Andy McSmith's Diary: Being a former PM is expensive work, as Margaret Thatcher knew


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Indy Politics

Margaret Thatcher made a generous gesture to her predecessors, Jim Callaghan, Edward Heath et al, by acknowledging that an ex-Prime Minister continues to be a public figure for life, having to run an office, make public appearances and answer correspondence. She therefore introduced the public duty costs allowance, which any former Prime Minister can claim.

The greatest beneficiary from this good deed was the Baroness herself, who claimed the PDCA for more than 20 years. The latest figures, published in Hansard, show that she collected £74,087.76 in the last year of her life, when failing health prevented her from making public engagements, but she still had an office, and staff to pay.

Gordon Brown has claimed £299,000 in his first three years out of office. He went to the Press Complaints Commission once when a journalist implied that this was a top-up of his MP’s salary: it all goes into the office, and none into his own pocket, he insists. Tony Blair and Sir John Major have both claimed the maximum in the past two financial years. Blair’s office has received more than £500,000 since he stepped down in 2007. He could have received more, because one year he did not claim.

A valiant and dogged member of the public once tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out whether Baroness Thatcher in particular had ever been required to produce receipts or evidence of costs when submitting a claim. Answer came there none.

No wiser on Crimea

In a corridor of the Houses of Parliament I encounter Sir Geoffrey Howe, Britain’s longest-serving Foreign Secretary of modern times. “What to do about Crimea?” I ask. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been asked to go on Russian television to answer that question. If I can’t answer it talking to you, I certainly can’t answer it talking to them.” Wise old bird.

Direct line to power

When Jack Straw, another former Foreign Secretary, tackled David Cameron about rail services in Lancashire, the Prime Minister thought it amusing to remind everyone that although Straw is a northern MP, he has a home in the Cotswolds. “I hope that he will not find it too cheeky if I point out that the line that both he and I use, the Cotswold line, which includes Charlbury railway station, has also received a lot of extra investment,” Cameron said.

He could have added that another regular commuter from Charlbury station was Rebekah Brooks. During the Leveson Inquiry, Straw revealed that he and Mrs Brooks would chat during their commute.

Waking up in a Hayes

Today’s Daily Mail had another extract from the memoirs of the former Tory MP Jerry Hayes, gleefully recounting occasions when parliamentary colleagues had soaked up more drink than they could handle. There was no mention, strangely, of one of the more celebrated episodes of Hayes’s time in Parliament, on the morning after an evening crowded with social events at the 1991 Tory annual conference.

The episode filled a page of the Daily Mirror at the time, and was recorded in the published diary of a fellow Tory MP, Gyles Brandreth. He wrote: “The astonishing curly-topped MP for Harlow called Jerry Hayes bounded up to the podium on Thursday morning to give an apparently unscripted address on the wonders of the NHS – and completely and utterly and absolutely lost his way! ‘Mr Madam Chairman,’ he burbled as he fumbled, as he stumbled – concluding (with the rest of us), ‘this must be the after-effect of a very bad night’.”