It wasn’t only Croydon Central’s Gary Barlow [SICK] [SIC] who got bumped up this week. Three other MPs with links to Croydon featured in the political parties’ re-shuffles, with David Cameron even singling out one time-serving, pocket-lining expenses-claimer for special mention at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Turning to Croydon South Tory MP Tricky Dicky Ottaway, the man who put in a claim for some of the cost of a £2,000 bed from Harrod’s on his parliamentary expenses, Cameron said, apparently in all seriousness, “What pleasure it gives me today to refer to him as my Right Honourable Friend, an honour he fully deserves.”
“An honour he fully deserves”?
In 2009, Ottaway was exposed as the only Croydon MP to be claiming for a second home, his Bletchingley country pile, nine miles south of his London constituency. With a flat close to Westminster, it was clear that the 30-minute daily commute on the train to Victoria, with so many of his own constituents, was clearly beneath Lord Bletchingley. Or, as he can now be called, the Right Honourable Lord Bletchingley.
How honourable is Ottaway? This is a man who thought nothing of submitting expenses claims, to get the public he was supposed to be serving to pay for £59.99 on light bulbs, £50 for repairing a tractor tyre and £48 for modifying a scarifier. His country house and garden in Surrey clearly requires a lot of maintenance at our expense. He even claimed for hiring of a chimney sweep. Gawd luvva duck, Mary Poppins!
Ottaway was forced to pay back nearly £3,500 on the Harrod’s bed and various homeware and electrical goods. Not that he ever properly apologised for his own conduct. Instead, in typically weasel fashion, he got members of the Croydon Conservatives Association to issue a statement that noted that he regretted his part in “allowing an indefensible system of allowances to develop”. Nuffink to do with me, guv.
This is the man who takes his public service so seriously that, in the week of the 2011 riots that ripped through the heart of Croydon, he chose to go sailing at Cowes.
It might be best in future if no one mention to Ottaway the name of Elliot Morley, the Labour MP who two years ago was kicked off the Privy Council following his conviction on charges of false accounting in connection with the expenses scandal.
“It is an honour and a privilege to become a member of the Privy Council,” Ottaway said. “To me, it’s a real tribute to David Cameron’s Britain that an ordinary chap educated at a secondary modern school can rise up through the ranks to be elected as chairman of one of the most prestigious committees in Parliament and then be honoured in this way.” Ottaway is chairman of the Foreign Affairs select committee, mainly because he failed to get the top job at the influential Tory 1922 committee.
Dating from the 11th century, the Privy Council is an institution in which senior figures – from the military, church, the House of Lords and now parliament – advise the monarch. Ottaway’s appointment is surely a precursor to the expenses-claimer being knighted or made a peer, the latter a possibility when he retires as an MP when Cameron calls the next election, due in May 2015.
Ottaway will have to give this oath:
“You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto the Queen’s Majesty, as one of Her Majesty’s Privy Council.
“You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty’s Person, Honour, Crown, or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your Power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same.
“You will, in all things to be moved, treated, and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all Matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors, you will not reveal it unto him, but will keep the same until such time as, by the Consent of Her Majesty, or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance unto the Queen’s Majesty; and will assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates.
“And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.”
Nothing in there about making false expenses claims from Her Maj’s subjects. So that’s alright then.
In all his parliamentary career, which began as a Nottingham MP in 1983, Ottaway has never managed to make it beyond the Whips’ office when his party has been in government, which suggests he is widely regarded as decidedly second rate, even by Tory backbencher standards.
Contrast that to the meteoric rise of Croydon North’s MP, Steve Reed OBE, who within a year of being elected to parliament was named by the Labour leader Ed Miliband on Tuesday as a member of his shadow team with responsibility in the Home Office.
“I’m delighted and honoured that Ed Miliband has appointed me as a Shadow Home Office minister covering crime and anti-social behaviour,” Reed told Inside Croydon.
“Crime and the fear of crime are hugely important issues and I will work hard alongside our communities to find new ways to make people safer.
“One of my immediate concerns remains the Tory Mayor’s decision to leave Croydon North with fewer police than we had immediately after the riots. That is unacceptable and I will use my new job to highlight the Tories’ failure on crime and policing,” Reed said.
The third MP to feature in the re-shuffles is not an MP for Croydon, but an MP from Croydon, Helen Grant.
The south London solicitor represents Anne Widdecombe’s old seat in Kent, and she has been moved from the Home Office, where she had junior ministerial responsibilities for equalities, to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where she takes over from Hugh Robertson as Minister for Sport. And Tourism. And she is still supposed to work on equalities.
It is barely a year since the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but Grant’s appointment surely signals that lack of seriousness of this government for any “legacy” ambitions in sports provision, and the accompanying health benefits for the population.
Unlike France, Germany and Spain, Britain has never had its sports minister in the Cabinet, and with the notable exception of Robertson, who took his brief very seriously both in opposition and then in government through to the Games, sport has always been regarded as a political backwater by the Tories, whose sports ministers have included the likes of Hector Munro, a Dumfries farmer, and Dick Tracey, an over-promoted local councillor. At least until the next election, it appears Grant’s political career has been shunted into a siding.
Coming to Croydon
- Rent at the Secombe Theatre: Oct 9-12
- Debate the future of arts in Croydon: Oct 10
- Stanley Lives – open day in South Norwood: Oct 12
- Trafficked – slavery on the screen: Oct 14
- Crystal Palace Concerts – “I have a dream”: Thu Oct 17
- Lakes Playground group’s fundraising Zumba-ween: Oct 26
- PJ’s enterprising look at Black History Month: Oct 29
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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