Maybe I am late onto the story about the allegations around Caroline Spelman and her nanny in 1997, but I wonder if this is the story that actually reverses the current dynamic where a certain crop of journalists feel it to be their professional duty to throw stones at politicians over expenses, almost regardless of the gravity of the allegations?
Maybe I had more important things to do this weekend, but I have only just noticed this story filed by Michael Crick on Saturday, with 32 questions for Caroline Spelman about events in 1997 and 1998. Let’s just think for a moment about how long ago this was. Caroline Spelman was a new and I am supposing almost unknown MP. David Cameron wasn’t even a selected parliamentary candidate for Witney (Shaun Woodward was still in place), let alone an MP, let alone Party Leader. I was a Council candidate, canvassing around Fulham, including knocking on the door of the family of a 16-year old Siena Miller. This is all a very long time ago.
Crick’s piece is entitled “Questions Sir Michael Lyon might like to ask Caroline Spelman on Monday”. Sir Michael Lyon, I am supposing, and I would certainly hope, is too busy examining genuine scandals, like the one I referred to him 4 months ago now on Gordon Brown sub-letting his taxpayer-funded office to his local Labour Party, where he has yet to report. But I digress.
Does Crick really need to know answers to questions like:
“Was there a contract of employment for her childcare work, and what did this specify?”
“Has she ever worked as a secretary since then (1998)?”
“Has Caroline Spelman ever provided an employment reference for Tina Haynes, and did this highlight her secretarial work? Can we see a copy?”
“Was Tina Haynes paid very much the same amount for her childcare work after 1998 as she was paid from the Parliamentary Allowance for her secretarial work before 1998?”
“Given that Caroline Spelman’s youngest child was only two and half in May 1997, can Mrs Spelman confirm that all her three children were at school (or nursery or play-group) full time between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday, from May 1997 onwards?”
“Were Caroline Spelman’s arrangements with Tina Haynes ever brought to the attention of William Hague, the then Conservative leader?”
and on and on it goes.
Should the BBC license-payer fund these ludicrous inquries, so Michael Crick can satisfy himself and, more to the point, justify his absurd inquiry? Judging by the comments on Crick’s post, most BBC website readers agree.
For the record, in the highly unlikely event that I am Chairman of the Conservative Party in ten years time, I provide here a set of answers to questions that Michael Crick might ask me in 2018 about my expense claims in 2007:
1. I am unable to provide a precise breakdown of when I used the House of Commons toilet facilities and whether I was on Conservative Party or House of Commons business at the time, as you have requested, and, no, you definitely cannot see the paperwork.
2. I am unable to provide a time-sheet for nappy changes for my son, who was 6 months old in 2007.
3. I am unable to confirm the exact location of either my son or my daughter, who was two years old at the time, at all of the 9 am to 3pm times you specify, on the Mondays to Fridays you pinpoint. I confidently expect that both were in the presence of either me and/or my wife at all of these times, but if one of the kids did do a runner to the Salisbury Tavern around the corner, I am truly very sorry, and will refer myself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for an urgent investigation.
4. I have checked with all of my staff who were in employment with me at the time, and can confirm that none of them have since made the mistake of working for me again.
5. David Cameron was, however, fully aware of all of these arrangements at all times. I had a regular Wednesday morning slot at 11:30 just before PMQs, when David would break off from his preparation to hear the very latest news of the Hands domestic arrangements and throw relevant questions at me to check my expense claims were all above board, just in case a top-rated investigative journalist like Michael Crick happened to have nothing better to do on behalf of the BBC licence-payer ten years afterwards.
I have no idea whether Caroline Spelman intends to answer Crick’s 32 questions, but she might ask one question of him: “Why is one of the UK’s leading investigative journalists wasting his time on this rubbish?”