My conscience is clear – this is just a witch hunt – by Brian Binley MP

portrait-brianbinley-2Happily, I have never lived in a totalitarian state. But this week I was given an insight into what it must have been like in the dark days of East European Communism to receive the infamous knock on the door from those delightful individuals who once did the dirty work of the Stasi and the KGB.

In my case, it came in the form of an email from the Daily Telegraph, informing me that I had “questions to answer” about my living arrangements in London in the three years after I was elected to Parliament in 2005.

My conscience was perfectly clear, and after reading the “accusations”, I knew there was nothing for which I had to answer and duly contacted the reporter to explain the situation.

But frankly, I might not have bothered. Sadly, such is now the Telegraph’s thirst and hunger for making mischief since obtaining the records of MPs’ expenses, that it has long since abandoned the idea of fair and honest reporting.

Of course, some MPs have deservedly been exposed for the misuse of public funds, be it claiming for non-existent mortgages, “flipping” between homes, or claiming a fiver for a wreath they bought for Remembrance Sunday.

But now the newspaper has turned it into a McCarthyite witch-hunt for the sake of a circulation increase. It is doing the reputation of British journalism a lot of damage.

Anyway, I phoned the reporter, and began to explain the situation, but it did not take me more than a few seconds to realise that she had no intention of engaging in a fair and proper conversation. She – or rather the Telegraph’s newsdesk – had already decided that they were going to run a story about me and whatever I said was not going to change that. Her attitude was aggressive and sometimes downright rude, and it left a sour taste once I put the phone down.

I then waited with baited breath for Wednesday’s Telegraph to come out, and when it finally did, I was stunned.

Stunned that my story had made its front-page lead; and stunned by the insidious implications, like referring to me as a millionaire. What on earth is the relevance of that, whether I am or not? It was a grubby way of insinuating that I was some hard-nosed capitalist out to make an easy buck at anyone’s expense, and I deeply resent that.

For the record, the Telegraph implied that I had broken the rules by renting a flat in London that was bought by a company I founded, and ran, before becoming an MP, and that, essentially, I was paying rent to myself. Bunkum.

My company did buy a property near Westminster, but it was a commercial decision agreed to by the board of directors. It was the property of BCC Marketing, and it was perfectly correct that I pay rent. And let me make two points here: if I didn’t pay rent to BCC Marketing, I would have had to pay rent to another landlord and the rent I paid was all inclusive (council tax, utility bills, and so on), and cheaper than I would have paid for similar accommodation I might have rented privately.

And the company was about £38,000 down on the deal over the three-year period. So much for implying that I had diverted taxpayers’ money for my own personal benefit.

I had cleared my living arrangements with the Fees Office at Parliament, and then the rules changed, so I had to move out, though I appealed against the changes before I did so.

All in all, it is a non-story. My Northampton South constituency executive have always been aware of the situation and were perfectly at ease as I featured in news bulletins during the day. I obliged with all interview requests, because I was angry at what the Telegraph had done, the way it had ignored my explanations, and the damage to my reputation.

Thankfully, the local media in Northampton have been extremely professional in their treatment of the story. So much so, that constituents who were initially angered after first reading, or hearing, the “allegations” about me, and said so, have since been in touch to apologise and admit that further investigation reveals nothing. Exactly.

And this is the point. The Telegraph is doing enormous damage in its hunger to exploit the expenses scandal to its own commercial profit. Of course it did some good initially, and of course the expenses system needs an overhaul. I have been saying that since I first arrived at Westminster.

But this has gone too far, and it is about time someone stood up to them. They have taken it upon themselves to become judge and jury, without any thought to seeking the truth before they publish.

It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s famous quote for Stanley Baldwin: “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

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36 thoughts on “My conscience is clear – this is just a witch hunt – by Brian Binley MP

  1. Mr Binley,

    His Grace has every sympathy.

    The proprietors may be aiming at power, but some journalists believe they hold life and death itself in their own hands, and there is no questioning their superior self-righteousness.

