The whole Jacqui Smith thing…….

// 31 March 2009

So, I’m uber excited to be guest blogging here and I’ve spent the past few days panicking about what on earth my first post should be about. Then the whole row about the Home Secretary’s expenses blew up and I’ve found myself watching in disbelief as she is practically crucified in the media, for essentially being honest about her expenses.

Lets just be clear here. The Guardian reports that:

The prime minister was stung into action following fresh revelations about Jacqui Smith’s husband, Richard Timney, using her expenses allowance to watch two soft porn films. The home secretary is already under investigation by John Lyon, the parliamentary standards commissioner, over her £116,000 claim for her second home in her constituency, Redditch.

Except Jacqui Smith wasn’t using her expenses allowance to watch soft porn movies. Ms Smith submitted a claim for her media package, which she is perfectly allowed to do, and then later realised she had inadvertently claimed for her TV bill and not just her internet bill. She attempted to sort the problem and then it was discovered her HUSBAND had ordered and watched 2 soft porn movies when she was ABSENT from the property.

Could someone please explain to me, being as I’m but a humble feminist who doesn’t understand all this high falutin’ political talk, how this translates to ‘using her expenses allowance to buy and watch soft porn’? I mean seriously? She wasn’t there, she didn’t do it and now the media are calling for her resignation and calling foul, because of something someone else did!

The second accusation against her, about the second home claims is also ludicrous. Again the media is calling foul along with various members of the Tory Party, and the Daily Fail offers us this glorious quote :

The Tory leader said: “I think she has got some questions to answer about the second home issue. It does seem to me pretty incredible to claim that the home where her family is, that is not her main home.”

Insiders believe the troubled Home Secretary has a matter of only a few months to save her political career.

So she spends most her time in London working, where she lodges at her sisters house. This, one presumes, essentially makes her Redditch home her weekend/holiday home. Which to my mind makes it a second home. I’m not sure why David Cameron has such an issue with this. Could it be because Ms Smith is a woman and well, she should be at home with her family, where she belongs. Not dabbling in all this politics business.

Now I’m not going to disagree that MP’s do seem to be able to claim an awful lot of money for an awful lots of things and this may not be a good thing. However, if the choice is between the occasional expenses claim being a bit dodgy, and only the very rich and well off being able to afford to run for Parliament, I’d rather deal with the odd dodgy expenses form thanks.

It seems clear (to me at least) that is Ms Smith was Mr Smith this whole shebang wouldn’t have been so extensive and no one would be calling for her head with such fervour. Given that media coverage of her has mostly focused on her fashion choices, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. I just really hope that this doesn’t de-rail her, because while she can still make some problematic decisions, Ms Smith does seem to be doing a relatively good job as Home Secretary.

Comments From You

David Abstract // Posted 2 April 2009 at 1:13 am

Your willingness to tolerate dodgy expenses claims from politicians you’re in favour of will come back to haunt you one day…

If Ms Smith was Mr Smith, he would have probably have been the one watching the soft core pornography… and the media storm would be just as big – the pack has scented the blood of a big cabinet beast, at this point it doesn’t matter about merit, it’s the new media narrative “government in crisis.” Plus, as “The Thick of It” told us “It’s a jungle out there – they’re like wolves. Pissed Wolves!”

Jessica // Posted 2 April 2009 at 9:38 am

I agree with Suzi on the issue surrounding the porn. I feel that the press are picking up on this particular issue because the Home Secretary is a woman. And because she is a slightly pump, middle aged woman who isn’t very good in a debate.

On the other hand, she has made a complete mess of her second home allowance. The issue is not whether she should have a second home. It is not whether she should be an MP. The press may be saying this, but the other political parties are not.

The issue is whether she is justified in claiming her sister’s house as her home, and her constituency house as a second home.

Firstly, the Home Secretary suggested that she spent more time, on average, at her sister’s house than at her house in her constituency. If she did, then this is her first home. However, it has been reported that she spent three nights per week at her sister’s house while parliament was in session. This is less than half the week for less than half the year. (I understand that she has also said that she spent two nights per week at her constituency home and two nights per week away from either home — that’s what a job in government gets you.)

I haven’t heard anything about where she spends her time when parliament is in recess, but I suspect and hope it is in her constituency. If she is not spending more time at her sister’s than in her constituency, then her constituency house should be her first home, and not her sister’s house.

Secondly, I understand that she has claimed as her main home a house which she has no legal claim to. I understand taht teh mortgage is in her sister’s name, and I don’t know the terms of the rent, but I suspect that the Home Secretary and her sister did not draw up the sort of contract which is normally required by letting agencies and lodgers.

