Overheard in Westminster – Expenses, freebies and journalists at war

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Red flag over Minister’s expenses

While I was enjoying a quick pint this week I overheard some discussion about Transport Minister Richard Holden. It seems he was a tad annoyed after he had an expenses request for more than £450-worth of flags turned down by the MP’s independent watchdog.

Turns out that the latest batch of expenses, released this month, revealed a request from the Minister to reimburse £456.04-worth of flags from WWW.FLAGS.CO.UK was blocked by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

To compound the financial faux-pas, Mr Holden appeared to choose Cambridge-based flags.co.uk as his vexillological outlet of choice, despite taking PM Rishi Sunak to a local flag manufacturer in his North West Durham constituency just two weeks after making the expenses claim.

MPs’ spending spree

It seems Minister Holden isn’t the only MP liberally using their Commons credit card.

After combing through the latest batch of expenses data, Beachcomber can reveal Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson expensed a whopping £66.44 on one Pret a Manger order, including crayfish and avocado bowls, a humous and falafel mezze, a smoked salmon protein box, a chicken pesto wrap and a salmon and mango salad bowl. Never say the Liberal Democrats are metropolitan elites.

Shadow Environment Minister Alex Sobel also claimed £18.80 to go for a day out at Bristol Zoo, as part of a trip with the Zoos and Aquarium APPG. It’ll be Chessington World of Adventures next week.

Rishi’s public school donations go private

Amid ongoing allegations he’s too rich and out-of-touch with ordinary voters to lead the country through a cost-of-living crisis, the revelation by Sky News that Rishi Sunak was donating thousands to his old elite boarding school, Winchester, didn’t help matters.

The school’s 2022 magazine – which is free to sweeten the £45,936-a-year tuition fee pill – revealed the then-Chancellor had given over £100,000 to his alma matter.

This year’s magazine sees Mr Sunak’s name quietly disappear from the list of alumni donors.

However, a new ‘anonymous’ donor has been added to the 2023 list. Could the PM have now dug a bigger hole for himself by trying to hide his donations? The No. 10 press team ignored Beachcomber’s requests for clarification.

Foreign secretary’s sartorial swag

They may not like his Brexit deal much but even James Cleverly’s harshest critics cannot deny that he is a man of style.

Champagne receptions, jetting around the world, photo ops with presidents and an ability to avoid the acrimony of Westminster scheming: there’s a reason the job of Foreign Secretary is the most coveted of the ‘Big 4’ Cabinet positions.

Mr Cleverly’s recent visit to Kazakstan won begrudging support from the usually left-wing-dominant Twittersphere thanks to some excellent photo ops featuring Mr Cleverly in full traditional Kazakstani dress, firing bows and arrows and holding a hawk.

The Foreign Secretary’s outfit sparked particular love, and Beachcomber can reveal he managed to nab the outfit – coat and hat included – when the visit was over.

The gilded garb has now made its way safely back to Britain, and the Foreign Secretary’s team are confident the outfit will come in under the £140 limit on ministerial gifts. His next Tory conference speech outfit perhaps?

TalkTV row puts Baker Vs Boris to shame

When Beachcomber saw Steve Baker accuse Boris Johnson of coming across as a “pound shop Nigel Farage” for voting against the Government’s Northern Ireland deal with the EU, he presumed it couldn’t be topped for political punch up of the week.

The ongoing row about Isabel Oakeshott’s leaking of Matt Hancock’s WhatsApps, however, seemingly managed it.

Mrs Oakeshott, despite working for Rupert Murdoch’s NewsUK in her role as TalkTV’s International Editor, decided to leak the 100,000s Hancock messages to the company’s rivals at the Telegraph.

In a new Tatler column explaining the story of the mass leak, Mrs Oakeshott claims there was a “near dust-up” in the TalkTV green room between her husband, Richard Tice, and Sun political editor Harry Cole – who she namelessly describes as “a great bull of a man”.

“It escalated into an unedifying shouting match. Finding me in a sorry state, Richard – a politician and fellow broadcaster – headed off in hot pursuit of the guilty party. There was some talk of ‘stepping outside’ before producers intervened.”

Firing back at the allegations, Mr Cole denied shouting, though concedes “yes I did point out perhaps junior staff at Talk who earn a fraction of the so-called International Editor had every right to feel done over by colleague.”

“And only the toytown-Trump Tice suggested anyone step outside.”

Who needs to watch Succession when the real life thing is so much more entertaining?

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MPs grumble over Boris conga line

A number of MPs were unhappy with the circus around the “Trial of Boris” this week just past mostly his loyal supporters.

But some others were annoyed by the public interest in the event which according to one or two MPs led to “people queuing around the building.”

One former minister blasted: “I couldn’t get my guests in. We had to find a special route in for them.”

Far be it from Beachcomber to criticise MPs but it appears they are often chagrined by voters getting in the way.

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