    Of course, those in public life who are truly dishonest, corrupt, hypocritical or unreasonable should be exposed. But when the grubbiest of Telegraph journalists choose to take a swipe at the honest, upright, authentic and reasonable, it becomes clear that there is nothing moral about their crusade at all.

    Bless you.

    ++Cranmer

  2. Thanks for the full explanation. Sadly, as with all things, the sensible doesn’t make headlines – the old saying ‘Mud sticks’ is true. So the DT have hurled it at random, with no regard for the finer detail, and any good they had a chance of doing has been subsumed by the damage they have done.

    But hey, a few more quid for the Barclays and some smug self-congratulations for the (so-called) journalists – so that’s alright then.

  3. I’m sorry but you only have yourselves to blame; via theyworkforyou.com:

    # Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament.

    Maybe if you had worked a bit harder to gain transparency for the people who pay your wages (and expenses), then there would be nothing for the telegraph to do. All the information you have just provided above would already have been available for public scrutiny.

  4. Come off it, renting from your own company obviously opens you up to accusations of sleaze. It must not just be right, it must look right, and this arrangement is clearly indefensible. And the idea that it’s OK because your own Board approved it? Ridiculous!

  5. Now you know what it is like to be an ordinary citizen of the UK today. You are suspected of expenses fiddling. We are suspected of being terrorists

    Poor you.

  6. Mr Binley

    Your indignation and sense of outrage appears to be genuine. Perhaps this is a non story. But you should be aware that statements invoking the blessing of the Fees Office, such as;

    “By the way, I cleared my living arrangements with The Fees Office…

    serve only to undermine, rather than bolster the validity of your argument.

    The cheque is in the post
    The dog ate my homework
    I cleared it with the Fees Office

    Blah

  7. If you have a complicated scheme that is open to abuse, but which has to be used by people with complicated lives that are both legal and properly run, then inevitably when the balloon goes up they will find themselves in the same basket as the roques and crooks.

    The pity is that our scheme of governance, or lack of scheme, allowed this kind of administrative shambles to occur. But then the whole of our government and civil service has now been reduced to the same sort of mess, along with public service.

  8. I agree with Where’s My Vote – you only have yourself to blame.

    In the light of what has emerged – sensationalised ‘though some of it may be – I cannot believe that anyone on the inside (and that includes the tame and, especially the tax-funded, media)did not know what was happening. It is obvious that it has been endemic, institutionalised and going on for a very long time. So any MP of honour would have blown the whistle – but you all did not. Perhaps that is too much to hope for as nearly all vestiges of honourable behaviour seem to have gone from modern life.

    SO…… try this Any MP with an ounce of nous, or common sense, or a very small modicum of Street Wisdom, would have realised that the whole system was built on shifting sands and when the sticky brown stuff hit the fast revolving object, as it was bound so to do, the repercussions would be fearful as they have been, injuring the guilty, not so guilty, and very nearly not guilty alike.

    SO our MPs are both immoral and thick – you all deserve what you get.

  9. I do not know you or indeed do I know anything about your affairs. Therefore I am not in a position to judge either yourself or your affairs objectively. But I do whole heartdly agree with your statement about the standards of Journalism. It has been apparent to me for a great deal of time that true investigative journalism has fallen by the way side a long tme ago. Now it is all sensationalism to support reader numbers. And becuase of this the media in general are doing great disservice to the electorate. So many things which the current Government should have been robustly challenged for by the media on behalf of the electorate are, all to quickly dropped.

  10. Comparing an e-mail from the Telegraph with a knock on the door from the KGB? What utter tosh, Mr Binley! Now if someone claiming benefits makes an error and accidentally claims a little too much money, which is easily done with the very complicated benefit rules, they really will get a visit from KGB/Stasi style civil servants. And no one will listen to their protestations of innocence. But I don’t suppose you worry about that. But you do seem to worry about what you see as a besmirchment of your reputation – I rather think that’s small beer in comparison to some of the injustices that occur in this Nation of ours.

