In fairness to Derek Conway

Take note, this doesn’t happen very often (hasn’t happened before and I don’t want to make a habit of it) but I’d like to, at least to some extent, stick up for a Tory.

First off though, we’ll get through the criticism. He’s been caught fairly and squarely misusing his Parliamentary allowance. There’s no excuse for what is nothing more than corruption and I’m sure if it was some single parent diddling the DWP out of a few grand those on the right would be calling for a prison sentence. As far as I’m concerned, just as fiddling benefits and evading tax are screwing the taxpayer out of money so is this, so he’s got off fairly lightly with paying back a few grand and being banned from the house for 10 days.

I’m even not going to go so far as make a party political critique of Cameron dithering over the issue then finally making up his mind because plenty of other people will.

I’ll also add that a few quid shy of forty grand for a secretary is taking the proverbial because no secretary is worth that, nor do I expect that any other MP’s secretary would quite believe that figure but there you go.

What I’m more concerned with is this article in the Daily Mail which ran as their front page headline today.

I originally picked it up online but, and dare I say it because it is a first, I actually went out and bought a copy to read it in full. I did of course hide it from public view, I do have a reputation to uphold after all.

So the headline is “Nice work if you can get it” with a nice little family portrait shot of Derek with his missus and two sons with the figure £1,535,716 stretched across the bottom.

The claim is quite simple in the second paragraph that “in the past six years the cost to the taxpayer Derek Conway and his family was an astonishing £1,535,401.73″.

I read this and thought, nah, that doesn’t sound right so I decided to have a little look myself with an inkling that I knew how they’d come to that figure but couldn’t quite believe that such a highly respected and quality newspaper like the Daily Mail could have made such an obvious error. After all these journos must earn more than me and be clever like.

Now I’ll add that Parliament only makes available MP’s expenses going back to the 2004/5 year but previous ones are available on request which is presumably what the Daily Mail did to knock up this article. I couldn’t be bothered to do that so I’m just using the last three years figures but as will become clear, that’s all we need to call into question this article.

We’re not disputing the salaries either of Derek Conway or his missus and the two nippers, we’re concerned primarily with the expenses section but we can see clearly that to end up with their headline figure the Daily Mail have added up in total his salary, his expenses, his missus’s salary and the two nipper’s pocket money.

So let’s have a look into the expenses for the last three years.

2004/5.

Cost of staying away from home: £20,902

For those not familiar with the terms I’ll do a few brief explanations. This is for staying near Westminster which in the case of MP’s from far-flung parts of our blessed isle is a fairly reasonable allowance that can cover either hotel accommodation, rent on a property in the capital or make up part of interest only payment towards a mortgage on a property up to a maximum of £22,110 at this year’s rates. He’s probably pushing this a bit given his constituency is about 30 miles from Westminster so why he can’t commute that distance is beyond me but there you go.

IEP: £19,251

Formerly known as the Incidental Expenditure Provision, this has now changed it’s name to give greater clarity and transparency but we’re talking office running costs, those annoying things like rent on the constituency office, leckie, gas, water, fire safety regulations, public liability insurance, maintenance, phone bills and odds and sods, not as sexy as champagne parties and ice sculptures but you never know.

Staffing: £77,608

We’ll come back to this one later.

Travel: £7,426

Again in the interests of transparency, how this is shown has changed but for this year in question that’s the overall figure for the member’s travel comprising of £6,273 in mileage for the motor and £87 on the train. Incidentally, not a good public transport user is Derek.

Staff travel: £5

Where you can get for £5 in the South East is beyond me but his staff spent a whopping £5 on getting somewhere in 2004/5.

Stationary: £972

I’m sure the Conway household must be awash with House of Commons headed notepaper to jot the weekly shopping list down for Tescos but again we’re talking rather boring stuff like needing paper to write to those annoying constituents about their latest problem.

Postage: £2,706

Letters need sending and all that boring constituent related stuff.

IT: £1,979

A little known fact (outside of MP’s staff circles) is that all MP’s IT equipment, as in desktops, laptops, printers and the like have to be centrally sourced through the House of Commons. Personally I think this is a bit daft, especially given that Dell currently has the contract to supply them which probably goes to show that Civil Servants know sod all about IT procurement and went for the cheap crap option but again not exactly a perk or gravy train moment, they are Dell’s after all.

Adding all that together I make that to £130,849 which by miraculous coincidence is the figure the Daily Mail give for Derek Conway’s expenses for that year and rather disingenuously lump it in as if it’s his own personal income. However we prove a point that we know where they’re getting these figures from.

Moving on to 2005/6.

We have:

Cost of staying away from home: £21,634
Office running costs (no longer called IEP): £23,495
Staffing: £80,578
Travel: £4,274 of which car £4,072, rail £202 (note, this was the year that the mileage allowance got hammered so it’s come down a fair bit)
Staff travel: £115
Stationary: £347
Postage: £1,025
IT: £1,029

I make that to be £132,497 which again is what’s quoted in the Daily Mail as his ‘expenses’.

Finally moving on to the year period 2006/7.

Cost of staying away from home: £22,060
Office running costs: £21,177
Staffing: 88,439
Travel: Note that this year the way this is recorded changed.
Car: £3,936
Rail: £239
European: £2,308 (this is specifically to cover costs incurred traveling to Brussels so things like travel, subsistence and accommodation).
Stationary: £432
Postage: £3,116
IT: £1,209

I make that to be £142,914 which isn’t what the Daily Mail quotes but not far off so one of us has probably added something up wrong but the difference isn’t important.

Now lets move backwards a little to the staffing element of the expenses. It’s for paying staff to do work, or offspring for not doing much work in the case of Derek Conway but the problem is that to reach their headline figure, the Daily Mail have totted up Derek Conway’s salary, added in his expenses, then on top of that added on the incomes for the missus and the sprogs.

Much as I hate to leap to the defense of a Tory, especially one that through who’s actions, once again everyone thinks all MP’s are dodgy corrupt geezers (or geezetts?) on the make, the bloke does deserve to be treated fairly and the Daily Mail’s headline figure of £1,535,716 is complete and utter crap.

Taking away all those annoying things that MP’s have to spend money on to do their jobs it’s just simply a case of double accounting. What’s also interesting is that the Daily Mail in it’s attempt to bump up the headline figure as far as possible misses not only this but one other glaringly obvious fact. There’s a discrepancy in the staffing budget figures.

Using their own figures, for 2006/7 the total monies paid to Derek’s missus and little Freddie when taking into account salary, one-off payments, overtime and bonuses is £64,096.83, in 2005/6 it was £57,901.70 and in 2004/5 it was £51,030.89 whereas his overall staffing costs were £88,439, £80,578 and £77,608 respectively meaning that outside of his immediate family again respectively £24,342.17, £22,676.3 and £26,577.11 was paid to some person or others who aren’t in the family.

Despite this we’re not just talking about double accounting, we’re into the territory of triple accounting as this money didn’t end up in the family, unless there’s some other relative knocking about that’s on the payroll. This of course further undermines the Daily Mail’s headline figure.

Much as I love seeing a Tory getting a good kicking as much as the next person of a Labour persuasion I do believe in fairness and that does even extend to Tories so on the basis of this article in the Daily Mail he’s been hard done by and misrepresented.

Might do more on this employing family members thing on another day but just to note in case anyone is wondering, no I’m not related (at least I don’t think so) to any Member of Parliament or indeed any other elected representative and on their payroll.