...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 3213: New Words: UNPOLOGY


unpology (ŭn-pŏl'ə-jē): noun (pl unpologies)

1. a written or spoken statement to be used where convention or legal instruction would require a statement of regret for fault or failure

2. an insincere expression used to accentuate positive aspects in order to downplay a negative verdict and avoid admission of guilt or contrition

3. (colloquial) any New Labour ministerial statement not previously trailed in off-the-record briefings, selected newspapers or on the Today programme

viz: former Second-Home Secretary, Ms Jacqui Spliff, made an unpology in the House today in response to the findings of the Commissioner for Standards.

see also: Blairgerism

Here is the FULL Hansard transcript of what Ms Spliff had to say for herself:
I am grateful to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for its consideration of the detailed report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following his seven-month investigation. I want to apologise unreservedly to the House, as I have to my constituents, for wrongly claiming for the cost of films alongside my broadband and cable connection. This claim should never have been made and, as the Committee notes, I paid back the claim in full as soon as it was brought to my attention.

On the issue of second home allowances, the commissioner and the Committee recognise that my London home is indeed a home. They dismiss the most usually repeated newspaper descriptions of my living arrangements, and I welcome this judgment. As the report makes clear, I sought and received written advice from the parliamentary authorities that supported my main home designation and, indeed, I spent more nights in London than in Redditch for three of the four years in question. I have never flipped my designation and I own only one home.

The Committee recognises that there is no evidence that the taxpayer would be any worse or any better off as a result of my having made a different decision. However, in retrospect the commissioner concludes that I should have used my discretion to change my main home designation. I accept the Committee’s conclusions and I therefore apologise to the House. I want to say sorry, too, to my constituents. They are my No. 1 priority, and for too long this investigation has overshadowed the work that I do for them.

So, for starters, she apologises UNRESERVEDLY for the wrongly claiming of the cost of films, and then RATHER LESS SO for the Second Home Allowance.

It should be remembered that the Commissioner for Standards, Sir Paul Lyon, UPHELD the complaint that Ms Spliff had wrongly claimed for, er, pay-per-view movies and ALSO UPHELD the complaint that she had had it away with over a hundred grand by wrongly designating her sister's spare room as her "main home".

So why the equivocation?

The report – she says – makes clear, she sought and received written advice.

Here is what that advice from the Department of Finance and Administration actually said:

"I can confirm therefore that the location of a Member's main home may not always be where their family reside. I agree with your assertion that is reasonable to continue to claim the allowance against your constituency home given your ministerial responsibilities require you to spend the majority of your time in Westminster"

But that advice was in reply to HER writing a letter to them saying (basically): "look, I've been told that I don't have to count where my family live and spend all their time as my main residence, so if I continue to claim that this spare room is my main home, that's okay isn't it?"

So essentially, the "advice" reduces to "if you say so"!

She goes on: "indeed, I spent more nights in London than in Redditch for three of the four years in question"

But that's not STRICTLY true, is it, at least not within the tolerances of MATHEMATICS.

What the Standards Committee says (point 12) is:

"On the evidence available, the Commissioner has concluded that Ms Smith spent more nights at her London home than at her constituency home between 11 May 2005 and 27 June 2007. He has also concluded that Ms Smith spent more nights at her constituency home than at her London home between 28 June 2007 and 31 March 2009."

So that's two years and nearly two months spending more nights in London and one year and seven months spending more nights in Redditch. Which is a LOT nearer to TWO and TWO than it is to THREE and ONE.

And then she adds: "I have never flipped my designation and I own only one home."


You see, when Ms Spliff was first elected, she quite naturally designated her home in Redditch as her "main home". All fair there. In 1999 she became a minister. Yes, I know, but she did. The RULES then in play said she HAD to re-designate her London home as her main one. Okay, fair play, can't say that's her fault. But then in 2004 that rule was cancelled and she had the CHOICE to re-re-designate BACK to how it was to start with. And she didn't.

So although she didn't take any ACTION to "flip" her house, the EFFECT is the same; if she had not been a Minister, she WOULD have had to have "flipped" to be claiming what she was from 2004 onwards. As the Standards Commission says, other than becoming a Minister, NOTHING changed in Ms Spliff's circumstances, so how other than a "flip" can you describe her choice to stick with the re-designation?

Because more than anything else, it's OBVIOUS that the WHOLE POINT of scrapping the "Ministers have to declare their London home as their main home" rule was because it was clearly SILLY in the case of people like Ms Spliff. Giving her the CHOICE was an act of TRUST that she would properly declare the secondary home, NOT an invitation to maximise her allowances. It was an act of trust that she BETRAYED.

