A Conservative MP Caroline Dinenage has been attacked in the Telegraph today by Labour’s John Mann for sending cards featuring the Palace of Westminster to unwell constituents or their bereaved families.
But the Labour MP failed to mention that the extra cost is an oddity of Parliamentary accounting, and that he spends well over four times as much as Caroline Dinenage on writing to constituents.
Miss Dinenage bought a set of cards from the House of Commons shop for just £3.95 and put it on her taxpayer-funded expenses. According to a spokesman for the MP they “were sent out very occasionally in cases where the constituents circumstances made a formal reply inappropriate”. This suggestion is borne out by the fact that the pack contained just three cards.
The cards were used in cases of parents who wrote in about their children who had died and other examples of people who were very ill. Since 2010 the rules on expenses have changed so that postage, envelopes and letterheads are all still paid for by the House of Commons but things like cards are paid for by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
This means that in the latest expenses publication, visitors to IPSA’s website can clearly see the £3.95 claim for cards by Dinenage but not the whopping £8395.08 spent on letters and postage by John Mann MP. The postage figures are instead on the House of Commons website and they show that in the period Mann claimed over £8k, Dinenage spent just £1786.95.
Mr Mann’s claim of £8395.08 is remarkably close to the total to the limit of £8600 that MPs can spend each year in this area. Whilst there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, some MPs have been accused of using their entire budget up every year so they can send out more mail during the election.
This is possible because MPs can order envelopes with stamps printed on and these can be used at any time because they have no ‘use by date’. The number sent out is not monitored. Whilst it is not against the rules to stockpile envelopes, they cannot be used for unsolicited mail like newsletters.
It would be very hard to prove that MPs are doing such things, but it would end up costing the taxpayer money. It is also unfair to rival, non-incumbent candidates who do not benefit from the taxpayer-funded envelopes, and instead have to either raise large sums for postage or deliver letters themselves.
When contacted by Breitbart London, John Mann said that all envelopes are used on “official Parliamentary casework, without exception. None are stockpiled and use towards an election tends to decrease not increase.