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Fancy dress

Nick Robinson | 10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Breathe easier dear taxpayer. A couple of Vulcans, a bevy of groundhogs, Cherie Blair's paranoia about her hair and Michael Howard's about his "5 o'clock shadow" may have saved you a fortune (see Election make-up costs revealed).

The revelation of how our political parties spend their election funds is likely to have set back the cause of the state financing of politics more than any debate, pamphlet or speech.

By the way, can it really be true - as The Guardian reports - that Tony Blair sought £53.46 for the drive from Number Ten to the Palace on the day he dissolved Parliament? Perhaps this is regarded as party not government business. I think we should be told.


  • 1.
  • At 11:14 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Are we to be shocked that expenses were claimed for items that would be accepted as normal running costs, I for one am not?
Equally money spent on makeup would be considered a norm in this television age; although I would draw the line at eye shadow for the male politicians.
Politicians are equally to blame for their partners bills for hairdressers etc; they and their party would be less than enamoured if their partners appeared as if they had been drawn through a hedge backwards.
It is up to each party to spend their funds as they wish as long as the use is legal and they are not using the public’s tax payments.

  • 2.
  • At 11:29 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Jonathan Hawkings wrote:

What about Tony's fake tan bill? Surely he can't be tanned ALL year round.

  • 3.
  • At 11:31 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • MichaelB wrote:

I hope the contributions spent on hair-dos, makeup, suits, etc are treated as "benefit in kind" and are therefore taxable.
I don't see why the taxpayer should be paying a slice or Cherie'r hair.

I have some great ideas for reducing the need to take increasingly large donations from an ever dwindling number of people......spend less!

It's so simple no party will think of it but it is realistic and it is sensible and it's easily achieved.

A simple, single, shared mailshot on a constituency level would allow all parties to get their message to the voters whilst at the same time reduce the number of bits of paper each party bombards the voters with.

This could be funded by the public and in return for us funding leaflets most of us don't want or read the parties could end their practices of phoning or knocking just as we're about to sit down after a hard day at work and have our long anticipated dinner.

Instead of spending vast sums on billboards and then even more on surveys to see how many people saw and reacted to those billboards those seeking election and re-election could go back to appearing in the local halls before an audience of real local voters and answer their questions.

Sadly however this second idea will never be acted on given that we live in an age when the Prime Minister refuses to answer the media's questions at the launch of his local campaign.

  • 5.
  • At 11:44 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Jeff Parry wrote:

I can't say I'm shocked at the expenses claimed. However I don't believe that haircuts and make-up should be included. The general public cannot claim these things on our own expenses, even when used for work.

With regards to Tony's travel expenses to the Palace I wonder how he got there. Did he use the tube? Did he use his Prime Ministerial car for party business? Did he use his own car?

The Revenue's allowance for travel expense is £0.40 per mile for use of your own car, without a car allowance from your employer. Which way did he go to the Palace?

  • 6.
  • At 11:47 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Matthew Cain wrote:


Your first idea happens in every election.

Your second idea is implemented in many constituencies every election.

But what makes you think that using 19th century campaigning methods (or those used now by takeaway restaurants) would help parties and candidates communicate effectively with voters. Don't we always complain we never hear from politicians?

  • 7.
  • At 11:55 AM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Colin Forbes wrote:

You are right, Nick, in your assertion that the revelations of electoral exp3nses will have set back the cause of state funding of political parties. Rightly so, in my view: there's no reason why every hardworking taxpayer should fund the campaign stunts of self-selecting party activists to get themselves elected. Parties should be funded by their members and their members alone, each making small donations to further their cause. Large donations, which buy influence, should be barred.
The venality of politicians in claiming for their suits, wives' hairdos, make-up etc is a separate issue. It does no harm to have these trivialities exposed when we remember that these same politicians, when in government, are those responsibile for spending millions and billions of taxpayer's money.


>> Your first idea happens in every election.

I can honestly say I've never had one!!

>> But what makes you think that using 19th century campaigning methods (or those used now by takeaway restaurants) would help parties and candidates communicate effectively with voters.

Don't we always complain we never hear from politicians?

