Cameron ‘sorry’ as expenses spotlight turns on Tories
‘Another bad day for Parliament,’ admits the Tory leader as senior Conservatives are shown to have exploited the allowances system
Today the British public learns why Tory leader David Cameron was not gloating as Labour ministers squirmed in the Daily Telegraph's spotlight over the weekend. After concentrating for three days on the questionable Labour expenses claims found in its mother of all leaks from Westminster, the paper now reveals that senior Tories are equally culpable.
Just for starters, shadow minister Oliver Letwin used £2,000 of taxpayers' money to replace a leaking pipe under his tennis court, while Alan Duncan claimed £4,000 for gardening costs - including more than £500 for the overhaul of his ride-on lawnmower - for a small garden.
At the absurd end of the scale, Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Welsh secretary, claimed reimbursement of £4.47 for dog food - a "mistake", she now acknowledges - while the universities spokesman David 'Two Brains' Willetts claimed £100 to pay for workmen to change his light bulbs.
More seriously, Tories, it turns out, have been equally adept as Labour MPs at the art of 'flipping' their second home. This is the practice of exploiting the second home allowance to furnish a house or pay for stamp duty and mortgage interest, before switching the second home designation to another property and starting all over again.
Tory education spokesman Michael Gove, a former journalist who only entered parliament in 2005, and is a member of the 'Notting Hill set' close to Cameron, spent more than £7,000 in five months furnishing a London property in 2006 before switching his second home designation to a property he bought in his Surrey constituency, for which he then claimed more than £13,000 in stamp duty and other fees.
As the Daily Telegraph's reports have shown, many MPs on both sides of the Commons display all the skills of hard-nosed property developers - but operating at the taxpayer's expense.
As with the Labour politicians exposed over the first three days of the Telegraph's special reports, the Tories all claim to be operating "within the rules".
However, Cameron issued a swift and apparently whole-hearted apology on Sunday - getting in ahead of the Prime Minister who finally said sorry "on behalf of all politicians" at a nursing conference in Harrogate early today.
Until then, Brown had continued to blame the system and refused to acknowledge any immorality or greed on behalf of his parliamentary colleagues.
Cameron said on Sunday night: "Clearly tomorrow is going to be another bad day for Parliament and a bad day for the Conservative Party."
He added: "We have to acknowledge just how bad this is. The public are really angry and we have to start by saying, look, this system that we had, that we used, that we operated, that we took part in, it was wrong and we're sorry about that."
The opinion polls show why Cameron is so apologetic: he is undoubtedly going to be the prime minister this time next year and he will want this mess out of the way before he moves into Downing Street. New opinion polls suggest Brown is doomed: a BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday shows support for Labour at its lowest since polling was introduced in 1943.
Only 23 per cent would voted for Labour today - compared with 43 per cent for Conservative. This is worse than the dark days of Michael Foot's leadership in the early 1980s. A general election today would give Cameron a greater landslide victory even than Tony Blair's in 1997. ·
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