[UPDATED Jul25 5.30pm with G’Ottaway quotes – see below]
Don’t know about any splits appearing in the Con-Dem coalition, but are there fissures between Croydon’s Conservative MPs?
We ask simply because, after Croydon Central new boy Gavin Barwell was given a thorough rogering over his election expenses by Channel 4 News on Thursday night, he came out the following day and dropped his old-school Tory party colleague, Tricky Dicky Ottaway, right in it as well.
Why would he do that, we wonder, when adopting the three wise monkeys approach would be simpler and easier? This is especially so since “G’Ottaway with it” is on a warning from his own party after he featured all-too-prominently among the money-grubbing, snouts-in-the-trough MPs whose behaviour on expenses scandalised the country in the year before the election.
“We expect MPs to live by the same rules and standards as those they wish to represent,” Croydon Conservatives said at the time. “No MP is above the law.”
Tricky Dicky g’ottaway with it last year by solemnly promising Croydon Conservatives that he would mend his ways, including full disclosure of all his expense claims in future. Hmmm. We’ll come back to that later.
Central to C4 News‘s investigation into Barwell’s fiddling/breaking the spending rules/poor accounting was undeclared amounts of rent for using the local Conservative office in Purley. Which is a nice suburban semi right in the heart of Ottaway’s constituency. Hmmm.
Barwell sought to shovel the blame on to his hapless election agent – who he well knows also shared his workload by managing G’Ottaway’s campaign as it sleep-walked to an increased vote.
UPDATE: Ottaway must have got off his arse to phone the reporter on the local free rag after enjoying his Sunday lunch, perhaps irked by the latest “Richard Ottaway was unavailable for comment” line, surely one of the most overused phrases in the local press.
[Pity that the hack updated his article without changing its Friday dateline. Journalistic naughtiness, a bit like claiming an “exclusive” when you’ve copied something off a press release or Twitter. Doh!]
What Ottaway said is:
“This is a cock-up, not a conspiracy. As I understand it will have to go to court and just confirm that this error has been made.
“The only time they start probing is if it looks a bit fishy, but that’s clearly not the case.”
Just how many cock-ups on expenses is Ottaway going to be allowed to brush away in his typically high-handed manner?
At least, on this occasion, Ottaway is following the party line cobbled together by the more pro-active colleague Barwell on Friday.
But there are other notable differences between Barwell and Ottaway.
Ottaway sought the chairmanship of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs. He lost.
Barwell, the former “bagman” for Tory donor billionaire Lord Ashcroft, stood for a seat on the 1922 executive. He won.
Ottaway, a Westminster veteran, perhaps as a sop for his disappointment over the 1922 election, was then handed a plum job as chairman of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee.
Effectively, that’s a five-year licence for first-class air tickets for him and Mrs Ottaway (who is paid from the public purse as his official “assistant”) to travel the world. It means Croydon South now has an MP in absentia.
Ottaway, at 65, has already declared that he does not intend to stand for parliament again. So no need to attend to the interests of his constituents, then, bit simply stash as much cash and benefits as he can get his hands on. Legitimately, of course.
Certainly, Ottaway has hardly had the affairs of his Croydon constituents at the forefront of his parliamentary agenda since his re-election. In the past month or so, he has spoken in Parliament on:
- the European External Action Service
- international development
- the treatment of detainees
- Iran’s nuclear programme
- the European Council
- UK policy in the Middle East
No mention of Croydon.
The closest Ottaway came to the direct interests of his constituents was a question about devolution of local powers. In Scotland.
In contrast, Croydon Central’s new MP Barwell has been very busy, often posing questions about matters which have some direct impact in his own constituency (check out his parliamentary record here).
It is as if Barwell is trying to differentiate himself from his old-school parliamentary colleague.
Before the election, Barwell posted this on his own website:
“I would be completely open about what I am doing and claiming, publishing my diary and my expense claims plus the supporting receipts.” Are you reading this, Dicky?
Barwell continues: “I wouldn’t have a second home – I would commute to Westminster just like everyone else who works in central London.” Oh, right. That’ll be everyone else except for Dicky Ottaway, who insists on having a fashionable central London flat, with much of the costs paid for by you and me.
“I wouldn’t employ any family members,” insists Barwell. Unlike Tricky, for whom being an MP is a bit like having a state-funded family business.
“I would be accessible, with an office in the constituency and a weekly surgery,” Barwell says with a holier-than-thou final flourish. Ottaway is far too busy to trouble himself with the little people of Croydon South on a regular weekly basis.
Oh, and Ottaway’s promise to Croydon Conservatives to publish regularly his expenses claims on his website? Broken: nothing new has appeared on the relevant page of his website for eight months.