But not being Prime Minister has some consolations, particularly for three very special people: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major. They are the only members of the very exclusive Living Former Prime Ministers’ Club – although it is hopefully to have a new member very soon (Yes, Gladstone’s being resurrected. -Ed.) – and what do members of exclusive clubs get?
That’s right, £115,000 expense accounts!
Those readers who are keen followers of Private Eye or the Inforrm blog, or indeed The Sunday Times or PoliticsHome, or, – come to think of it – the Australian Gazette of Law and Journalism – will be aware that I had a bit of single-handed luck in the courts last month, beating my opponent (a proper barrister instructed by the government) to secure a judge’s order that Number 10 disclose details of payments made to former Prime Ministers under the secretive expense account that is variously known as the Public Duty Cost Allowance, the Public Duty Costs Allowance, the Public Duties Cost Allowance, the Public Duties Costs Allowance, the Public Duty Cost Allowances, the Public Duty Costs Allowances, the Public Duties Cost Allowances and the Public Duties Costs Allowances.
Yeah, transparency was clearly needed.
The allowance for former Prime Ministers exists, in theory, “in recognition of the special place they hold in public life”. The idea that John Major holds a special place in anyone’s life appeared so laughable to me that I asked Downing Street for details of what sort of claims were made. They refused, saying that the published totals were sufficient for public scrutiny.
They weren’t sufficient, as the judge agreed, but they are still fairly illuminating. The maximum is £115,000, remember. Let’s look at Tony Blair’s recent claims:
- 2014-15: £115,000
- 2013-14: £115,000.00
- 2012-13: £115,000
- 2011-12: £115,000
- 2010-11: no data recorded
- 2009-10: £103,812 (That seems on the low side given that he could claim up to £115,000! -Ed.)
- 2008-09: £169,076.02 (That seems on the high side given that he could claim up to £115,000! -Ed.)
Slightly more subtle was Gordon Brown’s 2011-12 claim for £114,998.17, generously leaving £1.83 for the taxpayer to buy a packet of Pringles with. Poor old Maggie, meanwhile, only managed to get through £74,000 in the year that she died. Such a waste. Such a waste.
As it turns out, MPs asked about the allowance in 2010, but then minister (now Baroness) Tessa Jowell refused to provide a full answer because she couldn’t find the information “except at disproportionate cost”. It took me and my laptop 17 minutes.
Jowell 0-1 Webber
Cabinet Office 0-1 Webber
Railing against immigration
The island of Sodor is to take in some refugees, as the writers of Thomas the Tank Engine announce new characters from around the world, including a Chinese train, an Indian train (pictured) and a Mexican train. Thomas will also be having a Brazilian.
The development recognises that most of the current characters are “apparently white” – not that I’m sure what that means, given that they’re, er, trains.
But it hasn’t been universally welcomed. One person commented on the Daily Mail report of the story to complain:
I mean, no, it’s supposed to be a show about trains. Although admittedly, unless Sodor’s rail network is unexpectedly bustling, all these foreign trains are going to be almost immediately deported for carrying fewer than 35,000 passengers.
Give us a Chuckle (volume 2)
OH THE SHAME.
“What’s happened?” I hear you cry.
Oh dear, oh dear.
Last week it was Barry in trouble for spreading racial hatred on social media; now a second ChuckleVision actor has been implicated.
David Cameron has called on Paul ‘Corbyn’ Chuckle to “get his act together and tackle the racism at the rotten core” of the programme.
This week’s scandal surrounds the curiously-named Kate Copstick, who rose to fame playing Mrs Pringle, a dear Scottish old lady who typically had her life ruined by Paul and Barry’s comic capers.
She used her Facebook page to share an article suggesting that Isis is run by Israeli intelligence agents. She also described community centre JW3 (which so happens to contain my office) as “Jew central” and “a very strange place: it’s an arts centre that’s built like a f*cking fortress!”
She should have dropped by to say hello…
Wot no media training?
Donald Trump has done it again. He really does have a knack for dodging questions so blatantly and artlessly that he gets full marks for chutzpah. In September, he did it by saying straight out that he wouldn’t answer lest the public understand his policies (yes, really).
This time, he was asked whether any of his previous partners have ever had an abortion. His response?
Now that is a seriously classy way to evade a difficult line of questioning. No bluster. No, “I think we all accept the importance of openness about candidates’ history.” Just an outright: “Mmm. Next?”
The Hurley bird catches the worm (but not the embargoed report)
Mr Kevin Hurley BA(Hons)(Nutshire), a long-time reader of this blog, has announced some exciting news recently. According to correspondence posted on his website, it seems that the Home Secretary isn’t the only person with whom he’s picked a totally pointless fight. No, he’s also fallen out with Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Advance copies of reports by Chief Inspector Zoë Billingham are routinely sent to the relevant PCC a few days ahead of release to the general public. These are provided in strict confidence. So when a Surrey report leaked out in December, Chief Inspector Zoë was a little bit piqued and wrote to Hurley, reminding him that documents headed “OFFICIAL SENSITIVE – UNPUBLISHED DRAFT – NOT FOR ONWARD TRANSMISSION” are, er, not for onward transmission.
She asked, not unreasonably, for Hurley’s assurance that his office would treat future confidential reports with appropriate seriousness. Hurley replied, pretty unreasonably:
Unless this is a requirement you are proposing to place on all PCCs, I would expect a prompt apology for singling me out in such an unjustified way.
The guy is obsessed with getting apologies. (Although sadly he didn’t apologise for expressing a desire to break a constituent’s legs.) But Zoë Billingham, pictured left, did not apologise. Instead, she wrote back, again quite fairly, to say:
It is entirely reasonable for HMIC to make enquiries as to the circumstances of an apparent breach of an embargo, and to seek to prevent this from happening in the future. May I assure you that if there were similar apparent breaches of an embargo in other forces, then we would take precisely the same steps that we have in Surrey. Fortunately, we have not had occasion to do so.
But Kevin – unbelievably – was still unhappy:
I have no intention of offering an assurance that I will not share embargoed copies of reports or their contents with anyone outside the Force, unless this is a requirement that will be made of all Police & Crime Commissioners.
So Surrey’s elected PCC, for so long as the office is held by Hurley, is not going to be allowed advance copies of future reports, because of his bizarre complex which forces him to act like a petulant 10-year-old. As Hurley told the Chief Inspector, if he is deprived of access to this vital documentation, it “would result in an elected representative being placed in an invidious position in respect of being informed about the state of the police service”.
So the question is: does Surrey want to re-elect a PCC who is therefore unable to do their job?
The answer is: probs not.