And thirdly, I am personally unhappy about her suggesting that her constituency was less important. We all know that Home Secretary is a vastly important job and that is is very difficult. We know that she would have very little time left to visit her constituents. But please, does she have to imply that Redditch is second and London is first?

In her defence, parliamentary allowances are really really hard. If an MP drives 50 miles to see a group of constituents (not in London, of course, but more than likely to happen every single weekend in the rural areas on the UK) then they can claim the petrol. And quite rightly — they provide a service. However, what if they want to stop off and see their grandchildren on the way home? I’ve seen MP’s secretaries work out mile by mile which they drove as part of their job and which they drove as part of their normal life. Or, as normal a life as an MP can have.

And by the way, you know those headlines saying MP’s have “expenses” of up to £85,000? That includes the salary for their staff. And the charge for their internet and office computers. And the rent for their contituency offices. And all their paper, envelopes…etc etc.

Kez // Posted 2 April 2009 at 9:42 am

“She wasn’t there, she didn’t do it and now the media are calling for her resignation and calling foul, because of something someone else did!”

But of course, like Tessa Jowell before her, she is expected to be privy to her husband’s every move, or be accused of either dishonesty or incompetence. Despite not being there most of the time and being, you know, a bit busy with other things.

I’m not saying there aren’t questions to be answered here. But I find it interesting that two high-ranking female politicians have recently been embarrassed by the activities of their husbands, whereas I am struggling to think of a comparable situation whereby a male politician has been similarly vilified for the actions of his wife. OK, you could argue Cherie Blair, but she was already very high profile (and unpopular in the media), whereas I doubt many people had heard of Richard Timney or David Mills prior to these controversies.

Madeleine // Posted 2 April 2009 at 11:54 am

The media are certainly gleefully attacking Ms Smith and there’s no doubt this is largely because she’s female. But she HAS made a dog’s brekkie of her “expenses” and thereby given them lots of ammunition.

What everyone seems to think is normal (or not worth commenting on) is that her husband was apparently her parliamentary assistant or something. I don’t think MPs should be allowed to employ family members like that, it is totally inappropriate.

And allowing even one ‘dodgy’ expense claim is, human nature being what it is, the thin end of the wedge, Suzy. That should NEVER be allowed. It’s your and my money we’re talking about here!

If MPs salaries and allowances and basically their big privilege bubble was burst, it might help attract the right kind of people to the job, i.e. people who have some altruistic principles and are not just out for what they can grab for themselves and their rellies.

Rachel // Posted 2 April 2009 at 12:12 pm

It seems to me that there are two very different issues here – the dodgy claims, and the porn. The fact that she claimed for something she shouldn’t have, mistakenly or not, and the fact that a small part of what she claimed for was something a bit spicy for the media to get it’s claws into. I’m not going to go into it but I think it’s the media’s response to the situation that confuses things and gives precedence to the little bit of information that distracts from the main issue – she claimed for something she shouldn’t have.

AFuddyDuddy // Posted 2 April 2009 at 12:41 pm

Several thoughts about Jackie Smith and media.

1) This is a non-story and not worth reporting.

2) When she became home secretary she received a lot of unfair criticism for having breasts, which I think she kept perfectly well covered at all times (normally I would not comment but the criticism was about display).

The reason I think this story is reported is because she has already been found guilty in the “Court of public opinion” over her housing arrangements. She has clearly chosen to make her second home the one she can claim most allowance for and fitted the facts accordingly. She also maximises the money she takes from the public by employing her husband at £40,000 pa. Not sure what for but it would appear his main duties are child care (see Caroline Spelman) and of course expense claiming – which he is quite good at, apart from the little TV slip he got within £135 of a £24,000 limit. As I said the TV error is too small to report but the porn gives an excuse. As people do seem to obsess about trivia over real issue this has gathered lots of attention.

Not all of this is about Women Derek Conway was criticised. Two married couples Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, and the Wintertons have been critised.

The Tessa Jowell thing was quite a long time ago and again I think it was the “Court of Public opinion” after all there cannot be many homes where a £400,000 mortgage could be so casually forgotten about, that was her description, and I like many other people thought she must either be grossly incompetant or lying.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 2 April 2009 at 1:01 pm

I feel I should clarify, about the dodgy expenses. I’m not for a single second insinuating that dodgy expenses claims are ok- what I haven’t made clear is that I feel quite the opposite about that. What I do think however, is that if the only way to allow for the expenses of being an MP (and it is expensive) is to occasionally have to deal with dodgy expenses claims which need investigating and so on, then that is preferable to having a system of no expenses, where only the very wealthy and privileged are able to run for office.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 2 April 2009 at 1:05 pm

Regarding the comment about Timneys main role being childcare- I’m not sure why this is a problem. I also couldn’t work out why Spellman was pilloried for using her expenses form for childcare- she charged for her personal assistant who had, as part of her role, childcare. Seems reasonable (and perfectly sensible) to me. Motherhood should not ever be a barrier to public office, and childcare is an expense incurred in the course of being an MP.

