Paddy attacks Labour perks

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The Independent Online
THE LIBERAL Democrats have joined attacks on ministerial travel and entertainment, as the Conservatives accused ministers of "having their snouts in the trough" of taxpayers' money.

In what will be seen as a cooling of the Liberal Democrats' relationship with Labour, Paddy Ashdown, party leader, will this week condemn excessive spending on ministerial perks.

Mr Ashdown will say on Tuesday: "Gladstone used to ask his ministers to account for the postage stamps they used. No doubt that was excessive. But a healthy spirit of frugality, even of meanness, is the right attitude for the government to take - and I don't see much of that reflected in the glamour and glitter of the new Camelot being paraded before us."

Mr Ashdown will also use the issues of tax and public spending to emphasise his differences with the Government. There has been increasing speculation about him joining Tony Blair's Cabinet, and he has already sought to reassure his party by offering consultation before any closer links are forged.

The Conservatives have stepped up the criticism of the Government with a report that details alleged extravagances, such as trips abroad for spouses and girlfriends, free homes in London and "jobs for the boys and girls" in Downing Street.

It lists almost pounds 11.5m-worth of spending on items such as upgrading tennis courts at Chequers, a designer kitchen for the Blairs and the redecoration of President of the Board of Trade Margaret Beckett's flat in Admiralty Arch at a cost of pounds 76,628.

Ministers have spent almost pounds 40,000 on taking their wives or girlfriends on overseas trips, the Tories have discovered through written parliamentary questions. The biggest charge was attributable to Mrs Beckett, who took her husband, Leo, on two trips at a cost of pounds 12,600. Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, has taken both wife and girlfriend abroad.

Since Labour came to power, 14 ministers have been given official residences, at a cost of pounds 825,523. Each minister is allowed two political advisers, costing in total pounds 2.6m a year, almost half as much again as the last government, say the Conservatives. Mr Blair has 17 full-time advisers, plus two aides for Cherie. That doubles the number of political staff at No 10 and costs pounds 849,000 a year.

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