She does, kind of, sort of, reluctantly come to the word "apology" at the end of her statement, although her acceptance of the Commissioner's findings comes heavily framed with an "however" and an "in retrospect", but before that she plays her ultimate "Get Out Of Jail Free" card:

"The Committee recognises that there is no evidence that the taxpayer would be any worse or any better off as a result of my having made a different decision."

Ummm. Sort of. They do and they don't. Point 34:

First they say:

"If Ms Smith had nominated her Redditch home as her main home, she could not have claimed for the rent she paid to her sister because the House rules prevent a family member from benefiting from allowances."

Which seems pretty plain and simple: Ms Spliff got the homes the wrong way round; declared the other way around she could have claimed nothing; ergo the taxpayer was stung for the WHOLE WHACK, was out of pocket by over a hundred grand. Thank you. We'll take a cheque.

BUT, then the Committee goes on to say:

"However, she could have bought her own home in London; she could have rented a home in London from a non-relative; or from June 2007 she could presumably have used a taxpayer-funded grace and favour residence in central London, as many previous Home Secretaries have done. Any of these courses could have resulted in a different claim on Additional Costs Allowance"

She could also, presumably, have been kidnapped by space-aliens, taken Holy Orders and retreated to a Convent, or been elected Queen of the Mountains of the Moon.

Is it REASONABLE to think that ANY of these things might have happened? Or are we ACTUALLY saying that we can't work out how much the public purse has lost because the former Home Secretary might have found some OTHER way to diddle the taxpayer?

You have to ask, who signs off on this sort of TWADDLE? Who takes a fairly clear-cut double-barrelled guilty verdict and says there are "mitigating circumstances". And, in fact, who therefore concludes that the appropriate punishment for someone who has, let's just say, "inappropriately acquired" over a hundred thousand pounds of other people's money is a few grudging words of mainly self-justification?

In short, just who ARE the Standards and Privileges Committee, anyway?

Well, in accordance with Standing Order 149 para (2): "The committee shall consist of ten Members, of whom five shall be a quorum", there are ten members of the Standards Committee, five of whom are members of Hard Labour and five of whom are not.

Interestingly, though, not all of them were PRESENT when the report on Ms Spliff went through.

The meeting to decide on their response took place on the afternoon of 22 September. That's slap in the middle of the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, which I'm sure is a HUGE COINCIDENCE.

Nevertheless, a glance at the MINUTES of the meeting reveals that PRESENT for this discussion were:

Mr Kevin Barron (Hard Labour)
Mr Andrew Dismore (Hard Labour)
Mr Chris Mullin (Hard Labour)
Mr Paddy Tipping (Hard Labour)
Dr Alan Whitehead (Hard Labour)
Mr Greg Knight (Hard Labour stooge Conservatory – no, be fair, you can't blame him, outnumbered five to one and they'd have been quorate even if he'd refused to attend)

Meanwhile, NOT present were:

Mr Sir George "Very Old" Young (Conservatory)
Mr Nicholas "Bunter" Soames (Conservatory)
Mr Elfym Llwyd (Plaid Cymru)
Mr Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat) – away at the Party Conference, what a coincidence.

And at this point I have to say: is it just ME or is that starting to look just the TEENIEST bit PARTISAN? And perhaps just the TINIEST bit SUSPICIOUS?

Maybe it's COMPLETELY INNOCENT, maybe it just LOOKS bad, MAYBE.

But – at a time when Parliament is in the LOWEST of esteem and when MPs' expenses are under the TIGHTEST scrutiny – would it not have been at the very least BEST PRACTICE to make sure that the opposition Parties were all present and correct when deciding the fate of a senior Government THIEF. Er, member.

There's a PRICE for this sort of behaviour. You can't just "stitch things up" any more, you can't just "play the game"; Jacqui Spliff may have begrudged the House of Commons even a small sign that she was sorry, but mouthing the words in Parliament isn't enough when it looks like you are getting away with daylight robbery.

People are angry about this, FURIOUS in fact.

For Ms Spliff, the backlash has begun, with over six thousand Redditch voters telling her to get gone and the campaign is already rolling to stop her receiving an undeserved peerage as a reward for failure.

Or as Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Oakeshott put it: "Shamed MPs should not stroll into the House of Lords."

But for the rest of us, the price will be paid in the years to come, because people have lost their FAITH in politics and they don't care enough anymore to demand more of their Government. If we end up electing the next truly GHASTLY Conservatory regime it'll be because most people are more interested in seeing the current bunch of crooks and shysters ejected than in holding the next lot to account.

I believe that we deserve BETTER than that. I believe that we can have a world that is actually pretty GREAT, and we don't need EITHER Hard Labour OR the Conservatories bossing us around and ripping us off.

And I make no unpologies for that.

And, tragically, Ms Spliff has immediately LOST her title as MOST EGREGIOUS UNPOLOGIST of the YEAR to Ms Jan Moir of the Daily Fail. More on THAT story later


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