Is Brown now having to play catch-up?

Is Brown now having to play catch-up?


Has Number 10 been wrong-footed again?

Judging by the tone of much of the coverage this morning the Cameron moves yesterday have been fairly well received and there’s little doubt that Brown’s comments last night that all MPs’ receipts over four years must be scrutinised by an independent group was his way of countering it.

He denied it, of course, but he needed to do something ahead of today’s PMQs which kick off in the house at noon. He’s helped by the decision by Hazel Blears to pay £13,000 in capital gains tax on the sale of her London flat and the latest crop of exposes – this time about the Lib Dems.

The former Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell, is revealed to have claimed £10,000 in expenses for “a top designer” to redecorate his London flat. As the Telegraph reports details: “The refurbishment claim under the Additional Costs Allowance included Roman blinds worth £528.75, five cushions costing £176.25, four bedside shelves totalling £1,420, as well as tie hangers, bulbs, a laundry basket, and extension cable costing £66.90. Sir Menzies also claimed for a lampshade, hooks, a “loo brush”, black-out blinds, cleaning products and soap worth £272.86. He included a new king-size bed, worth £1,024 and bed linen worth £373 as well as £1,515 decorating bill.”

A problem for Brown is if he’s seen to be over-stating that which has been going on and certainly the BBC report last night suggested that things might not be as firm with the commons all-party allowances committee as he was announcing.

Patrick Wintour in the Guardian sets the scene: “On a dramatic day when the parties finally responded to the anger in the country it was David Cameron, the Tory leader, who moved most quickly, directing eight shadow cabinet members, including his closest political allies, to write cheques to refund the taxpayer for improper claims or face the sack..Last night, in a series of television interviews, Gordon Brown said Commons officials would meet again tomorrow to work on plans for an independent figure to lead a team tasked with going through the past four years’ of receipts for every MP before ruling on whether the claim was legitimate. But the Tories contested any suggestion that an agreement had been reached last night.”

This, of course, is all about what you are seen to be doing and is pure politics. I very much liked the widely-quoted remark of an Obama aide about a crisis “being an opportunity”.

My understanding is that there are several polls in the field at the moment or ready to start the fieldwork on Friday. That should give us a sense of how all this is going down.

Mike Smithson

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