Sunday, April 30, 2006

Shaun? We have been!

A story in today's Observer rather puts all those expensive government campaigns to catch benefit cheats in perspective. I heard about a guy once on invalidity, who claimed housing benefit to pay for his council flat, then let the flat to someone else, having moved in with a girlfriend.
A proper villain!

How does that compare with Labour MP Shaun Woodward? He "represents" St.Helens, the glassworks town and former mining area on Merseyside, not exactly known as a seat of affluence. But as the Observer piece, by Gaby Hinsliff and Conal Walsh, observes:

"As a multi-millionaire by marriage, it is hardly surprising that Shaun Woodward should boast a property portfolio to make his fellow ministers envious. Over the years, he and his wife have been able to shuttle between the handsome mansion a stone's throw from Westminster (since sold to Sting); the Wren-style pile in rural Oxfordshire, complete with organic farm; and lately the home in the Hamptons, summer playground of New York's wealthiest families. What many may find a little more startling is the knowledge that the taxpayer is contributing to his desirable lifestyle.
( "He's worth millions. And we're all paying for his London home", Observer, April 30)

Married to a member of the Sainsbury supermarket family, Woodward
used to be Tory MP for Witney, in Oxfordshire. Sacked from the Tory front-bench by William Hague (for refusing to oppose repeal of the anti-gay local government clause 28), he saw the light of Tony Blair's "New Labour" vision and crossed the floor of the House of Commons. Rather than stand for Labour in Witney he was rewarded with the safe working-class Labour seat of St.Helens South. Last year he became a junior minister in the Northern Ireland office, where he has been responsible for the popular measure of raising water charges.

Last year Mr.Woodward claimed £20,092 - to the penny, the maximum allowed by Commons authorities - in 'additional costs allowance', the fund designed to allow MPs to maintain a second home so that they can carry out their parliamentary duties between constituency and Westminster. Well, it is an expensive business.

As the Observer report explains:
"The money does not go towards his constituency home in St Helens - a modest redbrick terrace bought without a mortgage for only £55,000 - but to his rather more expensive apartment on London's fashionable South Bank. Woodward counts his main residence not as that in his constituency, but his family home in Oxfordshire, where he used to hold the seat of Witney as a Tory before crossing the floor. There is no suggestion that Woodward has broken Commons rules, which allow MPs to stipulate whichever home they wish to fund via the allowance"

The Observer tells us:.
"Woodward's entry on the register of members' interests includes rents from flats in London and France; an estate in Oxfordshire - Sarsdens House is thought to have been sold earlier this year for a rumoured £25m; a plot of land in the West Indies; and a home in New York state. In addition, he and his wife, Camilla, own the house in St Helens. Land registry records show his south London apartment was bought with a mortgage for £1.35m. As a Northern Ireland minister, he also has the use of rooms at the official residence of Hillsborough Castle. Last night Woodward insisted he had done everything according to the rules: 'Everything is done through accountants and I am scrupulous about every bill and every receipt. It is entirely legal, appropriate and double-checked by lawyers.',,1764618,00.html

Shaun Woodward's wife Camilla Sainsbury, daughter of Tory MP Tim Sainsbury, is said to have a personal fortune of £100 million. Shaun owns shares in Sainsbury PLC. On top of his salary as an MP he received £348,057 in MP;s expenses alone between 2001 - 2004, and now receives £90,000 a year as a Minister in Northern Ireland. But keeping up expensive properties isn't all, he is said to be the only Labour MP to have a butler.

According to the Observer, Woodward's successor in Witney, Tory leader David Cameron, has joked about how he could see the spires of Woodward's home from his cottage. Looking at it another way, were we able to gaze with the minister from the windows of one of his stately homes, we might be reminded of a line in Mike Leigh's film "Career Girls" when his eponymous heroines are being shown over a penthouse flat looking down on London's docklands: "I bet on a clear day you can see the class struggle".



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