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Friday, February 17, 2006
Michael Crick Accuses Chris Huhne
Michael Crick has just reported on Newsnight on an alleged abuse of European Parliament expenses my LibDem leadership contender Chris Huhne. He is said to have used EU money to finance four newspapers distributed in the Eastleigh constituency before the last General Election. It appears clear that under EU regualtions that is against the rules. Huhne won the seat by a mere 500 odd votes, so it is little wonder that the local Conservatives and their excellent candidate Conor Burns feel sore at this blatant abuse. Huhne, to his credit, appeared on camera to defend his corner and he seemed to treat it all rather lightly, indeed, some would say flippantly. In North Norfolk I was criticised for accepting money from Michael Ashcroft to finance part of my campaign. The very same people who critisised me for that will no doubt defend Chris Huhne for using taxpayers' money for party political ends. I doubt whether this will affect the result of the leadership contest, but when the European parliament come to investigate this, as they surely must, it could be something that comes back to haunt Mr Huhne.
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Excellent creative use of money - local MEP "pays" for articles which incidently help the local party pay for the material which helps support the PPC who is ... yes, the MEP!
And of course the money comes from ... you, dear Euro-taxpayers!
It was a pretty meagre case made by Crick, and his endpiece was extremely feeble. I would be highly surprised if any of the allegations made about the leaflets - putting a squeeze leaflet out on pink paper and paying for an MEP column in constituency newspaper - have never been done by either Labour or the Tories.
And to think the LibDems were the first in the queue to attack Tory and Labour sleaze.
This appeared very much to be another interviewer who scrapes around looking for a problem and then confronts the aledged miscreant in a loud voice. This is scraping the barrel to create interest in a really quite minor story.
If that's the best dirt they can find on Huhne then he's pretty safe
The Tory featured making the complaint has been making the complaint for a year. Not only is it not a new story, it's hardly a convincing one either if he's been touting the complaint for a year without the EU authorities having done anything about it. Rather a non-case it seems to me.
PS But did you see the "it's a straight choice" headline in the leaflet :-)
Yes I saw the classic Lib Dem line "It's a straight choice" as used by Lib Dems for years and years. Gets Hughes off the hook surely?
Remember ladies and gentlemen Mr Hughes will be leader, I keep a-telling you.
PS Iain - brilliant picture of Crick!
LibDem member, you say it "gets Hughes off the hook". Er, quite the contrary. The Tory candidate in Eastleigh was also gay.
M, if you think that the fact that the authorities haven't taken action yet even though the complaint was made last year proves that there's no case to answer, then you're obviously not familiar with the legendary efficiency of the European Parliament. Most cases of financial impropriety refered to the European Parliament take for ever to be considered.
The rule is normally that MEPs can use information funds to pay for a proportion of the costs of producing a leaflet, roughly equal to the proportion of the leaflet that is devoted to purposes covered by the fund.
However, it would not usually be permitted for the funds to be used for part of what is essentially a campaigning leaflet.
MEPs should obviously exercise particular caution using the funds in an area where they are a general election candidate.
Michael Crick might want to look to see if a disproprtionate amount of Huhne's information budget had been spent on leaflets for Eastleigh, compared to the rest of the South East region. If so, that would probably be a prima facie evidence of misuse of the funds.
"The very same people who critisised me for that will no doubt defend Chris Huhne"
& vice versa it seems.
This may be close to the edge but it is clearly not over it - if this is the worst that can be thrown.....
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