I saw this today – Tory MP Made 734 Wrong Expenses Claims
Bob Blackman reminds me of someone a little closer to home: Martin Heatley.
Neither is fit to wipe Bert Crane’s shoes.
Last week, Craig Humphrey was fined £200 (plus having to pay another £95 in costs and charges) and given 6 points on his licence for the offence of driving without insurance. This was the allegation against him that was hidden for months before it emerged via rumour.
In the Coventry Telegraph there’s a report about it that is largely factual. But there’s one part that makes no sense whatsoever:
Driving with no insurance is a non-indictable offence and as such should not affect his position at the council.
The thing is that ‘non-indictable’ is contradicted by the facts. Humphrey was charged, and as a result the case taken to the Magistrates Court at Coventry. So he was ‘indicted’. What’s more, he was found guilty. I assume he pled ‘guilty’, which is to his credit, but that doesn’t affect the verdict. Chances are it was a ‘fixed penalty’ that was ratified by the magistrates, but the point is that driving without insurance is an offence.
This article on the government department’s website does not mention anywhere that driving without insurance is ‘non-indictable’ in any situation. On the contrary, it seems to be about how potentially serious it is.
The other thing is that the last part ‘should not affect his position at the council’ is actually word for word part of a response that was given some time ago – when this first came out – but is frankly opinion rather than fact.
I think we will find that there are quite a few people for whom being found guilty of driving without insurance and/or getting 6 points will result in them losing their jobs. Not that this should be automatic for Humphrey, but it seems a little premature to say that it ‘should not’ affect his position.
Why should it not potentially affect his position? He is leader of a council (with some additional responsibilities usually held by Chief Executives), in a position of responsibility affecting tens of thousands of people and with a budget of £millions. As a public servant, it is incumbent upon him to uphold the law. As a councillor, he is bound by Codes of Conduct that deal not just with how someone acts in their role as a councillor, but how they behave generally – particularly in public.
And why is a local newspaper parroting a defence of him as if it’s part of the factual report, especially when the next lines are:
Neither the council nor Mr Humphrey were available for comment.
Last week, Craig Humphrey featured in the Private Eye ‘Rotten Boroughs’ section. The article featured allegations of conflict of interest. This stems from the fact that he works at Horts estate agents in Rugby as a sales consultant (he stresses that he doesn’t work ‘for’ Horts, but he clearly is working at the firm based on their website’s Sales Team page (Craig is at the foot of the page).
In the latest council budget passed in February, Humphrey and the Tories approved the £1M ‘Local Authority Mortgage Scheme’ which helps reduce rates for first time buyers. At that time, he did not declare any interest in the item, which would usually be expected given that encouraging mortgages encourages sales of houses, and his job is to… sell houses.
What’s more, when the scheme was publicised in March, the local paper featured quotes from a local estate agency… Horts.
Despite what looks like at the very least a case of mutual backslapping, if not a conflict of interest, Humphrey insists that he’s done ‘nothing wrong’.
This week, it emerged that he had been caught driving his car without valid insurance. Some kind of ‘administrative error’ or something. It’s a good job he doesn’t have a position of responsibility with that level of competence, eh?
Oh. He’s still leader of the council, and a couple of years ago took over some of the work usually undertaken by the Chief Executive.
What will he be up to for next week’s papers?
When I looked up the Tory candidate in the 2010 General Election, the one who won by a margin of 54 votes and who was being backed by Barry Lobbett, who was getting Warwickshire council tax payers to subsidise his campaigning, I found that he was being highlighted for his election spending last year.
Then, it was a question over whether buying a new hoarding with his name, face and the 2010 election slogan should be fully charged to his 2010 election campaign or (as he actually did) only a third of it need be – with the remainder to be charged to future campaigns we assume. The difference was between £1600 and about £500, and had the larger figure been used, he would have been in excess of his allowed spending.
In the end, there was no action taken against Dan Byles on the basis that it is ok to shift the cost over future campaigns, and he remains the MP for Warwickshire North and Bedworth.
However, we now know that during the same ‘short campaign’ period, claims were being made to Warwickshire CC for a councillor to drive to events in support of the election campaigns for that councillor and for Dan Byles. Given that Cllr Lobbett feels he should be recompensed, what would be the effect if Byles’ campaign paid the costs? Would it tip the amounts over the legal limit?
At the very least, Byles could do worse than distance himself from the penny-pinching councillor.
Keen Green activist Keith Kondakor has for the second year running pulled his fine-tooth comb through the County Council’s member expenses. Last year he doggedly pursued Martin Heatley over the irregularities in his very large expenses claims (first class travel, curiously long journeys between home and Shire Hall, double claimed journeys). This year he’s obtained via a FOI request another year’s worth of claims by Warwickshire County Councillors.
Along with a very expensive hotel break (£2,500 for five councillors to spend three days in Bournemouth!) and I’m sure a few other inconsistencies, there’s one particular scandal.
It seems that Cllr Barry Lobbett is being told to repay over £600 he claimed for travelling around to do election campaigning. This is clearly a breach of the rules of councillors’ expenses, because election campaigns are not council business. I expect Keith Kondakor will be pressing for more action than just getting the money back and a symbolic rap on the knuckles, as happened with Heatley.
