The Week In Westminster: pounds 200 supper may land Twigg in soup

STEPHEN TWIGG, who won Enfield Southgate for labour from Michael Portillo, could be in danger of following Fiona Jones in the Newark election expenses fiasco. Mr Twigg appears to have started his re-election campaign in Southgate already, and runs the risk of making himself liable to incurring election expenses during the next two to three years.

On mysterious notepaper headed: "ST2M" Mr Twigg this week wrote begging letters inviting attendance at "a very special evening - the launch of a fund to help my re-election as the Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate". Mr Twigg is to hold a reception and dinner on 19 May at the prestigious West Lodge Park Hotel in his constituency where "we shall be joined by the architect of New Labour, the Rt Hon Peter Mandelson MP".

Uninhibited by the recent rows over blind trusts, Mr Twigg has set up "the ST2M trust fund through which I hope to secure sufficient resources to open a constituency office at the earliest opportunity". The letter continues: "If you cannot join us on 19 May, please consider making a donation to `ST2M'." But why are donors not asked to pay the dosh straight to the Southgate Labour Party coffers?

Sources at Conservative Central Office claim that, under election law, the clock begins ticking for election expenses the moment an MP or candidate declares they are campaigning for re-election. The cost of Mr Twigg's dinner and subsequent political activities should, according to my Tory mole, be included in his next election expenses return with the consequent risk that he will have exceeded the legal limit before the election is even called.

There is no such thing as a free lunch but the ticket prices of political dinners can fluctuate widely, indicating the relative power, popularity or influence of the guest of honour. The cheapest, at pounds 50 a ticket, is the Conservative London Region Dinner (including wine) with William Hague on 28 April at the Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square; pounds 125 buys dinner with Baroness Thatcher on 20 April to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her election as Prime Minister. But pounds 200 a plate is the price Stephen Twigg is charging for his champagne reception and dinner with the MP for Hartlepool. The price of New Labour can never be too high.

JAMES ARBUTHNOT, the Conservative Chief Whip, broke parliamentary convention last week by moving the writ for the Newark by-election. Making his first speech in the Commons since the general election, Mr Arbuthnot triggered a debate that resulted in the Government successfully voting down his application.

In the past it has been a well-established principle that the party currently holding a seat applies to move the writ to set in train the by- election. During Harold Wilson's time as Prime Minister, his government frequently avoided by-election trouble by leaving a vacancy unfilled for anything up to a year. A subsequent gentlemen's agreement was established that a by-election should be held within three months of a vacancy and only the party that previously held the seat should move the writ.

The Newark vacancy was declared by the High Court with effect from 19 March so Labour is perfectly within the convention provided the election is held by mid-June.

No one could fathom Mr Arbuthnot's motives since he did not have the votes in the division lobby to enforce his motion. He played a dangerous game, however, for the Tories in the future. Should a Conservative-held seat fall vacant, Labour will now be tempted to pull the same trick and move the writ to suit its own purposes. What is more, it has the majority to carry the motion. Parliamentary conventions are best maintained or breaches can return with a vengeance.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT leadership contenders, who are not supposed to be campaigning for a vacancy that is not yet supposed to exist, are having difficulty in covering their tracks as their offices are mostly situated on the sixth floor of the office block at 7 Millbank where the walls are exceptionally thin.

While Don Foster and Nick Harvey continue to maintain outwardly friendly relationships, their aides' ears are pressed to the wall, trying to overhear the respective hushed whispers of endless streams of former Liberal Democrat press officers who are suddenly filing into each other's offices. Paddy Ashdown's injunction that there should be no campaigning for the leadership is being honoured rather more in the breach than the observance.

WITH RECENT press rows over the high-life comforts of ministers when flying abroad, Downing Street has hit on the clever wheeze of buying peace with journalists.

When the Prime Minister visits Chicago and Washington for the Nato summit later this month, lobby correspondents, broadcasters and photographers will travel Club Class in the Prime Minister's aircraft - at a cost of pounds 3,500 to their editors. In the past the press have been confined to the back of ageing RAF VC10s.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Modern Apprenticeship Assessor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Telesales Executive - Cloud Software/SaaS - £37,000 OTE

£25000 - £37000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you seeking to furth...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Welding, Power Tools and PPE - £45,000 OTE

£25000 - £45000 per annum + car + benefit: h2 Recruit Ltd: A fantastic and uni...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game