How many people really get a chance to ask a condidate - rather than a leaflet deliverer - a question and get a direct response?

It seems to me that many of the post 97 intake of MPs have bypassed the traditional local politics route and arrived via a think tank or research group and thus have little direct experience or knowledge of engaging with 'the man on the ground'.

Bringing them back into the local communities would give us a real chance to hear from them - not the party HQ's PR teams.

  • 9.
  • At 12:09 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Bobby wrote:

I think these sudden revelations about spending are great. I want a complete breakdown of each party's spend on paperclips, and I want it *now*.

  • 10.
  • At 12:11 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Steve N wrote:

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. During a trip to Cornwall a few years ago for the launch of the stratosphere balloon (it didn't happen) three of Jules Botfieldss researchers sat next to us whilst having lunch - they all asked for a copy of the bill - VIVA eating at the Licence payers expense. I'm sure most have some guilty secret lurking under the catch all "expenses" label.

  • 11.
  • At 12:26 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Rona wrote:

We need to keep a close watch on their expenses, many of us need to look neat and tidy for work but cannot claim the price of a haircut or smart clothes back from our employers.
It is all too easy to take things for granted and, if allowed, to get away with unreasonable expense claims.
On this showing the idea that the taxpayer should fund the parties must be laughed out of court.

  • 12.
  • At 12:30 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Josie, Swansea wrote:

What really worrys me about politicians claiming for such trivial every day items is how out of touch they are with reality.
Of course its easy to sleep at night and think the country is doing well if you think that people should have 7k available for a haircut, or that people are likely to earn this amount of money from so few hours work.

  • 13.
  • At 01:03 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • CK Yoe wrote:

Jonathan Hawkins wonders about Tony's fake tan bill. I'm still not sure how to read that: is it Tony's fake tan or his fake bill being questioned? Or both?

  • 14.
  • At 01:27 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • David wrote:

It is important to understand that political parties only do what they think will be effective. They spend money in this way because, by and large, it works. That says more about us, the electorate, than about them. You get the government you deserve!

I was an election agent in 2005, and it was a major eye-opener to see how everything worked - in a good way! The officials who run the election (that I worked with) were amazing. They take it extraordinarily seriously, and run things exactly as you'd hope they would. All expenses at every level have to be published, and there are strict limits on both national spending and local spending. You go to prison if you break these rules. People need to be educated over how campaigns work, as it isn't as bad as they think. They can go and look up election spending for their MP, or for any's all there if you can be bothered. For goodness sake, you can make an appointment with your MP, or send them an email, they are accountable to you!

There are issues over national campaign spending, but people need to realise that the system is much more robust, open and accountable than the media make out. The horror of campaign finance in the US is not possible under our laws. It certainly is the worst system of government, except for all the rest!

  • 15.
  • At 01:45 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Stephen Shephard wrote:

A lot of commenters here seem to have misunderstood this - none of these items have been claimed from the taxpayer. They have all been paid for by the political parties from their own funds. The question of taxpayers' contributions only arises because of the current debate about any future proposal for state funding of parties. As for comments about the venality of politicians claiming for trivialities - if their party has paid for any of these items, then by law we need to be told about it. This is to make sure parties do not spend more money than they are allowed to. Even if a politican spends his or her own money on makeup, for example, for the purposes of an election campaign, this must be declared as election expenditure.

  • 16.
  • At 01:53 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • chris wrote:

It is amazing what expenses politicians will claim - it is even more amazing that a hair cut can be an expense - I am very sure that if Cherie Blair had to pay for her own bad hair day she would have to go down to the local barbers like everyonbe else has to do!

what hasnt been raised is the expense of having to look after our politicians when they reach the grand old age of 65 - namely pensions!

  • 17.
  • At 01:59 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Iain, Edinburgh wrote:

I am starting to come round to the idea of state funding for political parties.

However, any system should be designed to strip out the ridiculous stage-managed excesses that turn people away from politics. Funding should be geared towards grassroots meetings, with the scope for centrally managed events limited to TV party political broadcasts and paid-for newspaper ads. No billboards, no commercials, no helicopters, no battlebuses, no spin doctors. Those who do the work at the grassroots would receive the bulk of the funding instead of the pampered egos which regard political life as their personal kingdom.

