David Cameron has been accused of "Stalinist" tactics by Tory MPs who claim he is using the expenses scandal as an excuse to purge his party's old guard MPs. A letter circulating among Tories at Westminster alleges: "The party in parliament has ceased to be a team effort and is now just run and dictated to for the personal advantage of David Cameron and George Osborne [the shadow Chancellor]."
It alleges that MPs whose expenses claims had been exposed faced "summary justice" in a "kangaroo court" composed of Cameron allies. Accusing the leadership of wielding "despotic power", the round-robin letter says: "Colleagues are threatened with expulsion, older members are being forced out, untested candidates are being invited to appear from nowhere, and all of it is designed to asset a Stalinist hold over the party." The letter added: "We are concerned that the parliamentary party is just being used and abused by the leader and his inner circle. They are treating the party as if it is their private property."
Although the anonymous letter was not confirmed as genuine and was suspected by some Tories of being a Labour "dirty tricks" operation, some Tory insiders suggested the views expressed in it were shared by about half of the party's 193 MPs.
There was open defiance of Mr Cameron yesterday by Brian Binley, a Tory backbencher accused of breaking Commons rules by claiming more than £50,000 in rent for a flat owned by one of his own companies. He declared that if he was asked to repay the money by the Tories' scrutiny panel, he would refuse to do so. He said: "I signed a rental agreement for £1,500 a month, which is a very good price in Pimlico – I felt a very good deal for the taxpayer, a very good deal for my family. I did it honestly and properly. This place is not going to criminalise me. I am perfectly happy with everything I've done. I've been honest and open in everything done." Mr Binley could face losing the Tory whip if he refuses to abide by any ruling from the panel.
Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website, said: "Morale in the parliamentary party remains at rock bottom because of the whole expenses saga. The overall negativity of the letter about the Cameron project suggests it is written by unrepresentative malcontents. But the letter shouldn't be completely ignored by Team Cameron. A lot of Tory MPs are very unhappy at the power that they see concentrated in the leader's office."
Mr Cameron acknowledged the disquiet in his own party when he addressed a private meeting on Tuesday. He said the expenses affair was difficult for all MPs and involved "painful decisions" but insisted his party had to tackle the issue head on.
The Tory leader has been meeting groups of his MPs to discuss the controversy in an attempt to allay their fears. His party's scrutiny panel will publish its verdicts next week after assessing the claims by all Tory MPs.
Gordon Brown also came under fire for his record on expenses when Michael Martin made his farewell speech to the Commons yesterday after becoming the first Speaker to be forced out for more than 300 years. Mr Martin, the highest profile victim of the expenses saga, said he regretted the Commons vote in July last year in which MPs decided not to scrap the "John Lewis list" under which they could furnish their second homes. He added: "I wish with all my heart that those recommendations had won the confidence of the House last July. And I wish that party leaders could have shown then some of the leadership which they have shown now."
The affair will reach its climax today when the parliamentary authorities finally publish the censored version of the payments made to all 646 MPs over four years. The information runs to 700,000 pages and includes more than 5,000 computer files. They include receipts and run to between 1,000 and 1,500 pages for most MPs.
But the long-awaited publication will not end the controversy. MPs have had the chance to black out some information from the paperwork on security grounds. So the official version will omit key details such as home addresses which were on the uncensored version obtained by The Daily Telegraph.
Since 8 May, the newspaper has run an almost daily series of stories detailing the claims by most MPs. Its disclosures have resulted in 16 MPs announcing that they will stand down from parliament.
The existence of the original computer disc means that the Telegraph will be able to disclose what has been censored by the Commons authorities. The paper believes that many of the abuses of the system – such as MPs switching or "flipping" their first and second homes to maximise their claims – would never have come to light if the uncensored claims had not leaked. It has had to cross-check the raw data on the claims with other sources such as the Land Registry to reveal how MPs milked the system.
Expenses scandal: 42 days later
Going... Standing down at the next election
Jim Devine Said he had been "hung out to dry" after deselection by Labour and that he had done nothing wrong after claiming £4,500 for rewiring at his Livingstone flat.
Ian Taylor Faced criticism for having a second home in London, rather than commuting from Surrey. He said MPs "should seek to be around locally more than around Westminster".
David Chaytor Claimed around £13,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off. He apologised for what he called an "unforgivable error in accounting procedures".
Elliot Morley Paying back £16,000 he claimed for a "phantom" mortgage. Stood down as chair of a select committee before announcing he would leave the Commons.
Andrew MacKay Voluntarily stepped down as David Cameron's aide after claiming for a second home without appearing to have a main home. Leaving Commons after hostile meeting with constituents.
Margaret Moran The Luton South MP claimed £22,500 for dry rot on second home 100 miles from her constituency. Is repaying the money, despite initially refusing to do so.
Sir Peter Viggers David Cameron immediately condemned him after it emerged he attempted to claim £1,645 for a floating home for his ducks. The Conservative leader demanded he step down.
Anthony Steen Said he thought constituents were "jealous" because he had a "very, very large house" after he was criticised for claiming £87,729 to maintain his country estate.
Douglas Hogg Taxpayers footed the bill for the cleaning of the moat surrounding his country home. The Tory MP also claimed for piano tuning and a housekeeper.
Ben Chapman The first on the Labour benches to step down. Accused of claiming £15,000 for a "phantom" mortgage.
Ian McCartney Said he was leaving for health reasons. But the former Labour chairman repaid £15,000 of expense claims last year, which included champagne flutes.
Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton Leaving the Commons after claiming £120,000 to rent a flat from a trust controlled by their children. Said the fees office had agreed.
Going...? MPs still in trouble over expenses
Brian Binley Claimed £57,000 to rent a flat from his own company. Faces becoming the first Tory to lose the whip if he carries out his threat to refuse to repay money if told to do so.
Jacqui Smith Under pressure from her Redditch constituents after claiming two adult films, watched by her husband, on expenses. Left the Government at the recent reshuffle.
Phil Hope The health minister looks set to lose his marginal seat of Corby after repaying £41,709 in expenses, more than any other MP. Claimed the money for furnishings.
Shahid Malik Minister facing second investigation over expenses by sleaze watchdog after allegations he claimed towards the running of two offices, which he denies.
Alistair Darling Still under pressure after a series of allegations, including that he claimed on multiple second homes. Has said claims were within rules, but is repaying some money.
Nadine Dorries Under pressure from constituents after accusations she only spent free weekends and holidays in main home, allowing her to claim for a second home.
Barbara Follet The Tourism minister claimed more than £25,000 for security patrols at her London home. She denied all wrongdoing, but may lose her seat at the election, which she won with a 3,000-vote majority.
Geoff Hoon Repaying money and apologised after claiming for two second homes at the same time. Stepped down as Transport Secretary ahead of Gordon Brown's recent reshuffle.
Andrew George Liberal Democrat MP under the greatest pressure after claiming expenses on a London flat that was occupied by his daughter. George vehemently defended his actions and denied his daughter lived at the address.
Ian Gibson Barred by Labour from standing again after claiming on the home in which his daughter and her partner were living rent free. Denied selling house below market value.
Michael Martin The Speaker was forced to stand down and quit as an MP after coming under heavy criticism for his handling of the expenses scandal. He had been accused of blocking transparency.