May 31, 2009
FIFTEEN members of the Scottish Parliament have been shamed into repaying expenses they claimed for Remembrance Day wreaths. The MSPs – from the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrats – reclaimed money that was paid to Poppyscotland and the Lady Haig Poppy Factory for the wreaths. Both charities raise funds for veterans.
It came as their actions were last night described as “immoral” and “dishonourable”, although it was pointed out by officials that they fell within parliament’s rules. MPs have been banned from claiming the cost of Remembrance Day wreaths since 2004.
The row has shifted the expenses focus on to Holyrood, which has been regarded largely as “clean” in comparison with Westminster, where MPs have been under siege over their claims. And last night, the scandal forced another MP to quit, with former Labour minister Elliot Morely announcing he would not seek re-election after claiming £16,800 in taxpayer-funded allowances for interest on a mortgage already paid off.
Mark Wallace, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said he was astounded MSPs would even consider claiming back money given to a veterans’ charity. “It is disgraceful that so many MSPs have claimed Remembrance Day wreaths on expenses and that it is allowed under Scottish Parliament rules,” he said.
May 22, 2009
A Tory MP is to retire after admitting he claimed a £1,645 “duck island” on expenses – as two Labour ministers face questions over capital gains tax.
Sir Peter Viggers, whose gardening claims totalled £30,000, is to quit at “the direct request of David Cameron”.
Meanwhile Gordon Brown defended James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, saying they had complied with the “spirit and letter” of rules over the sale of London homes. They both insist they did nothing wrong by not paying capital gains tax…
After hearing about the latest expenses revelations, Tory leader David Cameron told Gosport MP Sir Peter he faced the removal of the whip if he did not announce that he would withdraw at the next election.
The Conservatives’ scrutiny panel will decide what figure Sir Peter will have to pay back. Sources say it will be a “substantial sum”.
Sir Peter said the claims he made “were in accordance with the rules at the time, and were all approved by the fees office”.
- BBC News
May 18, 2009
… to the tune of ‘Comet’.
A new book claims the Spanish dictator, General Francisco Franco, may have had more in common with Adolf Hitler than previously known – having one testicle.
Much like the Nazi leader, Franco’s loss stemmed from an injury he suffered in battle, his doctor’s granddaughter told the historian Jose Maria Zavala.
Franco was wounded in the lower abdomen at El Biutz, near Ceuta, in June 1916.
Biographers have long speculated this affected the reproductive organs of the dictator, who ruled from 1939 to 1975. However, he did have a daughter, Carmen Franco y Polo, in 1926.
- BBC News
May 17, 2009
A radical Muslim who dressed his baby daughter in a hat with “I love al-Qaeda” on it tried to firebomb the home of the publisher of a controversial novel about the Prophet Mohammed.
Ali Beheshti, 40, along with Abrar Mirza, 22, have admitted conspiracy to recklessly damage property and endanger life after they poured diesel through the letterbox of a publishing house in Islington, North London.
Abbas Taj, 30, a mini-cab driver, was found guilty at Croydon Crown court of conspiracy to firebomb the home of Martin Rynja, the publisher of The Jewel Of Medina. He was to be the getaway driver, but was stopped in his car and arrested by armed police near Angel Tube station in the early hours in September last year, just after they had set fire to the premises.
Beheshti’s 20-month-old daughter, Farisa, was pictured wearing the hat when he took her along to a protest against Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed and proudly called her “the youngest member of al-Qaeda”. He waved banners vowing to “Massacre those who insult Islam” and promising “Europe, your 9/11 will come!” During the protests in 2006 he called himself Abu Jihad — meaning holy war.
The three men began their attack when publisher Mr Rynja was preparing to release The Jewel Of Medina, a novel about the Prophet Mohammed and the life of his child bride, Aisha.
The trio were planning to spend the night at Regent’s Park Mosque, in North London, as part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but shortly after arrival they set out with “fire-making equipment” for the home of Mr Rynja…
The publication of The Jewel of Medina was cancelled by one major publisher in the United States over fears that it could offend Muslims.
Run that “religion of peace” line past me again…
May 16, 2009
“The question may be asked: Is Blackpool chic enough for the French? Its Golden Mile, with its fish and chip shops, tattoo parlours and amusement arcades bears little resemblance to the Champs Elysses or Croisette, but work is under way to make Blackpool more stylish.”
A Lancashire seaside resort is using a dash of French glamour and internet social networking sites to boost holidaymaker numbers.
A new YouTube film, complete with sexy French accents, promotes Blackpool as a sophisticated place. The aim of the film is to attract visitors who may have traditionally felt that Blackpool was not for them…
The 90-second-long film, titled Blackpool Je t’aime, is artfully shot and includes images of the town’s tower, trams and fairground.
Helen France, director of tourism for Blackpool Council, said: “Often when we get French visitors – they like to do London, Stratford and Edinburgh and often drop off at a seaside town on the way, and we hope that this will encourage them to come to Blackpool.”
- BBC News
May 15, 2009
The number of people out of work in the UK rose 244,000 to 2.22 million in the first three months of 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The jobless rate rose from 6.7% to 7.1%. Unemployment benefit claimants in April rose 57,100 to 1.51 million.
The quarterly rises in the jobless rate and number were the biggest since 1981.
The figures were due to be released by the ONS at 0930 BST on Wednesday, but came out at 1400 on Tuesday after an “accidental early release”.
The ONS has launched an inquiry into how the early release happened.
- BBC News
May 14, 2009
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said she hopes that widespread criticism levelled at police following the G20 protests will not dent recruitment. She told the Police Federation of England and Wales there had been “too much police-bashing” in recent weeks.
Three inquiries are under way following the death of Ian Tomlinson and other complaints of police brutality at G20. The head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has voiced “serious concerns” about the event.
IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick has also angered the Police Federation by warning officers to remember they are “servants, not masters” of the people.
- BBC News
May 13, 2009
Remind me not to go on holiday again unless it’s a parliamentary recess, will you?
Gordon Brown has said “mistakes” were made by MPs in their use of House of Commons expenses. The prime minister apologised on behalf of all political parties for some of the claims made and said public trust must be restored “immediately”.
Commons Speaker Michael Martin said “serious change” was needed and that the “spirit” of rules must be followed. An independent body auditing expenses claims would be set up “very soon”, he added…
Plans for an independent auditing body to oversee expenses claims are expected to be approved on Monday, following weeks of damaging stories. Senior Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said this would analyse “every claim that is made”.
The Commons fees office is overseen by a committee made up of MPs and independent people – who in turn are overseen by the National Audit Office. The new body would be entirely independent and cost about £600,000 a year to run.
Millions of receipts backing up all MPs’ expenses claims under the second homes allowance are due to be published in July after a long freedom of information campaign.
But details have been leaked to the Telegraph – which has been publishing selected excerpts over the last few days.
There are concerns that the proposed change to the auditing system would mean MPs’ expenses would no longer have to be made public under the freedom of information ruling.
- BBC News
May 12, 2009
A US soldier has shot dead five of his colleagues at a base in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, the Pentagon says.
Two other people were hurt in the shootings and the gunman is in custody, Pentagon officials have said. An earlier military statement said the incident had happened at Camp Liberty near Baghdad’s international airport at about 1400 (1100 GMT).
The White House said US President Barack Obama was shocked by news of the “terrible tragedy”. The president planned to discuss it with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said spokesman Robert Gibbs.
The shooting reportedly occurred at a clinic where troops receive help for personal issues or combat stress.