UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

MPs and the property market: an uneasy pairing

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BRITAIN-ELECTION/Would you have an MP for a tenant? Not so long ago, those two letters placed after a person’s name were seen as a mark of respectability, but the unending drama of the expenses scandal has blown all that away.

New rules, brought in after revelations last year about MPs “flipping” their main and second homes to maximise allowances, stipulate that MPs can no longer buy second homes and claim mortgage payments on expenses. If they wish to claim expenses related to a second home, they will have to be content with renting one.

This has led to a flurry of activity by real estate agents in areas of London close to Westminster. With 232 new MPs taking their seats, many of whom represent constituencies outside the capital, the agents have scented an opportunity. In Kennington, a south London neighbourhood that is popular with MPs because it’s only a short walk or bus ride away from the Houses of Parliament, residents have been inundated with leaflets urging them to consider renting out their properties to members of the untainted new Commons intake.

Some of the leaflets seek to allay any fears of scandal that may dissuade prospective landlords fearful that a crowd of journalists could show up outside their property one morning or that they might find a photograph of it splashed all over the front pages. Don’t fret, the leaflets say, we know that there are new expense rules in place and we can guarantee everything will be above board.

Is it time to give Guy Fawkes a break?

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BRITAIN/It’s bonfire night, and once again poor old Guido gets it.

Up and down the country he will be burned in effigy for the dastardly crime of trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament over 400 years ago.

But wait — after all the moats, duck houses and house-flipping of the past 12 months, should it not now be conceded that he might have had a point, even if his methods were a little extreme?

Clouds of change: Buzzwords from conference season

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dave1Opposition leader David Cameron has delivered his speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester.******Cameron told delegates there would be “painful” cuts in public spending, promised to send more troops to Afghanistan and stressed the importance of confronting “Labour’s debt crisis.” He also pledged to modernise the pension system, “break the cycle of welfare dependency” and cut back on bureaucracy to make life easier for entrepreneurs.******Cameron’s speech brings conference season to an end. Leaders of the three main parties — Cameron, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats — have all laid out their plans for Britain ahead of a general election due by June 2010.******The ‘word clouds’ below have been generated using the complete texts from each of the leaders’ keynote conference speeches, in the order they were given. At first glance there are some striking similarities and fascinating overlaps — but we will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.******How did you think each of the leaders performed? Who did you find the most convincing? Is David Cameron ready to lead the country?******Keywords from Nick Clegg’s speech:******cleggwordcloud2****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******Keywords from Gordon Brown’s speech:******brownwordcloud3****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******Keywords from David Cameron’s speech:******cameronwordcloud

Tabloid trickery versus the right to know

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Probity is Britain’s new watchword. After filleting the bankers over their salaries and bonuses and excoriating MPs for fiddling their expenses we’ve now turned our attention to the antics of journalists.

The News of the World (NOTW) has frequently embarrassed politicians, vicars, footballers and celebrities, but the Sunday red-top is currently itself the target of an expose by a broadsheet.

MPs shoot themselves in foot over expenses

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The online release of MPs’ expense claims has only served to further dent their already battered reputation.

Forty-two days after the Daily Telegraph began to investigate MPs’ expenses the Houses of Parliament finally got round to publishing official details of them. Or rather it didn’t, as lots of key information was blacked out.

Time for the people to decide on Britain’s democratic future?

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Britain’s embattled political class are falling over themselves to modernise parliament, but given we have fully embraced the Internet age the proposals have a rather tame feel about them.

Gordon Brown’s latest proposals for “democratic renewal” — the reform of MPs expenses and an elected House of Lords to name but two — could hardly be described as Parliament 2.0.

Labour MPs reprieve humble Brown – for now

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Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meetings are usually drab affairs. The leader turns up, listens to a few grumbles from backbench MPs, a few reporters hang around outside hoping to grab a half-decent quote and in the end a Labour apparatchik puts a rose-tinted spin on proceedings.

Not so on Monday night, one of those rare “crunch time” events for a party leader that creates such a frenzy inside and outside the venue. Parliament’s committee room 14 was so full one MP of robust stature tried to force not one, but two doors in an attempt to get in, and ended up with a sore shoulder. Veteran party member Greville (now Lord) Janner, a member of the Magic Circle, gave up trying to get in and instead entertained reporters with a couple of magic tricks. His skills may have been of more use on the other side of the door.

MPs’ expenses — worse than cash for questions?

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Britain’s anti-sleaze chief Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has said the MPs’ expenses scandal is worse than the infamous cash for questions affair that did so much damage to the John Major adminstration in the 1990s.

In that celebrated scandal, which fatally undermined Tory MP Neil Hamilton’s political career, Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed alleged he had paid two MPs to table parliamentary questions on his behalf.

What would be YOUR best job in the world?

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British charity fundraiser Ben Southall is preparing to begin the “best job in the world” – caretaker of an Australian tropical island — after winning a highly publicised contest this month.

The job involves exploring the islands of the Great Barrier Reef for six months and reporting back to Tourism Queensland and the world via blogs, a photo diary, video updates and interviews. If he feels like it, he can feed the fish, collect the mail and clean the pool, all at a salary of about 74,000 pounds.

Reaction to Brown’s 42-day detention vote victory

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armedpolicemanlondon-tobymelville.jpg Gordon Brown may have won the 42-day detention vote, but the victory was ”hollow”, ”shameful” or “tactical”, depending on which newspaper you read. 

Under the headline “Westminster for Sale”, The Times said Brown had humiliated parliament with a victory secured through bribery and bartering.

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