Andy McSmith's Diary: Nadine Dorries claims she will work as an MP ‘for free’ – but read the small print

Our man in Westminster

Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP with an amazing gift for hogging the headlines, has done it again with her announcement that she is going to stop claiming expenses. It means, according to her blog, that she “will be representing Mid Bedfordshire for free!”. She says she is doing this to put herself in a better position to “argue for reform of the system or put forward the case to scrap expenses” and to spare her staff the “constant stress that scrutiny and investigations bring about”.

It is a spectacular gesture from an MP who loves to spring surprises, though a cynic might think that it helps to divert public attention away from a different issue between Ms Dorries and the Commons authorities. There is an ongoing investigation into why she has never declared in the Register of Members’ Interests any payment from her appearance last year on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! She says she has not personally been paid, though people do not usually appear on TV reality shows for nothing. She has recently declared a directorship and shareholding in a small media consultancy.

And her announcement does not fit some headlines it has generated. Ms Dorries is not planning to give up on MPs’ expenses altogether. A footnote at the end of her announcement says she will go on claiming for “running the office, postage, staff salaries and constituency mileage”. She will cease to claim for “personal” expenses, including rent and costs associated with keeping a London flat, which she has to have because of Parliament’s strange working hours.

In 2012-13, her expenses totalled £30,717. Of that, £16,263 was for rent and other costs associated with her London flat, plus a small amount for food – claims she says she will forgo.

There was also £4,319 in travel costs, though it is not clear how much of this is “constituency mileage”, which she proposes to continue claiming, and how much is for travel to and from Westminster, which she is volunteering not to claim. Another £10,118 was under the heading “office costs”, which, to judge from the final sentence of her blog, she will still claim.

If she intends to forgo expenses worth up to £20,000 a year that she has the right to claim off the taxpayer, it is an indisputably generous gesture. But on an MP’s salary of £65,738, even after deductions, it is not quite working “for free”.

For Eric Pickles, there is such a thing as a light lunch

George Osborne must be heartily regretting the contrived photo shoot which was supposed to project him as a man of the people, eating takeaway burger and chips at his desk as he polished his big Commons speech, now that a sleuth from The Sun has established that it was a Byron burger costing nearly £10. At Downing Street’s morning press briefing, a spokesman was asked: “Has David Cameron ever had a Byron burger?” He replied: “That’s a side-order question.” I ought to be attributing that comment to a sauce close to the Prime Minister.

Eric Pickles, meanwhile, has found a stylish way to get back at the Chancellor’s jibes about his weight. As I pointed out this week, the boys at the top end of the Cabinet table think it is okay to ridicule the Communities Secretary over his waistline. Today, he followed in Osborne’s footsteps by tweeting a picture of himself polishing a speech. The difference was that Pickles had before him a modest salad.

Why Ozzy was out of tune with Blair

Tony Blair made a lasting impression on Ozzy  Osbourne, but not a favourable one, to judge from an interview with the star of Black Sabbath that was published in ShortList magazine.

“I was at a charity do a while back, and Tony Blair’s looking over at me,” said Ozzy. “This was when the Middle East thing was going on – we’re sending boys over and they’re coming back in f***ing boxes. He comes up, and I thought he was going to say, ‘Would you mind going out to play to the troops?’ but he said, ‘I was in a rock band once, but I could never quite get the chords to “Iron Man”.’ Are you f***ing kidding me? Is that all you’ve got to say, you d***head?”

The former Prime Minister was the lead singer of a band called Ugly Rumours as a student at Oxford University.

“He was a pr**k,” quoth Ozzy. Then the conversation turns to royalty. “When I did that f***ing Jubilee thing for the Queen, Prince William came up. We’d just played ‘Paranoid’, and he said, ‘Why didn’t you play Black Sabbath?’ I’m like, ‘What?’”

He concluded: “Lovely bloke. Can you imagine him headbanging at the royal Jubilee? Prince Harry in Vegas was f***ing great! That’s what you should be doing if you’re royalty. You can get anything you want – so why not?”

Nice work – if you can get a permit

As expected, the downfall of Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has put a halt to the spin-doctoring career of the former Downing Street adviser, John McTernan – at least for now. No longer the Prime Minister’s political secretary, he is nevertheless staying in Australia to cover the upcoming election as a journalist. He must be glad of that work permit his old boss granted him, which caused some fuss in the Australian parliament. Meanwhile, the gloom of Ms Gillard’s first full day out of office will have been lifted, I am sure, when she answered the phone and it was David Cameron on the line, commiserating.

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