'I have no wish to be represented by a thief'
Hundreds of angry constituents confront Andrew MacKay over his expenses – but he refuses to stand down as their MP
Saturday 23 May 2009
Andrew Mackay's future as an MP was in serious doubt last night when the disgraced Conservative member for Bracknell faced repeated calls for his resignation at a packed constituency meeting.
In front of more than 300 residents in a local church hall, the former senior parliamentary adviser to David Cameron said that he would stand down at the next election and put himself up for reselection by his local constituency party. But the move failed to placate a crowd angry at recent revelations about his expenses claims, who heckled him with cries of "resign" and "give it back, give it back".
Mr Mackay resigned from his post as Mr Cameron's adviser on Thursday after it emerged that he and his wife, the MP Julie Kirkbride, had alternately delegated the two properties they share together as their first and second homes, and were using public funds to pay for them both.
In the last financial year Mr MacKay claimed a total of £23,083 under the additional costs allowance, while Miss Kirkbride claimed £22,575. They also submitted a combined total of almost £1,800 in spouse travel costs.
At the meeting a visibly uncomfortable Mr Mackay admitted: "I made a serious error of judgement. I should have looked at it more carefully. I should have said, 'Does this stand the test of reasonableness?', and I didn't. If I had done you wouldn't be here tonight, and that's why I resigned as David Cameron's adviser."
During the 90-minute discussion, few questions were asked by those present. One constituent told him to resign while another commented: "I've no wish to be represented in the next parliament by a thief." One constituent simply called him a "thieving toad".
In response to repeated requests to pay the money back, Mr Mackay said: "I have to wait for the scrutiny panel to tell me if I have to pay any money back, and if so, how much. But I will pay back whatever they recommend." When faced with audience members quoting the guidelines in the Green Book on expenses and accusing him of flagrantly disregarding them, Mr Mackay replied: "It hadn't occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong, but I now accept that it doesn't look right. I have accepted that completely." Eventually he refused to take any more questions on the issue.
During the meeting one supporter, Tony Pudner, who runs a centre for children with learning difficulties, called Mr Mackay "a good MP" and praised him for his work in the constituency. Another audience member agreed, but added: "This has tainted your entire 26 years. You will have to stand down. You are not capable of doing it any more."
Retired facilities manager Jean Searle told him: "I feel really angry – all that you've done has been wiped away." When he gave no indication that he would be certain to stand down, another commented: "I don't think I can vote Conservative if you're running for office. You've ruined our constituency."
Reverend David Osborn, the former Rector of Bracknell who chaired the event, thanked the audience for expressing themselves "so articulately with so much passion and feeling".
In another meeting last night Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative chief whip and MP for West Derbyshire, also faced down his critics at a church hall in Ashbourne.
Mr McLoughlin – appointed by David Cameron to lead the scrutiny of all Tory MPs' expenses – said he felt as "sick as a dog" when looking into the claims of some of his colleagues. The audience seemed particularly incensed by the behaviour of Anthony Steen, the Tory MP for Totnes in Devon who yesterday said that the anger directed at his claims was motivated by jealousy at the size of his house. Mr McLoughlin said that Mr Steen's actions had been "stupid, ridiculous and beyond belief".
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