    And were you not a signatory and a supporter of that despicible bill put to Parliament recently which aimed to abolish the mandatory minimum wage, legislation which saves many honest, hard-working people from being victimised and exploited by unscrupulous employers? Well, that shows me where you are coming from Mr. Binley. And no, I’m not a supporter of Labour or the Lib Dems and never will be. Most of my life I’ve supported the Conservatives, but the scandal over MPs’ expenses has made me review my support.

  11. I am genuinely not sure you should be so concerned.

    I read the report in the Daily Telegraph and it seemed pretty clear to me that they were making a storm in a teacup: that your arrangements (certainly as described by them and repeated above by you) were reasonable.

    The biggest insinuation here is that almost of association with people who have used expenses on unusual deals for their own and their families’ benefit. However, anyone with moderate intelligence who concentrated the facts of the report, rather than the emotion, should have seen it was a reasonable arrangement in this case.

  12. Came here via Iain Dale’s blog.

    When I heard your explanation, probably on the BBC, I thought you had a very good point.

    My only criticism is that you could probably have managed perfectly adequately with a rather cheaper place to eat, work, rest and sleep but that is a different argument which might, I consider should, be aired in possible solutions to the present problems.

    On the basis of what I have heard and read to date I would support you.

  13. The Telegraph today makes a point of publishing all claims in a handy pull-out-and-keep glossy magazine. Conclusions should be drawn as to the real reasons behind this decision – to make it easier for voters to check the details, or to boost circulation some more?

    However bad some Members have been, it is quite clear that the Telegraph have no intention of highlighting as front page stories the so-called “Saints”, the MPs who have not claimed anything. This is about the devaluing of democracy as well as journalism.

    Saying all that, the redaction of details – even down to blanking out train tickets – has ensured this story more legs yet. Nearly 50 days now…Maybe Speaker Martin had a point about those leaders who did not help tighten up the system when they had a chance…

  14. Indeed whilst certain MPs have clearly acted absurdly over their expenses I do have sympathy with Mr. Binley.

    No doubt there are serious and disturbing considerations regarding the actions of numerous MPs in relation to their expenses. The 43% increase in ACA in 2001 (which should be revoked and repaid), the tax exemption of their expenses in 2003 (which should be abolished) and the Ministerial decision to relax the nomination of second homes in 2004 (second home nomination needs to be tightened so all MPs have little flexibility).

    Furthermore, the Fees Office have clearly been derelict in their administration of the system and underlying all this is the question of what role did the Government play in all this?

    There have also been individual MPs who might seem to have claimed for false items. These are rightly being investigated.

    In addition, there is no question that the system has been corrupted and can no longer exist in its current form. It must be drastically reformed and ideally provide the taxpayer better value for money, less cost and greater appropriate transparency to the taxpayer.

    It is not just MPs reputations that have been damaged by this debacle but the institution of Parliament and our political system. For the country to be successful we need a robust Parliament and political system that the electorate have faith in.

    However, these issues are not the story that the media has told. They have told a story of paper clips and moat maintenance, of trouser presses, artex ceilings and mobile phone calls. Whilst there is something voyeuristically intriguing in dredging through the minutiae of an individuals life it is also offensively humiliating invasion of privacy, particularly when it is done in such a vindictive and callously self-serving manner.

    This episode has demonstrated the basist of ignorant reporting that has in some cases resulted in criminal acts by third parties and is reminiscent not only of 1950′s McCarthyism but perhaps also the Salem Witch Trials. It has in some ways exposed the worst of the nature of our society.

    I do hope when all this has died down that MPs remember the ‘even-handed’(sic) methods adopted by the media and address them appropriately. Potentially the media have acted in a way that contravenes the Data Protection Act. That Act is there to protect individuals from being abused by the likes of overbearing corporates and media vultures.

