Tories fear BNP could pick up a Euro seat on June 4
The Mole: It was a lacklustre PMQs as both parties face up to the humiliation of the expenses fiasco, says our Westminster insider
Senior Tories are growing increasingly worried that the Great Expenses Stink could lead to the BNP gaining a seat - for the first time ever - in the European elections on June 4. Not even the payback of money by MPs, they fear, will stop it happening.
Lord Tebbit clearly touched a raw nerve with David Cameron when he called earlier this week for a voter boycott of the three main parties. Cameron was so annoyed that he threatened Tebbit with expulsion, even if he is an icon of the Thatcher years and a popular name in many Tory households.
Tebbo made it as clear as he dared in his BBC Today programme interview that he cheerfully expects Tory voters to vote for UKIP in the European elections. But that is not the real fear gripping the Tory hierarchy. "We are really worried that if the voters turn off the main parties because of the expenses row, they will vote for the BNP," a member of the shadow cabinet told the Mole.
The trouble is that a party list system is used in the UK for the Euro elections - not first past the post - so the BNP could pick up a seat with only five to 10 per cent of the vote. If they get 10 per cent, it's thought they could win up to three seats in the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, Cameron had a go at Brown at today's Prime Minister's Questions on the subject of expenses, urging the PM "to show some leadership" and scrap the £10,000 communications allowance available to all MPs. But he was seriously hampered by the excesses of his own side: the bags of manure and the bill for clearing the moat will not be quickly forgotten. As a result, it was a lacklustre session, and Brown was looking exhausted.
The PM had just enough energy to give his side one warning: he expects any MP who has avoided paying Capital Gains Tax on a second home to repay it immediately. Soime MPs have used a second home allowance to improve a property, but then 'flipped' the second home designation to another property, allowing them to sell what was their second home without paying CGT.
All eyes turned on the red head of the Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, sitting some distance from Brown on the front bench, who has been forced to repay more than £13,000 in CGT. She did not bat an eyelid.
Health minister Phil Hope earlier announced he would be returning £41,709 in taxpayer-funded expenses claimed for furniture, fittings and other items for his second home.
But while these paybacks may please the members' angry constituents, they are far too late to do any good to the party. Overall, the mood on the Labour benches is one of resignation to the coming electoral disaster.
"It's a catastrophe, the like of which we have never known," one former Cabinet minister told the Mole. "It's not just that Gordon has handed the next election to Cameron on a plate. He's even given him the menu and said, 'Would you like some wine with that, Sir?'" ·
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