I don’t think it should be appropriate for MP’s to hire family members as Parliamentary Aides, but I do think that they should be able to charge for at least part of the cost of their childcare, especially considering their working hours are likely to make ‘traditional’ childcare arrangements difficult.

Madeleine // Posted 2 April 2009 at 2:21 pm

Suzy, yes of course there should be a system of expenses for MPs so that the job is not open only to the rich and privileged. And childcare costs would automatically be included because as you rightly say, motherhood should never be a bar. But the expenses system needs to be MUCH more strictly controlled and limited, not open to the kind of cynical abuse of it that we keep seeing. I think they should start by ruling that no MP is allowed to employ family members. A lot of them have been doing this for years and it is pure piss-taking. And they wonder why people despise politicians!

Donald // Posted 2 April 2009 at 2:52 pm

The Guardian wasn’t reporting that Jacqui Smith wawas using her expenses allowance to watch soft porn movies, in fact, in the quote you’ve posted, it explicitly says it was “Jacqui Smith’s husband, Richard Timney, using her expenses allowance to watch two soft porn films.”

What Jacqui Smith is guilty of is trying to pay for the TV package with which her husband watched these films on Parliamentary Expenses. The fact is, luxuries such as satellite television should not be paid for by the taxpayer. An internet connection, yes, because that is essential to her job, but not satellite television. The story also reports that she herself ordered many non-adult films, so she is as guilty as him. The only reason it has gained so much publicity is because of the porn, however, lets not pretend she has done nothing wrong and it’s her out-of-control pervert husband who is the sole culprit here for the sake of turning a parliamentary issue into a feminist issue, which frankly, it isn’t.

Also, David Cameron is not against women in Parliament, in fact, he has been proactive in making sure at least 50% of prospective candidates are female and promoting women from ethnic backgrounds in order to create a more balanced and diverse group within the party.

The fact is, MPs’ expenses will probably be scrapped, now that all three main party leaders are in favour scrapping them, and instead all MPs will take a pay-rise. The pay-rise ought to encourage those not from wealthy backgrounds to run, therefore we will not see a ‘rich-only’ Parliament.

Amelia // Posted 2 April 2009 at 3:05 pm

No one seriously goes into Parliament for the money! Perhaps power, yes, but not for the money – the PM earns a pittance compared to what he/she could earn in the private sector. Now, whether private sector wages are extortionate is another matter for debate … but the fact remains, most MPs could earn a lot more, doing a different job, working much more reasonable hours. A fair proportion of them, rightly or wrongly, come from Oxbridge and other top universities, many of them have law degrees, and a lot of them take pay cuts to enter Parliament – ignoring the fact that it costs an awful lot to stand as an MP, especially as an independent. Expenses are a necessary fact of life – if MPs earned six figure salaries as a matter of course, then maybe it’d be a different story, but the fact remains is that they don’t, and they have to employ staff, pay for office equipment from their salaries. In order to attract the right sort of people to the job, we need to allow expenses. I agree with Suzi – better to have a few criticisms and scandals over some expense claims, rather than have only the rich in there.

Jessica // Posted 2 April 2009 at 4:20 pm

Just to follow up — I think an MP employing their husband or wife sometimes makes for a better MP. I worked for an MP who did just that. It might not work for everyone, but some MPs and their husbands or wives make great teams and provide a better service than anyone else could.

1) She knew him better than anyone else could, and could get him to cut down on his workload (it’s hard to say “no”, and an MP can end up “dropping by” half a dozen meetings every night, which is not a good use of their time) or focus on one thing at a time.

2) She could make judgement calls no one else could.

3) She worked weekends and evenings — this was their life.

4) She was seen by the constituents as being “more important” than a normal staff member. (I’m not saying this is the way it should be, I’m saying this is how it is.)

5) She recieved invitations to meetings and events because she was the MPs wife — if she hadn’t also been employed then she would have had to turn those things down.

6) If she hadn’t been arround, they would never have seen each other. They near as lived in the office…

This is just my experience, but if you want good MPs, don’t make them choose between their vocation and their family.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 April 2009 at 5:40 pm

I’m not going to get into the main topic of discussion (no knowledge of the matter at hand, high probability of sticking my foot in my mouth, proverbially speaking), bit I think Jessica brought up an interesting topic, with regards to partners of politicians.

