An enquiry has been launched following allegations that a front bench minister failed to claim all the expenses he was technically able to claim on a second home. It is believed the MP lives in London, 'a few minutes from Westminster', and so does not own a second home.
'I don't own a second home, so didn't realise I was able to claim expenses for one,' Clive Fortheringay-Smyth, told the Daily Mail yesterday. 'It was an honest mistake.'
But David Cameron launched a withering attack on the MP yesterday in the Commons. 'It is inconceivable,' he said, 'that a politician who's made the ranks of front bench does not understand exactly how MPs expenses work. We are talking about sums of up to £250,000 here. Sums it would have been simple to claim by a very simple distortion of the truth. Either he is woefully incompetent, or he possesses a singular inability to lie. Either way - and I hope the Prime minister will agree - he has proved himself unfit to be a British minister.
Number Ten had earlier defended the MP, saying, 'We don't condone MPs having only one home, especially during these recessionary times when expenses could be being used to help hard pressed kitchen and bathroom companies, and prop up spending on widescreen TVs. However this is a matter for the MP and his family themselves.'
But as pressure mounted, Gordon Brown appeared to be on the back foot, his support cooling. In his reply to Cameron he said, 'We in the Labour party do understand the requirement for MPs to act, and be seen to act, in a manner commensurate with their position. If these allegations - and I must stress they are only allegations at this stage - turn out to be true, then it appears Mr Fotheringay-Smyth has not acted in this way.'
Mr Brown's rebuke came after a blistering attack by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in the Telegraph, where she went even further than David Cameron, blasting the MP as a 'clear and present danger to the freedoms and way of life we in British politics hold dear. This may not simply be about an innocent inability to lie, steal or cheat, but deliberate refusal to. If that is the case, he may represent,' she states 'a fifth column in British politics, an enemy within, attempting to undermine the capitalism and democracy we hold dear. As such, we have arranged for the police to raid his office looking for terrorist or communist literature and will ensure he is tracked at all times.'
Mr Fotheringay-Smyth hit back branding Smith's proposals "an utter waste of taxpayers' money.'
The Parliamentary Right to Privileges Committee will examine the allegations. It's believed they will also look at whether owning only one home may be in breach of the requirement for MPs to "Lord it over their constituents in every possible way", brought in by Lord Mandelson in 2004.