Let’s probe some padded expenses!

This entry was posted on
Monday, March 3rd, 2008
11:40 am and is filed
under The Political Weblog Movement.

Paul Staines (aka ‘Guido Fawkes) – Sunday Sleaze Special : Tom Watson: Last year Watson pocketed his £60,000 salary and his parliamentary expenses amounted to £150,000-plus – bringing his total package to £211,000 – making him the 73rd highest claiming MP out of 646 MPs. Quite an achievement for an MP not claiming for travel to and from Scotland. He of course employs his wife Siobhan at the public’s expense, his brother, Dan, is constituency director to Euro MP Michael Cashman, Dan Watson’s wife, Joanna, has no fewer than three jobs. Like her husband, she also works for Mr Cashman and for Wolverhampton Labour MP Pat McFadden, yet still finds time to be a Labour councillor in Sandwell. Amy Watson, cousin of Tom and Dan, works for Birmingham Northfield Labour MP Richard Burden. The West Midlands constituency Labour Party offices are packed with Watsons… The total annual cost to the taxpayer of the Watson family’s five not-so-little piggies is in excess of £300,000. Far more than the disgraced Derek Conway fiddled…

1. The way Paul Staines carries on about British taxpayers’ money, you would think it was *his* money being spent. But if Staines pays any tax, surely it’s in Ireland.

2. That story appeared on Staines’ pseudo-blog just before 10:30pm last night. The only link to any source was to this irrelevant article in the Sunday Times. Just after midnight, this very similar article by Mark Lister appeared on the Daily Express website. So did Lister lift from Staines? Or did Lister or someone else leak to Staines? Or is there a mystery article that we’re unaware of that Staines is using as his (uncredited) source?

3. So much for bread and sources… here’s the meat;

The comparison to Derek Conway is totally out of order unless one *only* addresses the money Tom Watson paid to his wife Siobhan and *if* there appears to be some irregularity and/or difficulty proving that she has done this work. (Lister in the Express also works Conway into his article, but is far more careful about it.)

The crux of the Conway matter was that Derek Conway had paid his son Freddie Conway £40,000 (over a three year period) and no record was found of any work done by this ‘researcher’.

If a fair comparison were to be made, it would involve an estimated £60,000 paid to Siobhan Watson (i.e. over the same period) and there would have to be some indication that she didn’t actually do any work during this period.

But instead, Staines (followed by Lister) has grouped the money paid by Tom Watson to his wife with Tom’s own pay and expenses, *and* tacked on money paid to members of his extended family by people and organisations that have *SFA* to do with that MP.

[All of the other members of Tom Watson’s family work for other people and Tom’s responsibilities to the taxpayer start and finish at his offices. There might be cause for investigation or comparison if, for example, Tom was funnelling his own money through family members for some reason (*cough*)… but he isn’t.]

So when Staines describes that figure of £300,000 as “Far more than the disgraced Derek Conway fiddled…” he is implying:

a) That Siobhan Watson did no work for her salary.

b) That Tom Watson did no work for his salary – and that none of his expenses can be properly accounted for.

c) That Tom Watson is directly responsible for the employment of these other members of his extended family.

It’s almost as if Paul Staines is baiting Tom Watson and waiting for a letter from Tom’s lawyer so he make yet another comparison of chalk to cheese in order to overcome or overshadow his recent PR difficulties.

No doubt there will also be accusations of personal/political favouritism if certain blogs don’t repeat this non-story, when Staines himself is guilty of ignoring many genuine Tory stories (including this item about Anne Milton).

But, even though Tom is not my MP, I recognise that there are political realities to deal with here (mostly involving a gang of right wing bloggers who delight in misrepresenting my position and even falsely suggesting that *I’m* employed by Tom Watson) so I’m going to ask Tom 3 of the 5 questions put to Anne Milton (i.e. the 3 questions that are relevant to this situation):

Q1. Where did Siobhan Watson carry out this work you describe? In your parliamentary office, your constituency office, from home…?

Q2. What evidence can you show your constituents of the work you claim was done by Siobhan Watson?

Q5. Have any other members of your family been employed in this or any other way by your office?

[Please note that Tom Watson does not have advance notice of these questions and that they’ve been presented to him in exactly the same manner as they were presented to Milton; bloggage first, followed by an immediate heads-up via email. To better Milton’s response time, Tom only has to come up with a single and totally unsatisfactory answer within two weeks… but I’m willing to bet that he can do a little bit better than that.]

UPDATE (1:10pm) – The article on the Daily Express website appears to have been removed.

UPDATE (2:10pm) – This appears to be the original article (Sunday Mercury – March 2, 2008), and the source for both Staines and Lister. It’s a curious item full of friendly smiles and wild stabs, but – crucially – it makes no mention of Derek Conway.

UPDATE (5:20pm) – Garry Smith expands on the maths.

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