For so long, the wives of clergy and politicians (since historically both were mostly male) were seen as free labour, someone who came with their spouse to a job. It’s clear that the way some systems are set up, we as a society have often benefitted from the free labour of unpaid spouses who have put everything aside to support their partner (think First Lady: unpaid job, not an easy one, often thankless). I wouldn’t want spouses or other family to be pressured into working for their loved ones when they might want other choices. I don’t like the idea of nepotism, either. However, in many instances, we have relied on the dedicated work of not only one person, but their significant other, or another family member. Historically, the contributions of these ‘less important’ parties has been ignored, but Jessica reminds us that they can be a great help.

I don’t want anyone to be forced into that kind of job, or unfair advantages to be taken. But equally, I think we need to rethink how we see the role of such partners. They need recognition, the idea of a partnership or a team itself needs more recognition.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 April 2009 at 5:44 pm

The pay-rise ought to encourage those not from wealthy backgrounds to run, therefore we will not see a ‘rich-only’ Parliament. Considering how many politicians are from private schools, I doubt that the pay would have turned away that many people from poorer backgrounds, seeing as though it may be modest compared to, say banking,it would have been relatively high compared to the UK average. However, I’m not as optimistic as you.

Since MPs are allowed to be re-elected as many times as people will have them, and the vast majority are re-elected over and over again, any change that does occur will be very slow, considering the same privileged people are being voted to be kept in. Change can happen, but it won’t be any time soon, if recent history is anything to go by.

Cloud // Posted 2 April 2009 at 7:33 pm

I don’t think that there is any justification for childcare being either chargeable to expenses, or to be incorporated into a parliamentary assistants role.

In terms of expenses it isn’t justifiably an expense incurred for doing the job – I support affordable childcare for all people – but not chargeable as an expense. In any public or private sector job you can’t start charging your employee for childcare – you have to use the systems available, eg childcare vouchers, creches. It’s unfair to classify childcare as a business expense. Having children shouldn’t bar you from any work – but that doesn’t make it a business expense.

I think that using a parliamentary assistant as a nanny is completely inappropriate. The staff budget is separate from any other allowances and expenses, and is to be used to pay staff to assist you in working for your constituents. While having someone look after your kids assists you, it is not in the sense that the role is meant. MPs have a huge workload and their staff work on a huge amount of this work – this is what the taxpayer is paying for, not someone to act as a childminder and pick up dry cleaning.

In my opinion most MPs offices are massively understaffed and under-resourced. But while MPs are busy employing their kids/wives/husbands and paying for childcare with their staffing budgets the public are never going to support this being increased.

I agree with Anne that in the past many public roles have relied on spouses doing unpaid, thankless work, but regardless of the good work they do, and the recognition the individuals involve do deserve, I don’t think its a system we can continue to support. Its based on old gender divides and is working against women – for example women hoping to be selected as candidates have reported being disadvantaged because they do not have partners who are willing to accompany them at all times.

The reality is that individuals do these jobs – we are voting in one person, not a family. I think that better representation of women in parliament will go a long way to reducing these problems – women do not have to look to an MPs wife, but can talk to the MPs themselves. Twining constituencies, where neighbouring wards have a female and male MP between them can also help facilitate this.

Gregory Carlin // Posted 3 April 2009 at 4:53 am

Jacqui Smith put a claim in for pornography, that is a fact, and it was her claim,

if the person who watched it, who is on a good bung out of the pblic purse (40K?) assisted, it was still Jacqui Smith’s claim.

…the softness of which I’m not really able to comment upon, how do you know how ‘soft’ it was?

I can give some good advice, the following people will be no help in relation to DV, VAW, trafficking, brothels, violent porn, or anything of that nature.

jacqui Smith, Vera Baird, Fiona MacTaggart, Harriet Harman, and I could continue, but that’s probably enough to be going on with.

My qualifications for saying that are:

(a) In 2002, I closed more brothels than all the force area constabularies in England and Wales combined.

(b) All the DWP/Jobcentre investigations, re: sex trade & etc. in the last five years were down to me, that’s 100 percent of them.

I can go on to Z. I will never allow myself to ever trust the Home Office again because of what they done in Yorkshire with the women in the brothel raids I helpe to organize.

Jacqui Smith does gimmicks, Jacqui Smith was a gimmick, she is now a laughing stock around the world. There is some justice in that, not enough, but as much as we are going to see.

Gregory Carlin

Director

IATC, Belfast, N. Ireland, BT118NX

gdcheers // Posted 3 April 2009 at 11:29 am

Did Jacqui’s husband check first to see if the girl in the porno movie was not trafficked or controlled for gain by a third party? Seems like gross exploitation of woman to me. Its people like her husband that are fueling this terrible trade.

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