Rebekah Brooks: Turning Down MPs expenses story ” pretty high error of judgement”, while Cabinet minister Charles Clarke responsible for another leak, she claims Scotland Yard told her!
The MPs expenses scandal exposed by the Daily Telegraph nearly five years ago did more to damage the reputation of Parliament than anything else in recent history. There were hardly any MPs who had not put in some dodgy or dubious claim and the repercussions are still being felt today as an ex Labour minister starts a six month jail sentence.
This spirited production of The Duck House now running at London’s Vaudeville theatre captures the panic felt by MPs at the time but turns the whole proceedings into a series of jokes and a Whitehall farce in the tradition of Brian Rix before he became Lord Rix and a great campaigner for the mentally handicapped.
Ben Miller, as the greedy money grabbing turncoat Labour MP,Robert Houston, with thousands of dodgy expenses receipts heads a cast often caught with their trousers down.
His wife Felicity,is played by Nancy Carroll, a woman who can’t wait for hubbie’s defection to the Tories and gives a wonderful performance showing how inadequate she would be as an Mp’s secretary even if he is claiming for her. While their son James Musgrave, gives a remarkably good performance of as a gangly student staring at his laptop for much of the performance repeating the word ” fuck” as he reads his latest threatening emails from the hoods because he can’t meet his gambling debts
There is also a very loyal Russian cook, Ludmilla, played by Debbie Chazen, who ends up campaigning for UKIP after being exposed for being employed without a work permit. Life has imitated art tonight (Feb 8) when Mark Harper, the immigration minister, resigned after it was revealed that he was employing a cleaner who had no right to stay in the UK permanently.
Then there is the straight man – David Cameron’s go between – Sir Norman Cavendish, played by Simon Shepherd. He is the man who gets covered in manure as he negotiates Robert Houston’s switch from New Labour to the Tories. He is also found to have a secret life meeting a modern Miss Whiplash who improbably is also the girlfriend of the MP’s son. This might need updating now- Westminster gossip has it that it is some young Tory government advisers who like to visit Madams at the moment.
Spiced with a few up to date jokes – including a risque reference to David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks,( hacking trial lawyers please note,) the show is more farce and political banter than a contribution to the current debate.
Don’t go if you expect to be enlightened about MPs expenses, though all the examples are based on fact. Do go if you want a rollicking, funny, evening and enjoy farce. The subject was MPs’ expenses but they could put together a farce on anything.
The review on this blog follows free press tickets. The theatre staff are also very helpful to disabled people providing transport to get wheelchair bound people down to the stalls. Unfortunately they do not have a disabled toilet but have made arrangements for people to use one at a theatre next door.
This is the second part of the Armchair Audit of Francis Maude -looking at his role as a landlord.
Not only can Mr Maude look forward to a platinum pension from investment bankers, Morgan Stanley, (see previous blog) but he is also making money as a landlord in Kennington, south London by letting out rooms available only to young ambitious Tories.
Just off the Kennington Road where he once lived lies Denny Crescent, a beautiful and leafy enclave in a somewhat grotty area.
Here Mr Maude purchased a home for £240,000 cash in 1999. The three bedroomed property, one of a terrace, has more than doubled in value since then – a next door home was recently sold for £485,000 – and boasts two special features.
One is a restricted covenant signed between Mr Maude and as the title-deed shows ” His Royal Highness Charles Philip Arthur George Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Rothesay,Earl of Chester, Carrick,Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland.” Originally it was owned by the Duchy of Cornwall which has imposed restrictions.
Mr Maude’s terraced home is Grade II listed. Lambeth Council’s description describes the terrace as built in “1913 by J D Coleridge for Duchy of Cornwall Estate. Crescent of 2-storey red brick cottages in Dutch style. Dark tiled roofs with dividing chimney walls and moulded wood eaves cornice. Returned crowstepped gables, with Roman cement coping, at ends and flanking centre. First floor brick band. Sash windows with glazing bars in moulded wood architraves. Half glazed doors in plain wood frames have low oblong fanlight. Handsome rainwater heads with Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto. ”
The second is membership for £125 a year and use of a private garden for his tenants, Denny Garden Ltd, opposite his home. You can find out all about this at http://dennygarden.wordpress.com.
This property featured in the Daily Telegraph’s expenses scandal. It was the family’s London home – the electoral register shows Francis, Christina, and two of his daughters Julia and Cecily, lived there until 2006.
Then Mr Maude and his family swapped homes to a flat in nearby Imperial Court taking out a £345,000 mortgage and began claiming substantial Parliamentary expenses on the flat. They charged the taxpayer £387.50 for moving the furniture from Denny Crescent there.
What the title deeds reveal is that Mr Maude also took out another mortgage with the HSBC Private Bank on Denny Crescent raising another tranche of cash.
Mr Maude’s “tax efficiency” as they call it is clever – at the time he claimed interest on one mortgage from the taxpayer and offset new rental income from Tory activists in his old home by loading all the mortgage interest costs and repairs against the rental charge. That way he pays little tax. And he has released hundreds of thousands of pounds of capital to spend himself. No wonder he is a highly paid former investment banker.
The property unlike next door – where the tenant pays Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall £500 a month for the unfurnished house – is not registered as a fair rent.
MAUDE’S TORY MADRASSA
Westminster gossip among Tory Spads ( the name for political advisers to ministers) has it that the only way you can get a convenient place to lay your head at the Maude address is to be vetted by his daughters. No chance if you are not a rising Tory activist, preferably a special adviser or wannabe MP. It also ensures no indiscretions to outsiders at the dinner table. Some wag described it as “Maude’s madrassa”.
True or not Mr Maude has had both infamous and rising stars as his tenants.
Chief among them is Australian James McGrath, a 40 something strategic adviser to Boris Johnson.
He was exposed by journalist and campaigner Marc Wadsworth for suggesting that black immigrants who were unhappy with living in a London run by Boris Johnson should go home (See Guardian comment is free http://bit.ly/sWjUCq). Despite being close to Lynton Crosby( now masterminding Boris’s campaign again) he was forced to quit and he ended up going home to Australia where he is campaigns director for the Liberal Party. He has threatened to return. In an interview with Shane Greer in Total Politics,(see http://bit.ly/sN4Sgd ) he said: ” I might come back here, we’ll see what happens.
Shane: Who knows, maybe the Boris re-election?
James: “Maybe actually, that would be nice actually especially if Ken runs again. No worries.”
Shane: “Good to stick it to him?”
Less controversial is Martha Varney, Maude’s tenant until 2010, but a rising star,in her late 20s / eraly 30s and now special adviser to eccentric bin dumper Oliver Letwin, who works with Francis Maude, in the Cabinet Office. She is paid between £40,000-£54,000 a year.
Even less well-known is Alistair Richardson, in his late 20s, another Tory wannabe who has written blogs for Platform10, urging in 2o08 that MPs (now on £65,000) should be paid at least £100,000 a year.
There are also people not on the public electoral register. So which rising Tory star will kip at Maude’s listed home next?