- 29 Jan 08, 09:27 AM
First an MP is found guilty of paying £50,000 to his "all but invisible" son in what was, at worst, "a serious diversion of public funds."
Then it emerges that he paid his other son and his wife too. So why is Derek Conway not in more trouble? There are many small procedural answers and one very big political reason.
• It is not against the rules for MPs to employ members of their families. Indeed, many MPs defend the employment of their wives (it is, almost always wives) as secretaries on grounds of practicality and keeping marriages together when an MP’s job involves odd hours and travelling between constituencies and Westminster.
• The penalty Conway faces - repayment of up to £13,000 and possible suspension for 10 days - is severe compared with those normally handed out by the Commons.
• There has been no investigation yet into the employment - or lack of it - of his second son.
Now comes the political reason:
• Conway is a popular Tory MP who looked set to be his party's Chief Whip if David Davis had become Conservative leader. He was even talked of as a possible Speaker. Although David Cameron might be tempted to make an example of him he would be taking on a powerful coalition consisting of those who never wanted him to be leader plus the parliamentary old guard who regard questions about their allowances as challenging the assumption that all MPs are "honourable members" until proven otherwise (listen to Roger Gale MP's interview on Today this morning).
This, of course, is precisely why Labour's John Mann MP - who has turned into a professional complainer has called on Cameron to act.