    As the media cannot be trusted to run roughshod over the DPA, it would be wise to ensure they do not get the chance again. It may not be politicians who are their target next time. The DPA needs strengthening and the tenuous public interest defence needs to be much more clearly defined to ensure that objective, contextual and factually complete reporting is mandatory. How this is achieved I am unsure but then I’m not a legislator.

    Furthermore, I do not believe that newspapers should be allowed to set up the type of aggressive Kangaroo style court that they undertook. Too often do the media act as judge and jury.

    Perhaps the guidelines for the Press Complaints Commission need to be strengthened? In my opinion the media has abused its position just as much as MPs have abused theirs. Two wrongs do not make a right. The media need to pay a price for their irresponsible and malevolent actions.

    Finally, there has yet to be a full and transparent explanation as to how the information fell into the hands of a certain newspaper. We know the go-between but we do not know the source. Now there are some quite sinister and disturbing possibilities as to how and why this information arrived in the public domain. It is in the public interest to know how that information got there. it is important to understand the background of this scandal fully and ensure that one of such magnitude does not happen again.

  15. Sadly, I no longer have it within me to afford you sympathy.
    Being a law abiding citizen who has paid taxes for 50 years, I too understand what it is like to be vilified, despised and persecuted. Only in my case it has been at the hands of allegedly democratic governments!

  16. It is “ALL ABOUT THE REPUTATION”

    Blogs are great!!!
    I find myself reading your story this morning and became intrigued with the fact you were worried about your reputation, the abuse of power by journalist’s and that mightier than GOD attitude.

    Sir take a look within the walls you work.

    A government who is composed of people who are voted in by the people to represent them in an honest and fair way.

    What we get is constant price fixing at the pumps when long weekends and summer arrives, the little man syndrome of Rev Can on the tax payers of this country, the constant demand and destruction of the middle class individual who must support a government who’s spending habits are nothing short of a spoiled little rich kid always demanding more.
    Majority of politicians have much to answer too and journalist’s seem to be the people’s last line of defense that they fear.
    Why? because there job’s and ego’s are on the line.

    “Suck it up”. Walk the straight and fair line, work honest and hard for your boss’s, and you can fall asleep at the wheel when your tired cause there are no curves in the road.

    At a time when the average individual (boss) is worried if they have a job next week so they can feed there families, you are worried about your REPUTATION.

    BUUPPCCAASS Sir.

    Only those who have SHTTTTTT to hide have fear of so called reputations.
    Do your job and we will let you know when we are satisfied just like any boss let’s his employees know of a job well done.

    Reputations are for those who lack self confidence in what they do.
    Now get to work and stop your whining cause I can’t afford to buy you cheese too.

  17. Grow up, The world isn’t particularly fair. While a few MPs have had there expenses whipped up a bit the telegraph is representing public outrage

    As a MP you are responsible for a political and legal system which ruins lives every day. Soldiers on 14k a year head of to face roadside bombs in a war driven by a politics that is beyond the grasp of any of us, families get have there children taken away and are never even allowed to speak out and those wrongly accused of peadophilia will never actually be acquitted.

    What has amazed me is the ability of MPs to feel sorry for themselves. Take it on the chin, rebuild your relationship with your constituents and you will continue to be far richer and more powerful than the vast majority of people in this country.

  18. Those who attack the Telegraph for these stories are wrong. The Telegraph has done the nation a great service and they should be saluted, but I do share Mr Binley’s concerns about the way we as members of the public have lost faith in all politicians letting in the fringe parties like UKIP and the BNP.

  19. Brain makes an important point here. Why is the Telegraph hammering all MPs. Front pages have been afforded to all the crooks, those avoiding CGT, or claiming for phantom mortgages but also to those who have made relatively minor mistakes.

    And then there are the saints who have had virtually no coverage whatsoever.

    All very disappointing!

