Categories
Government

Is the Busman’s holiday over for UK MPs?

All aboard! (Photo: eddiedangerous/flickr)
All aboard! / Photo: eddiedangerous, flickr)

Having returned from the UK for a short break and being bombarded with increasingly extraordinary claims by our MPs for expenses I thought the ISN blog would benefit from some insights into the worst, most ridiculous and decidedly unfortunate examples.

The worst:

  • Former Conservative MP Derek Conway paid his sons Henry and Freddie £80,000, and although after investigation he paid back £16,860, further enquires found that he made payments totaling £260,000 to his immediate family over a six year period.
  • Five Sinn Fein MPs who refuse to sit in Westminster because they will not swear an allegiance to the Queen claimed over £500,000 in expenses for renting three properties in Westminster at three times the market rate according to local estate agents.
  • Labour MPs Alan and Ann Keen took out a joint life insurance policy worth £430,000 and then claimed back the £867.57 monthly premiums on their expenses.

The most ridiculous:

  • An unnamed Conservative MP claimed £380 for more than 500 bags of horse manure.
  • Another Conservative MP, David Willets, claimed £115 to have 25 light bulbs changed by an electrician for his second property.
  • Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne claimed £82.35 for the mounting, framing and inscription of a photo of himself – not for his constituency office but for one of his seven homes.

And the rather unfortunate:

  • Labour immigration minister Phil Woolas claimed £2.67 for feminine hygiene products and £15 for a lady’s blouse. Arguably his worst mistake was not realizing that he could have tagged these ‘personal costs’ onto his £400 monthly food allowance and saved himself the embarrassment. That was an error carefully avoided by many MPs who make the full food allowance claim even during recess when they are unlikely to be away from their main homes.
  • Labour MP Jacqui Smith’s husband claimed two blue movies on her expenses and expected the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Should MPs be able to claim thousands of pounds for televisions, stereo equipment and swimming pool cleaning, and be able to submit claims for sundry expenses up to the value of £250 without receipts? I don’t think so. Is an MPs ability to do his job enhanced by having a 42 inch Sony TV rather than one from a less ‘prestigious’ manufacturer? Again it is hard to argue that brand names contribute to productivity.

But it is the ways in which MPs have managed to subvert the rules for their own advantage which grates most strongly with me. The Telegraph has published an overview of the ways MPs have played the system – for instance by renovating properties with taxpayer money and selling them at a profit.

Here is what other bloggers are saying about this issue:

Categories
Intelligence International Relations Government Security

BBC Monitoring @the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr
BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr

I had a chance to visit with the good folks at the BBC Monitoring booth at the ISF conference. For those of you unfamiliar with BBC Monitoring, they are the branch of the BBC that acquires and translates raw news and other reports from around the world.

They have been doing this since 1939 and made their intial fame in WWII translating German news broadcasts. Since then, they have grown substantially and now provide translation services in over a hundred languages through their subscription service.

I had the great good fortune to be asked to give a speech at the BBC Monitoring HQ (see image to right) a number of years ago and, as a result, I got a chance to actually see their operation. It is quite impressive. They pull in info from all over the world and rapidly and professionally translate and distribute in whatever form you want.

Conceptually, at least, it is pretty straightforward and simple. What makes BBC Monitoring different is that they are so frightfully good at it. Want an example? Check out their case study of last year’s Georgia crisis.

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF!

Categories
Intelligence International Relations Security

Liveblogging the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods
Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods

All this week I am in Geneva, Switzerland attending the International Security Forum (ISF). The ISF is a biennial conference designed to discuss “ways to increase communication and cooperation between institutions engaged in research related to international security worldwide.

The conference this year has a strong (for me, at least) intel orientation. The theme is “Coping With Global Change” and the whole first day will be dedicated to the question: which new challenges are looming over the horizon? (Uhhh…that’s our job, isn’t it?)

The conference has a really interesting line-up of speakers and panels. For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, and Deputy Director for Energy and Environmental Security in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintel at the Department of Energy, Carol Dumaine, will make two of the keynote speeches.

I am here as a guest of the wonderful people at The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) and The Center For Security Studies CSS, two of the many sponsors of the forum. My own modest contribution to the event is a short presentation on “Open Sources And The Death Of The Intelligence Cycle” (Yes, you read that right — death. And if it is not dead yet, by the end of my presentation, people are going to want to kill it…).

I am going to lug my computer around with me and see if I can do a bit of live-blogging. I will probably not be able to cover most of the panels as Chatham House Rules are in effect but, as with all good European conferences, there are lengthy coffee and lunch breaks and I may be able to corner a few people and capture their insights for you.

As always when I cover these type events, if you look at the schedule and see something or someone interesting, drop me a note or post a comment and I will try to sit in on the presentation or get a few words with the speaker, at least.

Categories
International Relations Audio/Video

1948-1953: Psychology of Hope in Propaganda Films

In early May London’s Barbican Centre showed its audience the lost and re-discovered propaganda films of the Marshall Plan.

Produced between 1948 and 1953 these films taught the wider Western European public about democratic values and free trade market principles.

The Barbican screening was made possible through the Selling Democracy Project, curated by Sandra Schulberg and Ed Carter.

For all propaganda film nostalgics out there: Some of the films shown at the Barbican’s are also viewable online, via the Film Archive of the German Historical Museum. All available material comes with valuable English descriptions.

Air of Freedom is one of the propaganda films available in the German Historical Museum archive
Air of Freedom is one of the propaganda films available in the German Historical Museum archive

And yet another “vraie trouvaille”, free of charge: The German Newsreel Archives.
The archives are in the process of being set up, but so far 6044 items can be called up.

Screenshot: German Historical Museum Film Archive.

Categories
Journalism

The Cynicism of Objectivity

The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr
The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr

In the metamorphosing world of journalism, whether a reporter is objective or subjective is no longer the main question. Today, with news agencies and media outlets of all sorts simply regurgitating each others’ work, readers no longer need concern themselves with whether something they are reading is objective or not: that is decided for them by pre-fabricated news that is passed off as reporting and analysis, sold in bulk and distributed by lazy journalists who can hardly be called reporters around the world.

So, having dismissed today’s journalism with a disappointed shrug of the shoulders, here is something completely different: A column by Paul Rogers of openDemocracy that pretends to be reports from a previously unknown consulting firm called the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH), based in tribal Pakistan, where they ostensibly hunker down in tents with full IT communications and have access to representatives of al-Qaida, Washington and London – all at the same time. (I regret to admit that I fell for this – and am aware that others have as well). Despite the hilarity of the idea, whose cynicism even this great cynic found shocking, this experiment by the ever-creative Paul Rogers was believable for a number of reasons: