Monday, May 18, 2009

Mr George Galloway MP

On May 8th I published a post ('Dirty Dogs') on various senior Labour figures and their expenses, which linked to a Telegraph report showing, inter alia, claims about the 'value for money' of various Members of Parliament - calculated by comparing their expenses with the number of times they voted in the house. These have since been removed from the Telegraph site but were quoted on the blog in the concluding paragraphs . One of them was Mr George Galloway.

A response was received the same afternoon. Laban's not been checking his mail :

Re your comments about George Galloway MP

My attention has just been drawn to your blog which is not only inaccurate but grossly defamatory.

You have regurgitated some nonsense that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, with no thought as to the absurdity of their methodolgy about what does or does not constitute value in an MP, but with every intent of smearing Mr Galloway.

You make no distinction between the expenses an MP might receive in their pocket - second home allowance, "John Lewis list" and travel costs, which in George's case add up to zero - and those monies that pay for staff and the maintenance of a constituency office. Also, please note that none of Mr Galloway's staff members are related to him. Therefore George has made no personal or familial gains from Parliamentary expenses.

2) Mr Galloway stands for complete openness and public accountability in relation to Parliamentary expenses, as a matter of principle. This was the paragraph that appeared in his constituency report in 2008 which was distributed throughout Bethnal Green & Bow last autumn:

"You have every right to know where public money is being spent and whether it is spent properly. That's why I have voted for complete openness in MPs' expenses and allowances. I opposed the House of Commons when they resisted moves under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose MPs' "additional costs allowance" expenses. I told the authorities to exclude me from their attempts to keep the breakdown of these expenses secret, and I published my details myself. The amount I claim on what the media call the "John Lewis list" is zero, nothing. Nor do I claim any travel expenses from Parliament or the taxpayer. As for staff - I employ five people (three women and two men), their pay subsidised by me. They are divided between constituency and Parliamentary work. Not one of them is in any way related to me."

3) The methodology you use to assess an MP's value is absurd. You omit the following:

a) Enquiries raised on behalf of Mr Galloway's constituents to Tower Hamlets council, which often amount to more than the combined total enquiries from the all the local councillors and the other borough MP, to various government departments and other bodies. George Galloway has written literally thousands of letters over the last four years on behalf of his constituents and in at least two cases more than 20 letters trying to get justice for his constituents.

b) Regular communication with the Borough Commander and other senior managers in Tower Hamlets police - plus meetings with the same.

c) Letters to Tower Hamlets PCT and NHS plus meetings.

d) Letters to immigration ministers and the Home Office.

e) Maintaining a weekly drop in surgery (a greater service than most MPs). The number of constituents seen at each drop in session averages at more than 25, and the number of cases dealt with each week normally exceeds 50.

f) Meetings in the constituency and elsewhere raising issues of constituents' concern.

g) Regular meetings throughout the constituency - including throughout the summer months.

h) Time spent in Parliament attending to MP's business that is not actually on the floor of the House eg personal letters to Ministers, initiating and signing EDMs, responding to constituents

i) The quality of interventions and content of speeches made on the floor of the House .

j) Press releases and MP's letters to local and national press & media about issues of local and national concern.


I could go on, but I think, by now, the inaccuracy and and defamatory nature of your comments must be apparent to you.

This is the statement that was sent to Ben Leach of the Sunday Telegraph:

"A spokesperson for George Galloway said: "'Sunday Telegraph doesn't rate George Galloway' is down there with dog bites man for news. We do find it odd, however, that the paper seems to consider that the public gets value for money from the backbench poodles with pagers who pipe up for any god awful policy so as to keep in with their party whips. But you'd be hard pressed to find many people who think that an MP who has blindly backed the government on votes which are a foregone conclusion is 'value for money'. The Sunday Telegraph is to be congratulated for concocting a formula that generates the precise opposite of what it was supposed to measure. With such acumen, the paper might want to consider a sideline in investment banking." "

Mr Galloway insists that you issue an accurate statement and retract your grossly defamatory remarks as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so will mean that Mr Galloway will be forced to take appropriate legal action.

I look forward to your timely response.

Yours sincerely

Caroline Conway

Office of George Galloway MP

Well, of course, my response isn't very timely - which is why I got another letter last week.

The Telegraph have removed the 'value' calcs - and all mention of Mr Galloway - from their story, and it can be said that there is some force in the argument that counting the number of times an MP troops through the Lobby to vote is a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to measuring value. As a comment by one of his staff at Socialist Unity put it :

The calculation took no account of the fact that most votes in the House of Commons are a complete waste of time because the outcome is already determined and the choice is between a rotten Labour motion and a rotten Tory one. It ignored just about everything that is relevant to whether an MP was any good or not.

Incidentally, there has been a huge rise in the number of parliamentary questions being put down by MPs over the last couple of years. The reason is not that MPs have suddenly discovered the virtues of this parliamentary device. Answers are still slow to come and almost invariably evasive. It is rather that the more you put down the better you do on Theyworkforyou and rubbish like the Telegraph best and worst value tests. Grandstanding no less and definitely not a sign of an MPs necessarily giving better value for money.

I have no reason to doubt that GG is an assiduous constituency MP, and I accept that my claims of Mr Galloway being 'interested in money' and that 'it's what he does' could not be supported by the evidence presented.

I therefore withdraw them and apologise for them, as I also withdraw, and apologise for, any claim that either Clare Short MP or Derek Conway MP are 'looting the taxpayer' - claims based on similar value-for-money calculations.