The UUP's miserable week and why it's not irrecoverable

Wednesday, as Bobballs observed, was a bad day for the UUP. Subsequently, after a decisive initial response, predictable vacillation from the party’s leaders rendered it a miserable week for Ulster Unionists and their new electoral force.

To get the misery started, North Antrim MLA Reverend Coulter, seemed to imply that no Muslim candidate should have been considered for a top BBC post, Head of Religious Affairs. As if to make it harder for party colleagues to extricate themselves from the mess which he was wilfully creating, he specified that, rather than speaking as a Christian minister, his comments were issued in his role as ’an elected public representative’.

In comparison to another member of his family, the senescent Presbyterian should normally be renowned for talking stout common sense. Faint praise, because he is vague, ancient, rambling and one of an almost entirely unnecessary breed, clergyman politicians. Whether he meant to make a point about faith leaders taking a greater role in religious programming, or not, what he actually said was deplorable. The party rightly distanced itself from his remarks with alacrity.

As it happened, any incipient furore which Coulter might have caused was soon overshadowed by Lady Hermon’s comments on the Conservative pact. In the course of explaining an overpayment which she had received, the North Down MP struck out at ‘disgraceful’ Conservative abuses of expenses, venting her visceral dislike of the Tory party, whilst blithely ignoring the fact that Labour MPs, and ministers, had acted just as despicably.

It was a piece of unthinking partisanship, directed explicitly at the party which has contracted a political marriage with Hermon’s own. Inevitably it preceded an unambiguous acknowledgment that the MP would not seriously consider standing on a Conservative ticket.

Initial statements from the UUP appeared to cut Hermon loose, which was, rationally, the only course of action open to the party. Afterwards, the Ulster Unionist leadership attempted to row back from disavowing their only MP, seemingly suggesting that the door was still open, should she decide to change her mind.

Rather than resolving the controversy at the earliest opportunity by affirming that, whilst Lady Hermon would continue to represent the UUP during this parliament, a Conservative and Unionist candidate would contest North Down at the next election, Empey and Kennedy ensured that the party appeared to be begging a recalcitrant, but indispensable member, to reconsider.

Given that Hermon’s unhappiness with the Tory deal has been an open secret for months, the response was desperately weak. Particularly because her statement need not be the earth shattering, paradigm shifting event which has been portrayed.

I have previously intimated that the North Down MP’s position is not particularly principled. We are not considering, here, a conviction politician, making a stand against a political philosophy which she views as anathema. Lady Hermon marched into the division lobby to support forty day detention, against the logic of every liberal and progressive argument. The party which she blatantly supports targeted tax rises at the very lowest earners. It dismantled free third level education. She is a New Labour loyalist and if she insists on tethering herself to a discredited government then she should suffer the consequences, should she choose to stand at the next election. O'Neill highlights the comments of a genuine progressive, Fred Cobain, who is endorsing the Conservative dispensation.

I have read commentary this week, from people who previously supported the UCUNF arrangement, which seems to be suggesting that, following Hermon’s decision, it has suddenly become a bad idea. With respect, that is nonsense. It is important to have an MP, but if that MP doe not represent broader opinion within the party, and if that MP is prepared, in league with a motley crew of Labour diehards and DUP mercenaries, unconscionably to support 40 day pre charge detention, she is far from indispensable.

The core idea at the heart of the Conservatives and Unionists pact is much too valuable to discard because of Lady Hermon. If Ulster Unionists are prepared to back it, wholeheartedly, in letter and in spirit, its strength will take unionism, and the party, where it wants to go.


Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Ah good it works!

It's not irrecoverable but it certainly wasn't a good week. My initial feelings was that she should have been at least suspended from the party but perhaps that would have made a bad situation even worse in the short-term. The fact that she has said she won't be standing for the Conservatives and Unionists should mean as quickly as possible post June 4 she is deselected and the wheels are set in motion for N.Down at any roads.

But, little light at the end of the tunnel, the UUP of even 5 years ago would have been splitting (and spitting!) in all directions if something similar had happened- party disclipine seems to be pretty solid and Cobain's little statement today was a good bit of damage limitation. Robbo's little dinner-money problems didn't do any harm either;)

IMO the longer term problems won't come from the "socialist" (!) wing of the party, but from Rev Coulter and others of his unreconstructed ilk (see Dec- it is not, per se, a sectarian term). That little word "change" is going to cause how would people react to an Irish language policy similar to that which the Welsh Tories have for the Welsh language?

Owen Polley said…
I still get the impression, O'Neill, that the UUP has a unique penchant for inflicting injury upon itself. Even when things are generally looking quite good. I tend to agree with you about Coulter et al. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes back for another bite at the cherry come the next Assembly election.
Seymour Major said…
Sorry to hear about Coulter. That is the first I heard of it.

