So, farewell then Tricky Dicky Ottaway. You won’t be missed.
With the end of this session of Parliament, “Sir” Richard Ottaway is no longer the MP for Croydon South. He will be sailing off into the sunset; quite literally, apparently.
The Tory MP for the constituency for 23 years, his aloof, distant and self-serving attitude to the plebs of Croydon South was so bad, some are actually looking forward to having Chris Philp as their MP.
Ottaway, after all, is the former Royal Navy officer who dialled 999 to call out the police when in fear for his life when a handful of pensioners turned up at his constituency office during his routine MP’s surgery hours. Ottaway thought he was about to be executed by anarchists.
Ottaway’s career will be regarded as that of one of those time-serving Tories who rose without trace. Enoch Powell famously said that every political career ends in failure; in the case of Ottaway, it is hard to characterise it in any other way, but at least the expenses were generous.
He proved to be an avid and expert expenses claimer, who employed his missus and got the tax-payer to pay her wages, and who bought and ran a second home at considerable public expense, too, despite his constituency being less than an hour from Westminster. And yet he never honoured the promise he made to his fellow Conservative Party members at his selection meeting, of finding a home within his own constituency, preferring instead to buy a large pile in the stockbroker belt at Bletchingley, which he proceeded to maintain at public expense.
One of the worst offenders in the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, Ottaway was allowed by his constituency party to stay on as MP only provided he undertook to stand down at the next election. Which is what Ottaway is doing now.
In an interview given this week, there’s no sense of apology for his past excesses with the expenses claim forms. Indeed, Ottaway seems to be in denial that he ever did anything wrong, or about the real reason why he will not be standing for election again.
Asked what were the “worst of times”, Tricky Dicky told a national paper: “I imagine everyone says the expenses saga. There was nothing improper about my expenses but the whole attack on the political system was wearing.”
Being held accountable for using public money was “wearing“, according to Ottaway. The poor dear. The sense of entitlement is astonishing. But notice that he still maintains: “there was nothing improper about my expenses”.
He clearly believes that using public money to pay towards a special bed from Harrod’s is not “improper”.
In 2009, Ottaway was exposed as the only Croydon MP to be claiming for a second home, his Surrey country pile being nine miles south of his constituency. With a state-funded flat close to Westminster, it was clear that the daily commute on the train from Croydon, Coulsdon or Purley to Victoria, when he might have to mix with many of his own constituents, was beneath Lord Bletchingley.
This is a man who thought nothing of submitting expenses claims for the public to pay for £59.99 on light bulbs, £50 for repairing a tractor tyre and £48 for modifying a scarifier. All essential costs of being an MP. “Nothing improper” whatsoever, as far as Tricky Dicky is concerned. He even claimed for the hiring of a chimney sweep.
Ottaway was forced to pay back nearly £3,500 on the Harrod’s bed and various homeware and electrical goods. Now he tells a national newspaper, unchallenged, that there was “nothing improper” about his expenses claims. Convicted thieves and fraudsters are rarely offered an opportunity to refund their loot when they are caught red-handed.
Not that Ottaway 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.
And this is the MP who, in the week of the 2011 riots that ripped through the heart of Croydon, chose to go sailing at Cowes.
In his newspaper interview this week, Ottaway consoled himself over the nastiness caused by being exposed in the expenses scandal, “Fortunately the strength of the demands of Parliament kept us all going. You knew you had to get up and ask questions, answer constituency questions, lobby on this and that, no matter your heart was in your socks at the time you were doing it.”
Poor dear. You almost feel sorry for him.
That he was able to proffer such self-pitying answers without being challenged suggests that the “interview” was in fact conducted by a round-robin email questionnaire, the responses simply cut and pasted and posted on the national newspaper’s website without question. That the newspaper concerned is the very same Daily Torygraph which had the journalistic gumption to blow the lid off the MPs’ expenses scandal demonstrates that, six years on, Peter Oborne and others are right about the demise of a once great newspaper.
Thus, in 2015, the Torygraph unquestioningly publishes any old twaddle which Ottaway offered. No mention of the ultimatum given to him by his constituency party after the expenses scandal. Asked “Why are you leaving?”, Ottaway’s answer is faithfully reproduced (including grammatical errors) by the Torygraph: “I’m older than I behave. I’m going to be 70 in a couple of months [sic] time. And I just don’t want to go from Parliament to an armchair.”
The man with the hide of a rhino offered some advice to future MPs – “You need to have enormously thick skin” – before revealing that he has yet another home on the Isle of Wight and that he intends to spend much of the summer sailing his yacht on the Solent – so not much different from when he was MP for Croydon South, then.
But he still has an eye for the main chance: “Perfect world is a couple of charities, couple of consultancies, and a four-day weekend. And I think one has got it lined up.” Did we mention self-satisfied?
The peerage, and another opportunity for Ottaway to snout in the trough at public expense, can’t be far away.
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