  20. Dear Mr Binley,

    you may or may not be a millionaire. As you have already pointed out, that is a matter of no consequence. I for one have no difficulty with MPs claiming for second homes – provied those second homes were in the capital. It is unreasonable to expect a man to commute from Orkney and, in my view, it is equally unreasonable to have a main residence outside the constituency. I don’t accuse you of that. Quite clearly you are being pilloried for claiming the running costs of a home in the capital.But here’s what sticks in my throat and it’s a question I have been asking for weeks with never an answer: why is my mother’s meagre pension taxed so that you and people like you can have free food? What is it that makes you think you are entitled to £100 a week of free food? You are only an MP so you can’t be expected to know this but the pension is less than £100 a week and yet you think you are entitled to more than that just for food. You think you are entitled to free food which is not only more than the pension but four times the amount budgeted to feed a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. What makes you think you deserve this, Mr Binley? How can you possibly justify that? And, if you bother to reply, don’t tell me that the system is rotten and corupt and must be cleaned up. The Mafia is rotten and corrupt but nobody forces you to join in.

  21. [Comment deleted because the Editor deemed the language was unsuitable. The Editor does not condone or will publish profanities on this site.]

  22. Why hasn’t my comment of 20/6/09 @11.42 appeared? You’ve moderated comments since.

    Mine was a perfectly reasonable comment, objecting to Brian Binley’s non-denial line of defence and asking further questions about how his arrangements were in the company’s commercial interest.

    My comment was neither intemperate nor libellous, nor was it unpleasant in tone. I’m not like that. You haven’t even given an explanation for rejecting it, though you have explained your rejection of later posts.

    If you won’t post it, I can only suspect you of politically motivated censorship.

    [Editor says, I do not appear to have received your original comment. Please resubmit.]

  23. mandatory community service is slavery
    i am not your slave.

    much more like communism, Binley MP

    yet your party has not a word to say on it.

  24. So let me get this right. You paid a below market rate for the property? If that is correct then why are people complaining so much? Perhaps they wanted you to move out into a more expensive property, costing the tax payer even more.

  25. I think Brian in trying to do something that saved the tax payer money you are being seen as something of a villan.

    Personally I am concerned with anyone who feels the need to use a flat their company owns to subsidise the life as an MP. Surely if a job is worth doing then it should be paid fairly.

    I do have a problem with all these people have avoided CGT or received money for a mortgage they did not have.

  26. I have just looked at your members and it appears that a number of your colleagues have been named as the ‘saints’ by the Telegraph. Well done cornerstone!

    Yet again you are leading the way. I only hope more will follow.

  27. Odd. My previous comment did show up as awaiting moderation, then disappeared, which is why I assumed you’d binned it. If this appears, I’ll accept the explanation you’ve given. I don’t have a copy. But I’ll repeat the essence of what I said.

    You did not link to the Telegraph story. Here it is:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5553901/MPs-expenses-Tory-claims-57000-to-rent-flat-from-own-company.html

    What “accusation” made by the Telegraph do you deny? You seem to me to admit the facts they have reported, except to argue what you did was within the rules (though if that’s true it’s difficult to see why the Speaker stopped you).

    I’m fed up of this kind of diversionary “witch-hunt” line of defence by MPs. The point about witch-hunts is that witches don’t exist. But MPs have in actual fact abused expenses. No doubt the Telegraph haven’t got everything right, but I expect they’re trying their best. You are the one who’s making unfounded, wholly unjustified insinuations – that the Telegraph is printing stories without regard for truth.

    I have some further questions for you. How can it have been in the company’s commercial interest (as you argue) to buy a flat in Westminster to rent out? Did it know it’d be renting it to you? How was it in its commercial interest to buy property to provide you with accommodation, unless somehow you mixed up your commercial work with your work as an MP? And you say the company made a loss. How can that have been genuinely in the company’s interest? Did your fellow directors know they’d be making a loss? What do they think of that?

    A final thought – and this is new, not in my original comment. Your comparison of what the Telegraph has done with the activities of the Stasi is outrageous and offensive. Excessively expressed self-pity is never attractive. But it also surprises me that a British MP can show such a sense of disproportion in comparing his plight over expenses to that of the victims of real human rights abuses. I think on reflection you should at least take those words back.

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