The time has now come for the UUP to accept the position and be strong about it. Comne to terms that LSH has gone or will be gone at the end of this Parliament and be philosophical. The dithering is extremely damaging.

Sir Reg. please stop being a gentleman. We need the most senior CU politician in Northern Ireland to show some mettle
Anonymous said…
Before she dissed the Tories: "lovely woman, real hard worker, grieving widow, wonderful MP"

After she dissed the Tories: "despicable hypocrite, airhead, New Labour loyalist, easily replacable in North Down"

Tell you what lads, you all engage in some bizarre Tory circle-jerk about Tim Collins parachuting in to North Down if you want. In the meantime Sylvia Hermon will be proven correct as Nicholson's vote drops.
The prime minister paid his brother, Andrew, £6,577 for arranging cleaning services for his Westminster flat for 26 months. Gordon Brown also claimed twice for the same plumbing work within six months of each other.

The former Prime Minister used his parliamentary expenses to remortgage his constituency home for £296,000 - nearly 10 times what he paid for it - just months before buying a west London house for £3.65m. The loan would have been enough to cover the cost of the deposit on the new home. He was able to claim for interest repayments on almost a third of the new mortgage on his constituency home.

Mr Kemp, the Labour MP for Houghton and Washington East, claimed for two DVD players for his one-bedroom flat in the space of a month. He was also reimbursed for the cost of 16 bed sheets and claimed for two flat-screen televisions a year apart, it was reported. In the case of one of them, the Fees Office refused to pay the full £1,699 he asked for on the basis that the maximum claim was £750, it was suggested. The former Labour whip was also said to have bought goods including a freezer and fridge near his north-east England constituency, despite the London flat being designated his second home. He also charged the taxpayer £105.75 for an engineer to attend to his washing machine when he could not work out how to operate it, the Sunday Telegraph claimed.

The Labour Tyne Bridge MP was said to have "bought out" his partner's share of a joint mortgage on a flat in London, costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds plus legal fees. The Telegraph said that after the deal, which was approved by the Commons Fees Office, the mortgage interest payments increased by £200 per month.

The Labour Bury North MP claimed nearly £13,000 for a mortgage he had already cleared. The paper says that between September 2005 and August 2006, the Labour backbencher claimed £1,175 a month in interest on his Westminster flat. However, Land Registry records show the mortgage was paid off in January 2004. The Telegraph also alleged that Mr Chaytor "flipped" the designation of his second home six times, including once to a house registered in his son's name. He reportedly blamed these actions on "changing and complex family circumstances".

The former Labour Environment Minister claimed £16,000 in mortgage interest payments on his home in his Scunthorpe constituency even though the mortgage had ended 18 months before. Although records show his mortgage had been repaid by March 2006, Mr Morley continued to be reimbursed for £800 a month in 2006-7. The Telegraph claims the anomaly was not spotted earlier as Mr Morley re-designated his London home as his second residence - a move known as "flipping" - in November 2007. It says Mr Morley had been renting out his London flat to another Labour MP, Ian Cawsey who nominated it as his second home and claimed back the £1,000 a month rent he paid to Mr Morley. This arrangement ended in March 2008 after the Commons Fees office became aware of the situation.

The Labour Dewsbury MP claimed £66,827 from the second home allowance - the maximum allowed - over three years towards the cost of his London flat - bought in 2001 before he was elected. According to the paper, Mr Malik's claims over the period included £2,100 for a flat screen television, £1,420 for a bathroom, £671 for a fireplace and £730 for a massage chair. It says the Fees Office rejected the TV claim - ultimately granting the MP £1,050 for a TV and £250 for a DVD system - and a further claim for an iPod. Mr Malik is also reported to have claimed for a £65 court summons for not paying council tax. While claiming the equivalent of £443 per week for his London flat, the Telegraph says Mr Malik was paying less than £100 a week to rent a property in his constituency from a local businessman. It says the rental agreement with the businessman, from whom it says the MP also rented a constituency office - began in 2004 and continued until 2008 when Mr Malik married and moved into a larger property in the town.

The Labour Justice Secretary over-claimed £1,500 on council tax on his second home. He made a claim for the full bill despite getting a 50% discount from the local authority for the property.

The Labour Communities Secretary claimed for three different properties in a single year, spending almost £5,000 of taxpayers' money on furniture in three months, the Telegraph reports. She also claimed for stays at London hotels after selling her flat. In March 2004, she declared her property in her Salford constituency was her second home and spent £850 on a television and video and £651 on a mattress. In April, she switched her second home to a flat in south London, claiming £850 a month for the mortgage.

In August, she sold the flat, making a £45,000 profit, and stayed in hotels over the following two months. In December, she bought another London flat for £300,000, claiming a monthly mortgage of £1,000 and a grocery bill of £400.

