Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride at centre of new expenses scandal
May 14 2009 By Jonathan Walker
Worcestershire MP Julie Kirkbride was at the centre of a fresh expenses scandal which reached right into the heart of the Conservative Party, as her husband was forced to resign as a senior aide to David Cameron.
Andrew MacKay, Ms Kirkbride’s husband and the MP for Bracknell in Berkshire, quit as Mr Cameron’s policy adviser after it emerged the pair were both claiming for second homes despite sharing properties.
Ms Kirkbride had registered a property in her Bromsgrove constituency as her second home, allowing her to claim expenses on it, while Mr MacKay - who was a Birmingham MP in the 1970s - had registered a property in London as his second home, allowing him to claim expenses on that one.
Details were published by the Conservative Party itself, in an apparent attempt to limit the damage before they were revealed by a newspaper which has obtained copies of every MPs’ expenses claims.
Mr MacKay resigned as Mr Cameron’s senior policy advisor, and conducted a series of television interviews admitting to an “error of judgment”.
He will also be investigated by a scrutiny committee set up by Mr Cameron to examine controversial expenses claims by his MPs.
The pair owned the London property together, while Ms Kirkbride was the sole owner of the Bromsgrove home. It means her husband was claiming for a “second home” when he didn’t actually own a main home.
Senior Conservative officials said Ms Kirkbride’s position was in “a different situation” because she did own a share in two properties and could legitimately claim the London residence was her second home.
Mr Mackay, who represented Birmingham Stetchford between 1977 and 1979, claimed £22,575 to subsidise living expenses last year, while Ms Kirkbride claimed the maximum of £23,083.
Ironically, Ms Kirkbride is a former journalist working for The Daily Telegraph, the newspaper which has sparked the present crisis by obtaining details of MPs expenses. She also previously worked for The Birmingham Post.
Earlier this year, Ms Kirkbride backed a controversial attempt in the Commons to keep MPs’ home addresses a secret by removing the requirement for election candidates to publish them.
In March, she told the Birmingham Post: “There are people who might have a grievance or a fixation. I’d feel a lot happier not making my home address freely available.
“That seems perfectly reasonable to me. In terms of personal safety and well-being, I would feel happier if my home address wasn’t freely available.”
Mr MacKay said it had never previously occurred to him there was anything wrong with the arrangement, which he claimed had been suggested to them by the Commons Fees Office.
“I had taken advice from the most senior person at the time in the Fees Office and they had suggested to me that I elect our family home in north Worcestershire, in my wife Julie’s constituency,” he said.
“My second home that I claimed on is our home in Westminster, near to the House of Commons. Equally Julie was advised to claim the main home in London, the second home in Bromsgrove.
“This was all transparent, it was all approved and frankly until it was drawn to my attention it did not occur to me that it didn’t pass the reasonableness test.
“I must say when it was drawn to my attention my first reaction was that the right thing to do was to resign my post, which I did very first thing today with David.”
He said: “Looking back now, it does look strange, I have clearly made an error of judgment for which I profusely apologise and I’ve done what I think is the right thing.”
He promised to pay back however much a new Conservative Party scrutiny committee decided he should.
Mr Cameron, speaking during a visit to Cornwall, said the arrangement had been discovered by the party after Mr MacKay submitted his claims for examination.
He said: “The examination revealed a state of affairs which I don’t think is acceptable. He will go before a scrutiny panel to determine how much of this needs to be repaid.”
The Tory leader admitted that the expenses scandal had damaged his party.
“Clearly all parties have been damaged by this. We have to put our hands up,” he said.
“Every party has taken action to try and sort this out and I have set out what my party is going to do.”
In other developments today:
* Stratford MP John Maples, deputy chair of the Conservative Party, has offered to repay second-home expenses claimed while he was living temporarily at a private members’ club if the Tory scrutiny panel deems them wrong.
* Birmingham MP John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) has announced he is to stop claiming the second home allowance he is entitled to, because he is “sick” of rows over expenses. He claimed £21,375 to subsidise living expenses last yeat.
* Tony Loyd, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, has written to all the party’s MPs urging them to publish their expenses themselves instead of waiting for House of Commons authorities to release them.