Andy McSmith's Diary: The disgraced peer and his negligible £3,000 a month


Last month I noted that Lord Hanningfield, the former Tory leader of Essex Council, has edged a step further towards being an active member of the House of Lords by tabling a written question, his first since he appeared in court charged with fiddling his expenses in February 2010. This follows the tentative first step he took last month, by saying something during a committee meeting. He still has not contributed anything to any debate in the main House of Lords chamber.

Meanwhile, the latest figures reveal that he claimed £4,800 attendance allowance in June this year. That brought his total claims in the first 15 months, since he came back from doing a spell in jail, to £45,600. That is not to mention hundreds of pounds worth of expenses.

Peers are entitled to £300 a day just for turning up, even if they do not say or do anything, and no matter how much it embarrasses other peers to see someone who has been caught fiddling the system back there making use of the facilities. That sum, which averages more than £3,000 a month, is tax-free.

When asked about it by a local journalist, Lord Hanningfield replied: “It is not a great amount of money.”

Cameron gets heavy

Two major feeds on Twitter are must-follows for devotees of heavy metal: Download Festival, for what claims to be “the greatest festival in the world”, at Donington Park, Leicestershire; and Sonisphere, the site for a touring festival whose 2014 berth will be Knebworth. Both are followed by David Cameron.

So is that what the PM does in his spare moments: turn to Twitter to find out where Alice in Chains are appearing on a Saturday night?

Thanks but no thanks

How kind of Michael Ashcroft to offer to replace Tom Newton Dunn on the late-night paper review on Sky News this week, although an appearance would have kept him up late on the day before he was due to visit Gibraltar.

After Lord Ashcroft made the offer, via Twitter, Sky presenter Anna Botting replied: “Now, now, down boy.” Paper reviewers come in pairs. Newton Dunn was appearing in tandem with Rowenna Davis, a 28-year-old author.  Lord Ashcroft is 67.

Campbell’s confession

“I was OK at my job but not a great journalist,” said Cambridge University’s new visiting lecturer, Alastair Campbell, speaking of his time on the Mirror group, owned by Robert Maxwell. “My only award was the Cudlipp Award, and given Robert Maxwell was a judge and one of the articles was about his heroic role alleviating famine in Ethiopia, I am not sure it counts.”

On the wrong track?

The people in charge of HS2 are preparing for the controversy that will inevitably accompany the passage through Parliament of the legislation that will let them start the groundwork.

They have advertised for a £50,000-a-year “evidence manager”, among whose duties will be “to support stakeholder engagement and overarching petition minimisation strategy”. I have often thought that what the rail system needs most is an overarching petition minimisation strategist.