However, there emerges another question. What about Cllr Lobbett’s notification for election expenses? By law all candidates have to declare how much has been spent on their campaigns. So did he include this cost? Because if he didn’t, that would be another matter. If it puts the total over the allowed limit, then he’s in a serious breach of the rules.
Ok, so in my last post I mentioned that Rugby MP Mark Pawsey voted in favour of Nadine Dorries’ move to introduce ‘abstinence’ sex education aimed solely at girls. As well as my post, I wrote him an email directly. Here it is:
Sunday 22 May 2011 Dear Mark Pawsey, I was disappointed to see from Hansard that you voted in favour of the Private Members' Bill introduced by Nadine Dorries MP to change sex education. During the debate, she made various statements that have been found to be false. For example, she claimed to be citing Joan Bakewell when producing statistics on prime-time television. However, the statistics come from a US study from about 10 years ago. The US definition of prime-time is later than the UK one, and includes post-watershed programming. So the statistics were irrelevant to a UK debate. She also made misleading statements about what was taught to young children in schools under the current system. 7 year olds are not shown how to put a condom on a cucumber/banana - contraception is not part of the curriculum at anything like that young an age. Several of the incorrect statements made have been addressed here: http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2011/05/10/dorries-abstinence-speech-the-fact-check/ The principle of changing the message to concentrate on girls abstaining while not dealing with boys seems to be utterly short-sighted. It will not address the issue of peer-pressure from boys, and has the danger of increasing the propensity to blame girls alone for under age sex. Additionally, while it seems at a superficial level a good idea to encourage abstinence, it has unintended consequences. An over-reliance on abstinence may mean that young people are ill equipped to use contraception. This may lead to more underage pregnancies, STDs and other problems. In the light of this, do you still support the proposed Bill, and can you explain your reasoning? I would also like to ask if you are in agreement with the comments that Nadine Dorries made recently suggesting that her Bill would reduce sexual abuse. This seems to be dangerously close to suggesting that young female victims of sexual abuse are to blame. Please note, this correspondence and the reply will be shared. Yours sincerely, Owen Richards
A reply came by post, and here is what it said:
Thank you for contacting me about Nadine Dorries' proposed changes to sex education. I am pleased that Nadine has raised this particular issue, as it is one which is very important to the overall debate about educating pupils about sex. All maintained secondary schools are required to provide sex education as part of the national curriculum. Additionally, schools are encouraged to provide a broader programme of sex and relationships education (SRE) as part of non-statutory personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education. This provides opportunities for all young people to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to resist pressure to have sex and support them to delay sexual activity. An ongoing issue has been the quality of the sex education that pupils receive. I am pleased, therefore, that the Department for Education has announced an internal review of PSHE education to look at how schools can be supported to improve the quality of PSHE teaching, including SRE. It is encouraging that the Government wants to see a change in emphasis in the delivery of SRE, with a stronger focus on relationships. I understand that this does mean the inclusion of issues such as: sexual consent; respect; building young people's capacity to say "no" to things that don't feel right; and recognising the negative and positive portrayals of sex and relationships that they are exposed to in the media Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. Yours sincerely, Mark Pawsey MP
So, did he answer my questions?
Nope. Not directly at least.
He did not address the distortions in Nadine Dorries’ speeches and other comments in support of her proposals. He did not address the fact that her Bill is specifically aimed giving one message to one gender and has no regard to the other. He didn’t address the shameful linking of sexual abuse of children to her idea, which by implication seems to be saying that if only girls said “no” they wouldn’t be victims of sexual predators.
He didn’t even say whether he still supports the Private Members’ Bill.
What I am not concerned about is that Mark Pawsey seems to think that Sex and Relationships education (SRE) doesn’t already include the issues of consent, respect, the capacity to say “no” and media portrayals. Perhaps he has bought the narrative being sold by Dorries and the media that it’s all about playing with condoms and empowering people to express their own sexuality.
In reality, sexual education at schools today already contains all of those, as well as the important issues such as what sex is, how to detect and protect against STDs, the reality of pregnancy, etc etc.
All of those things are important. An over-reliance on promoting abstinence can (as has been observed in the USA) lead to more problems of under-age pregnancy and STDs. I would rather that our MP was considering the issue based on evidence than, as it seems, based on the views of moral crusaders who distort the truth.
A couple of weeks ago, Nadine Dorries moved her Private Members’ Bill to propose a law on sex education. She made several dubious claims in the debate, and so perhaps some MPs might have been suckered into accepting her argument.
But it wouldn’t take much to see that what she’s proposing is to treat girls differently from boys – to promote the idea that if only girls were taught to say ‘no’, that under age sex would not happen. That it takes two to tango appears not to enter into the thinking.
She made claims about what appears on TV in prime time which she put into the mouth of Joan Bakewell. This was not true. The stats bear an uncanny resemblence to those produced in a US study from ten years ago, and where the definition of prime-time is later than ours (and so includes post-watershed television).
Rugby MP Mark Pawsey voted in favour. Here’s an open question to our MP – if you knew that Dorries had misled the House, would you still have voted this way, and if so why?