking of, where did the Lib Dems get this reputation as a pro-LGBT party? Does anyone remember the 1983 Bermondsey bye-election? There’s only one party which has ever done anything of note for LGBT rights, and it isn’t yellow.)

Basically, it just seems strange comparing the reactions between Laws and other MPs who broke expenses rules. Laws seems to be treated as the victim, whereas others are demonised. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but it seems that Lib Dems are still treated as whiter than snow. I haven’t a clue why, given how many promises they have broken, and how much hurt they are causing. But it certainly doesn’t seem fair that Laws should get away with a slap on the wrist and an invitation back into cabinet, for what the public were calling for the heads of other MPs for doing.