The Labour Transport Secretary reportedly switched his "second home" designation - refurbishing his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers' expense before buying a London townhouse. In 2004/05, he claimed £20,902 for his second home - then the Derbyshire home - spending thousands on refurbishments. At the time he was defence secretary and later Commons leader and had a "grace and favour" Whitehall apartment. After losing that apartment in 2006, the newspaper says he bought a Georgian townhouse in Westminster and declared that as his second home. He went on to claim £21,995 in 2006/07 and £23,083 in 2007/8 - the maximum allowed. His monthly mortgage interest payments, picked up by the taxpayer, increased from £270 to almost £900.

The Labour Culture Secretary was reportedly battling with the fees office for eight months over a £16,500 expenses claim to buy and renovate a new London flat which was eventually paid, after being rejected three times.
Andy Burnham

He also claimed a £19.99 bath robe bought from Ikea in 2007 that was not allowed.

The Labour Business Secretary claimed for improvements on his constituency home after he announced he was leaving Parliament to become an EU Commissioner.
Lord Mandelson

He later sold the property for a profit of £136,000.

The Veteran Labour MP claimed £1,851 for a rug imported from a New York antique centre and tried to claim more than £8,000 for a television. He entered a claim for £28,834 - more than £15,000 of which was paid - for improvements to his London home, after telling officials he was "living in a slum".

The former Labour Deputy Prime minister claimed £312 for the fitting of mock Tudor beams to the front of his constituency home in Hull and in December 2004 a plumber charged him £210.79 for pipework, taps and to "refix WC seat," according to the newspaper. In September 2006, he put a £112.52 repair bill on expenses, which included "refit WC seat".

The chancellor claimed £10,000 towards the cost of furnishing the London flat he bought in 2005. Mr Darling bought the £226,000 property near the Oval cricket ground, claiming £2,074 for furniture and £2,339 for carpets. There was also a £765 claim from Ikea and £768 from Marks and Spencer's for a bed. The £146 cost of staying in a hotel while his flat was being renovated in September 2005 was rejected by the fees office on the grounds that the property was counted as his second home.

But Mr Darling successfully argued that he was "between second homes" and the bill was later paid. He also used his expenses to cover the stamp duty of £2,260 and legal fees totalling £1,238.

It was also reported that Mr Darling "switched" the location of his second home four times in four years, allowing him to claim thousands of pounds towards the cost of both his Edinburgh home and for the London flat.

Taxpayers contributed almost £100,000 to help pay the mortgage on a £1.35m flat owned by the Labour Northern Ireland secretary, it is reported. The money went on mortgage interest payments and council tax between 2004 and 2008 for the flat. Married to a member of the Sainsbury family and worth an estimated £15m - Mr Woodward is the richest member of the cabinet, though he does not draw a full ministerial salary.

The Labour Europe minister put solicitors' fees and stamp duty totalling £14,553 on her Parliamentary expenses after buying a central London flat. Before moving in to her second home in Victoria, she also claimed the £177 a month cost of putting her furniture in storage. Over a period of about eight months in 2005 to 2006, Ms Flint claimed for staying in hotels for an average of three nights a week.

The Labour International Development Secretary's constituency home was damaged in a house fire in 2007 after he spent more than £30,000 on repairing it. He told the fees office he was "under-insured" and claimed almost £2,000 on items lost in the fire, which he later repaid when his insurers reimbursed him. He has yet to comment.

Mrs Beckett found herself in trouble with the Fees Office after attempting to claim £600 for hanging baskets and pot plants. An official informed her in a letter that expenses had to be "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred to enable you to stay overnight away from your main home". She claimed second home allowances of £72,537 from 2004 to 2008, despite having no mortgage or rent to pay on her constituency home in Derby. As environment secretary and foreign secretary, Mrs Beckett was living at the grace and favour Admiralty House in Whitehall, which enabled her to rent out her London flat.

The Labour foreign secretary claimed almost £30,000 for doing up his £120,000 constituency home over five years, it was reported. He spent up to £180 every three months on the garden at the property in South Shields.

The Labour Tourism Minister claimed £25,411.64 for security patrols at her London home after she was mugged. She also requested £528.75 to have a Chinese needlepoint rug repaired and cleaned but that was deemed excessive by the Fees Office and she was handed back just £300.

The Labour Immigration Minister had claimed for nappies and women's clothing when submitting requests for expenses. It said it was unclear how these items had been justified because parliamentary rules only allowed payouts for items which were "exclusively" for MPs' own use.

The Labour Care Services Minister Phil Hope was said to have spent more than £37,000 over about four years on refurbishing and furnishing a two-bedroom south London flat.
Phil Hope

The Labour Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee claimed more than £75,000 to fund a second home in Westminster, even though his family home is just 12 miles away in Stanmore. He changed his designated second home for a single year to property in his Leicester constituency, before claiming more than £4,000 on furnishings.

