Oliver Kamm, leader writer and former investment banker, nominates Gerald Kaufman
He understands the business of government while upholding the rights and prerogatives of backbenchers. And he is genuinely witty.
And here, published in some detail, is a slice of the track record of Sir Gerald Kaufman, showing his wit in defence of what he's seen as his rights and prerogatives as a bankbencher making absolutely gross claims for expenses. A particularly telling demonstration of someone who " understands the business."...
The former environment minister was asked to attend a meeting with officials from the parliamentary fees office to discuss details of another claim relating to £28,834 of work on the kitchen and bathroom at his London flat.
He told them that the work was necessary because he was “living in a slum”, though his second home, off Regent’s Park, is in one of the most fashionable areas of the capital. He was eventually reimbursed for £15,329.
On one occasion he asked a civil servant “why are you querying these expenses?” and on another threatened to make a complaint unless a dispute was settled by noon on the day in question. In one document, an official in the fees office noted that invoices Sir Gerald had submitted took him to “within 6p” of his annual limit. He also claimed £1,262 for a gas bill that was £1,055 in credit.
Between 2001 and 2008 the Manchester Gorton MP, one of the Labour party’s longest-serving members, claimed a total of £115,109 in additional costs allowances on his London flat, which he owns outright. In June 2006, he submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen Beovision 40in LCD television. The maximum amount MPs are allowed to claim for TVs is £750.
On July 7, 2006 the fees office wrote to Sir Gerald to say: “I regret to inform you that this item falls within the not allowable category of luxurious furnishings, and as such has been rejected.”
He was paid £750.
In March 2007 Sir Gerald submitted a claim for £1,461.83 for a “second-hand rug replacing 24-year-old carpet”, with an additional £389.91 for “customs duty on rug”, which was paid. The receipt showed that Sir Gerald bought the rug from the Showplace Antique Centre on West 25th Street in Manhattan for $2,750. The Green Book strictly forbids “antique, luxury or premium grade” furnishings.
Later that year, on Dec 29, Sir Gerald, who was knighted in 2004, submitted an invoice from ABC Carpets in Harrods for £598, which was also paid.
A note of a telephone conversation between Sir Gerald, 78, and an official in the fees office, states that his reasons for claiming £28,834 for home improvements between 2005 and 2007 were: “Old flat, facilities out of date, decrepit, health reasons, update, living in slum.” Sir Gerald added that he had “not carried out any repairs/maintenance for 32 years”.
Sir Gerald was also challenged over regular claims for “odd jobs” which he submitted without receipts at a rate of £245 every month — £5 below the then limit for unreceipted expenses. He replied: “Why are you querying these expenses?”
On May 18, a senior official in the fees office noted details of another conversation about the kitchen and bathroom, saying: “MP believes that I have seen a detailed breakdown of the £12,416.51 claim he has submitted [for that financial year]… MP is becoming agitated and will be making an official complaint against me, if this matter is not resolved by 12 noon today.” When detailed invoices were submitted, they included £575 for undertile heating in the shower room and £2,695 for Bosch and Miele kitchen appliances. Sir Gerald was asked to attend a meeting with officials on the matter and the fees office eventually agreed to pay him £15,329 of the £28,834. Sir Gerald accepted, saying that he wanted to “draw a line under the issue”.
In June last year Sir Gerald submitted a £1,262 claim for his gas bill, covering the period March 2006 to May 2008. The fees office pointed out that his gas account was £1,055.60 in credit, and only agreed to pay £122.46.
A note in the file on July 10, 2008 quotes Sir Gerald as saying: “I received a letter from [official] saying not pay as is credit. I paid £1,252 THIS year so want reimbursing!!!”
The fees office wrote to him on July 14 to say: “You might wish to ask British Gas to repay you the credit.”
Sir Gerald’s claims between 2004 and June 2008 also included £19,200 for food — close to the maximum — and £4,692 for cleaning.
Last night Sir Gerald offered to repay the money for the rug and admitted that his claim for the £8,000 television was “a bit daft”.
He said that his flat had been in need of complete refurbishment because he had “neglected” it over the years and he had overclaimed for the gas bill because he “misunderstood” the invoice.
He said that his odd jobs bill was actually more than £245 a month, so he had claimed close to the limit. His food claim was “appropriate” because his job meant he often had to “spend a lot of money” eating out, he added.
As for Oliver Kamm's claim about his wit in general, I recently featured a post with a clip of Sir Gerald Kaufman in full flow from the Labour backbenches making a long speech read straight off a script equating the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza with those of the Nazis against the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Maybe Kamm was just trying to be tongue-in-cheek witty with his nomination of this man as the replacement speaker for Michael Martin? If he was, he's in danger of being seen as less of a Pope than a Lord of Misrule.
Incidentally, from the picture in the Telegraph article on Kaufman's claims about the "slum" he's been living in, it's not just "near" Regent's Park, it's in a prime block directly overlooking the park, with fabulous views over one of the finest parks in the world, complete with exotic glimpses of the giraffes and the other wild life in the London Zoo, just down the road.
The reason I know that is ironic. I grew up in a real slum-- a small, damp house in the bomb-cratered streets between the Commercial Road and Cable Street, in post-war Stepney. There was an outdoor toilet and no bathroom or hot water. It had already been marked for demolition as unfit for human habitation when my parents moved in in the late forties. My parents were confident that this was a good move, as they would eventually get a council flat when it was demolished. They weren't aware at the time that the LCC excluded non British nationals from rehousing in council flats. But they got British nationality and waited patiently. We were eventually rehoused-- in 1962. And the landlord of the little house was a Mr Simmons, who lived in the very same grand Regent's Park block that Sir Gerald now describes as inflicting "slum" conditions on him.