Numbers by party
Lib Dems 8
Sinn Fein 5
Percentage of sitting MPs
Sinn Fein 100%
Lib Dems 13%
I am told that the Telegraph had decided to end their series of stories last Tuesday. When they got such a huge rise in circulation and so many letters they decided to extend it to Thursday. It's now Sunday and still it goes on. The broadcasters tell me that there is no sign of the public getting bored by this story. Someone else told me that the Telegraph has decided to now analyse every single MP and will continue this campaign right up until the general election. They think every one of them will have claimed something which the public will find unacceptable.
What the public won't find acceptable, however, is THIS story by Jane Merrick and Matthew Bell in the Independent, if there is any truth in it. The allegation is that the Telegraph went soft on Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper because Telegraph editor Will Lewis is a drinking and Karaoke buddy of Mr Balls.
He is a cabinet minister and Gordon Brown's closest ally in politics. His wife, a cabinet minister and number two at the Treasury, can also count the Prime Minister as a trusted confidant.
So when a story emerged of how Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper claimed for three and a half times the amount of mortgage interest they were entitled to, it would perhaps be deemed front-page news. Yesterday the ministers insisted it had been an "inadvertent error" that they submitted a claim for £2,600 for the months of July and August 2007, when it should have been £733. The mistake was spotted by the Fees Office and they never received the money.
Yet stranger still, this story of how two of the Prime Minister's closest allies had made this mistake appeared to be downplayed in The Daily Telegraph's wall-to-wall coverage of the expenses scandal. While lurid claims for moat-cleaning have been splashed over the newspaper, this new revelation was slipped into a downpage story on page eight last Friday.
Other MPs in similar circumstances might not have been treated so generously. Westminster conspiracy theorists last night pointed to the friendship between Telegraph editor Will Lewis and Mr Balls. Both men are gregarious and share an enthusiasm for karaoke.
A parliamentary standards inquiry last year cleared Mr Balls and Ms Cooper, who each earn £141,866, of wrongdoing in an investigation into their decision to switch their second home. The expenses documents also revealed that they were warned by Fees Office officials that they had submitted the same claim, for the month of July 2006, twice.
But one can imagine Mr Lewis, perhaps paraphrasing Michael Heseltine, declaring: "It's not a splash. It's Balls."
Of course one can never prove this sort of thing one way or the other. No doubt other newspapers are looking for excuses to trash the Telegraph because it got the story and they didn't. But there is a feeling that one or two politicians have been given a tougher time than others, even when their transgression was perhaps not as serious as some others.
UPDATE 3.35pm: Having made a few inquiries I'm told that Ed Balls is absolutely furious about his treatment by the Telegraph. As a result of the Telegraph story his own local regional paper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, carried a front page story on Friday, which he was forced to respond to. It should also be noted that the Telegraph splash that day was Shahid Malik, a story which resulted in him having to step down from office. So it can be argued that this was a bigger story than the Balls story.
UPDATE 3.50pm: A reader has sent me Ed Balls's statement to the YEP...
"The Daily Telegraph article does not properly or accurately reflect the facts of our claims and the information we gave to the newspaper yesterday - much of which is already in the public domain, and was included in the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ report published last year which dismissed the allegations made by a Tory MP.... The newspaper's insinuation that we gained financially from so-called "flipping" is absolutely untrue - as we made clear to the Daily Telegraph in writing yesterday. We are today publishing the Telegraph's letter to us and our reply.
There was, in fact, only one change in designation - in 2005 when, following advice from the Fees Office, Yvette changed her second home from Castleford to London in line with the reality of our lives and Ed's initial designation. The only reason Yvette changed her second home designation at the last General Election was because the ministerial rules changed. Ministers were previously obliged to list London as their main home regardless of the facts. We did then move house in London in 2007. We paid full capital gains tax on this move and have claimed less in the two years since that move than in the two years before.
The Daily Telegraph is wrong to suggest that London is our main family home. Castleford is our main family home, as anyone who has visited us there will testify, and as the independent Commissioner's report confirmed. Our whole family travel to and fro each week when Parliament is sitting because they we believe our family should stay together."