The Labour Health Minister, switched his second home designation to a more expensive jointly-owned London property and claimed full mortgage interest payments, in order for his partner to "benefit from the system". The couple had previously split the mortgage costs, the paper said. However, it claimed that Mr Bradshaw was now submitting the entire cost of interest on the property to be paid out of expenses.

The Labour MP for Luton South spent £22,500 treating dry rot at the coastal property in Southampton she had designated as her second home - even though it was a two-hour drive from Parliament and 100 miles from her constituency.

Within a year of being elected in 2005, Ms Ussher is said to have set out to the Commons authorities over two pages a list of "essential repairs" to her Victorian house in south London. It detailed how the house "was relatively cheap to purchase but requires quite a lot of work". Among the work listed was replacing "rotten" sash windows and a "grimy" stair carpet. She received the full £22,110 allowance, although her requests to replace "strange" plumbing and "bad taste" Artex were refused. The Sunday Telegraph claimed she had already lived in the house for five years.

Former long-serving Labour MP Tam Dalyell attempted to claim £18,000 for bookcases, two months before retiring from Parliament in 2005, the Telegraph alleged. Mr Dalyell, formerly MP for Linlithgow, said he was "absolutely unrepentant" about the claim. He told the BBC he had bought the bookcases to store documents gathered during his political career and had approached the Fees Office to ask what proportion of the £18,000 he could claim back in expenses. He said the office eventually paid about £7,800.

He said he believed it was "a legitimate office expense" and would "definitely not" pay the money back.

The Labour Minister had a £450 widescreen television delivered to his family home in Wales and then claimed it on his allowance for his second home in London.

The two Labour ministers have claimed more than £100,000 for a shared London flat since May 2005. The ministers each claimed for their share of the legal costs involved in purchasing the property and then later for the fees to buy the freehold.

The Labour MP for Brent North made a profit of almost £200,000 from a flat mortgaged and renovated with the help of taxpayers' cash, the Telegraph has alleged.

The Labour MP for Rhondda of "flipping" his second home twice in two years, allowing him to claim almost £20,000 in expenses.

The former Labour Trade Secretary used the expenses system to claim more than £125,000 for the London flat owned by his partner, it is claimed. Over the past five years, Mr Byers is said to have spent more than £27,000 on redecoration, maintenance and appliances at flat in Camden, north London, and extensively renovated the outside of the entire building, which consists of four flats.

The former Labour Home Secretary claimed for a £199 pouffe, a £370 armchair and an £899 sofa.He is also said to have submitted receipts for £486.50 spent at Marks and Spencer last August on items including slotted spoons, three rattan bins, oven mitts, wineglasses and ice cube trays. His expenses claim for 2007-08 also included a letter from the TV Licensing authority warning the occupier of the property "there is no valid television licence". Mr Reid is yet to respond.

The Labour Edinburgh North and Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz claimed more than £5,000 in costs for legal and professional fees incurred in extending the lease of his London flat.
Mark Lazarowicz

Labour MPs Alan and Ann Keen - who are married - have claimed £137,679 between them towards a central London flat despite the fact their family home is less than ten miles away. According to the paper, the couple bought the London property in 2002 and have, between them, claimed more than £30,000 towards it in each of the past four years. The couple's main home is in Brentford. Alan Keen is MP for Feltham and Heston while Ann Keen - a junior health minister - is MP for neighbouring Brentford and Isleworth. The paper said the couple claimed for interest payments on a £520,000 mortgage for the London flat even though the actual purchase price of the property was £500,000. It also claims the Fees Office had reduced their awards in 2007 because both MPs had claimed for council tax on the London property. Among the couple's claims on the London property, the paper adds, were a £50 call-out fee for fixing the sound on a home cinema system.

Labour's former chief whip claimed £3,100 towards the cost of treating the gables and walls of her constituency home.
fair_deal said…
The Sunday papers didn't provide much respite
Sammy Morse said…
Gorbals Mick,

yeah, sure, New Labour are a shower of bastards (we've known that for some years) and we know many of the MPs are tearing the arse out of the expenses system. We know the speaker is an eejit who at best is out of his depth, at worst politically partial and actively corrupt.

But, seriously, Douglas Hogg got the taxpayer to pay for cleaning out his moat. Wetwin got us to repair the pipes under his tennis court. The Tories are presenting the electorate with the most upper-class potential government since Harold Macmillan appointed Pop to cabinet en masse in the early 1960s. Your lot have serious image issues, and I'd particularly avoid sneering references to the Speaker's background rather than his lack of competence; rather more voters share his background - me included - than share that of Cameron, Letwin and Hogg.
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