The day Tory 'wife and mum' stopped juggling
Julie Kirkbride follows her husband and stands down as MP over expenses claims
Julie Kirkbride finally realised yesterday morning that her spirited fight to save her parliamentary career was doomed.
On Wednesday – with full backing from David Cameron and Conservative Central Office – she had launched her futile attempt to ride out the gathering storm over her parliamentary expenses.
She recorded a defiant television interview vowing to stand at the next election and penned a newspaper article arguing that her complicated expenses arrangement were aimed at combing her work as an MP "with my life as a wife and a mum".
The fightback was to set to continue yesterday with a radio phone-in and a series of appearances on the doorsteps of her Bromsgrove constituency.
A senior Tory press officer was dispatched to the Worcestershire town to lay the ground for Ms Kirkbride's re-appearance. But the 48-year-old MP's resolve crumbled after she woke yesterday to new headlines that she used public cash to extend her flat to build a bedroom for her brother Ian, who was living rent-free in the property.
Other claims were in the pipeline. Reports were surfacing that she employed her the wife of her constituency chairman as her secretary in Bromsgrove – and was using her daughter as a paid nanny.
Meanwhile, reporters were examining the family's other property interests. A public meeting designed to force her resignation was planned for Sunday by a determined group of "Julie Must Go" campaigners.
Ms Kirkbride went ahead with the radio interview – still blaming the pressures of juggling career and family – and then decided that there was no end in sight to her travails. After speaking to her husband Andrew Mackay – who was also forced to announce his own resignation just six days ago – she rang Mr Cameron.
Both senior party sources and friends of the couple insist it was entirely her decision to bow out, although the Conservative leader made no attempt to change her mind.
Party insiders acknowledged the succession of torrid headlines were chipping away at her survival chances, but maintained that Mr Cameron shared her determination to carry on.
One party figure said: "We had fully expected her to be in Bromsgrove and were ready to help out however we could. But she clearly had a change of heart overnight."
Ms Kirkbride has denied any wrongdoing. In a letter to the Tory leader, she wrote: "I truly understand people's anger about MPs' expenses, but I have been subject to a barrage of distorted press stories which I have sought to rebut. As you said yesterday, I gave a good account of myself.
"But the fact that I am still defending myself and my family two weeks after Andrew stepped down as your adviser has now become an unbearable pressure."
Mr Cameron responded to Ms Kirkbride, telling her she had "given full answers to the questions that have been put to you, and you have given a good account of yourself".
He said urgent reform to the expenses system was essential, but added: "It is also extremely important that part of that reform should include better ways of enabling women to combine the roles of politician and mother."
Although Ms Kirkbride was regarded as a conscientious and approachable MP in her Bromsgrove constituency, her decision was widely welcomed by her electors yesterday.
It came after a tumultuous fortnight for Mr Mackay and Ms Kirkbride that was prompted by the disclosure that they had claimed second-homes expenses on different properties.
The couple had used £170,000 in allowances to fund both the homes where they had lived for more than four years. Mr Mackay stood down as Mr Cameron's aide and was then also forced to announce his resignation as the MP for Bracknell.
Attention then switched to his wife, with reports that her brother Ian was living rent-free in the family home. She responded that he cared for her son and undertook constituency work.
It then emerged that she employed her sister, Karen, as her £12,000 secretary, despite the fact she lived in Dorset, more than 100 miles from Bromsgrove.
Mr Cameron stood by her throughout, with the crucial qualification that she had some "questions to answer". But until the last moment he was loath to lose an articulate and telegenic female MP from his ranks.
Dear David, Dear Julie,
Kirkbride to Cameron:
Today I am announcing that I will not seek re-election for my Bromsgrove constituency. My principal concern has to be for my very loyal local supporters in Bromsgrove whose trust in me has been very humbling in the last few weeks. I also must take into account the effects on my family.
I truly understand people's anger about MPs' expenses, but I have been subject to a barrage of distorted press stories which I have sought to rebut.
As you said yesterday, I gave a good account of myself. But the fact that I am still defending myself and my family two weeks after Andrew stepped down as your adviser has now become an unbearable pressure.
Cameron's reply to Kirkbride:
Thank you for being so frank and candid. I know this was a very hard decision for you to take, but I completely understand why you have decided to do so... In terms of your own case, you have given full answers to the questions that have been put to you, and you have given a good account of yourself.
The housewife who brought her down
The Bromsgrove housewife who brought down Julie Kirkbride said yesterday: "This is not mob rule, it's about a community standing as one." Louise Marnell, 43, mother of four children, was the driving force behind the "Julie Must Go" campaign and collected 4,000 names on a petition calling for their MP's resignation.
Senior Tories have accused her of being a stooge of the far-left. Her fellow campaigner, Mark France, is known locally as an activist in the Respect Party, but he says that he resigned from Respect this week, and that she was never a member. Ms Marnell said: "I have nothing whatsoever to do with any political party, and never have had." She has stressed that she has lived all her life in Bromsgrove, which was also home to several generations of her family.
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