The Blair Hair scandal and loans-for-peerages will surely ensure that the public eye is focussed on whatever mechanism is derived by Parliament.

  • 18.
  • At 02:01 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Kyle Williamson wrote:

How about.. if Dave the Chameleon keeps changing colour, how about they settle on being in the black, and you [the Labour Party] can stay being in the red.


  • 19.
  • At 02:02 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • chris wrote:

i think the phrase it's loreal, because im worth it' - springs to mind!

the fact is polticians love to look good even if what they are saying isn't!

if every politician treated money as if it grew on trees then they would be on the streets selling the big issue with only their fake humour for company!

  • 20.
  • At 02:19 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Ruth wrote:

£53.46 for travel to the Palace? Via where? I reckon that's almost 134 miles-worth! Obviously went the scenic route.

  • 21.
  • At 02:28 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • BT in NL wrote:

Isn't politics STILL showbusiness for ugly people? Showbusiness is big(-money) business, even for ugly people.

All the expenditure on costumes, make-up and hair-dos proves that politics is truly "showbusiness for ugly people".

  • 23.
  • At 02:44 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • sean fleetwood wrote:

they are all money grabbing there an argument for barring ANYBODY who wants to be an MP from ever could go for a jury service system instead.....extreme, not practical and but can you imagine the look on the faces of the current mob if it came true??

  • 24.
  • At 02:45 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Alison wrote:

I feel most sorry for the ordinary fundraisers in the Labour Party - they can hardly feel like their hard-earned cash is going to good use, can they?!

  • 25.
  • At 03:59 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • anon wrote:

The politicians' attitude to "election costs" such as Cherie Blair's hair can be summed up in this quote from a Labour spokesperson talking about the subject:

"We won the election didn't we?"

  • 26.
  • At 04:17 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Certainly this puts the likelihood of increased state funding of parties further away but state funding is still there.

I can't see a great problem with parties spending their money how they wish, but I'm glad I don't work for minimum wage and spend time fundraising for Mrs Blair's hairdo.

As for the BBC - that's funded by a tax which I have no control over (unlike party funding) and frankly I think a lot of money the BBC spent during the election was wasted; Michael Crick buzzing around in a helicopter for example.

Political parties open themselves to ridicule because they have to detail all their expenses but the organisation that I am forced to pay for is under no such obligation, and gets very upset when the scale of its own profligacy is revealed.

  • 27.
  • At 04:17 PM on 25 Apr 2006,
  • Joyti wrote:

Maybe the Labour spokesperson who in relation to the 'election costs', said,
"We won the election didn't we?"
should refrain from boasting. Excuse my ignorance but is it not a far worthier cause to pay more attention to state of the people that keep you in power as opposed to the state of cherie's hair! Unless that is Mr.Blair's new motto:


  • 28.
  • At 05:24 PM on 30 Apr 2006,
  • john wrote:

Tony Blair and all the cabinet went out in a submarine. It sank and they were all drowned but Britain was saved.

I tremble for this country.

  • 29.
  • At 05:26 AM on 01 May 2006,
  • Derek Doyle wrote:

A ministerial resignation is one thing, but surely there are the faceless wonders down the road, whose lack of intelligence, and interest in their jobs are the basic cause of this debacle. They presumably will be taking their salaries and pensions without suffering any penalty. One cannot expect a minister to know what happens to every safety pin in the office.

  • 30.
  • At 09:01 AM on 01 May 2006,
  • M. McLaughlin wrote:

Dear Nick,

You have been my favorite reporter for ever so long---but it seems you have gone from reporter to chief defendent of the BBC's broadcast policies! In my view, ever since the Andrew Gilligan affair---and all its nightmare consequences for Greg Dyke et al---, the BBC has indeed been in the pocket of the Labour Government. More crudely, it's as if the BBC has been neutered by Labour.

But whether it has or not, I hope you will stick to just what you do best, report and analyze, and leave
defending the BBC, in the way that you have, to BBC administration.

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