British PM apologises over dog food
LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised Monday after days of revelations about lawmakers' lavish expenses claims, including for dog food, as the spotlight turned onto opposition Conservatives.
Details have emerged of expenses such as lightbulb replacement, cottage decorations and repairs to a water pipe at a tennis court at a country home, while a poll suggested the revelations were having an effect on public opinion.
"I want to apologise on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties for what has happened in the events of these last few days," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a speech to a nurses' conference in Harrogate, northern England. Brown said parliamentarians "have a responsibility to show that people who enter our profession are there to serve the public interest, and not to serve themselves." The prime minister's first apology over the expenses' issue which first hit the media on Friday comes after the leader of the main opposition Conservatives, David Cameron, also urged all lawmakers to say sorry.
Cameron, whose party holds a strong lead over Brown's Labour party in opinion polls, said it was "not good enough" for parliamentarians to claim they were simply following the rules allowing them to claim expenses.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which reportedly paid a six-figure sum to buy the CD containing the previously secret claims, turned its attention to the Conservatives Monday after three days of detailed revelations about Labour.
It revealed Alan Duncan, the Conservatives' leader of the House of Commons, claimed 7,000 pounds (7,800 euros, 10,600 dollars) for gardening services over a two-year period.
Duncan received an official warning from parliamentary authorities over the claim, but was still received more than 4,000 pounds over three years.
David Willetts, the Conservatives' spokesman on innovation and universities, claimed more than 115 pounds for electricians to replace 25 lightbulbs at his second home in London.
The Telegraph noted that Willetts, nicknamed "Two Brains" for his intellect, "couldn't change a lightbulb (or all 25 of them)".
Andrew Lawnsley, who speaks on health issues for the party, claimed 4,000 pounds on decorating a thatched cottage before selling it in an example of the practice of "flipping" properties designated as their second homes.
The change in designation allows for lawmakers to claim allowances for multiple properties from public funds.
In other revelations, Cheryl Gillan, who represents Wales for the conservatives, claimed back the 4.47-pound cost of three packets of dog food.
And Oliver Letwin, in charge of policy review for the party, claimed almost 2,150 pounds for repairs to a leaking water pipe under the tennis court at his country home.
Letwin argued however that the water authorities had ordered him to fix the leak.
Cameron himself emerged unscathed by the revelations, while Brown is still fighting off accusations that he abused the system by paying his brother Andrew 6,000 pounds for arranging cleaning services for his private home.
The prime minister's sister-in-law Clare Brown, writing in the Guardian newspaper Monday, said "the domestic front... wasn't his first priority".
"He definitely needs a cleaner when in London, and it was part of his expenses entitlement," she wrote.
The drip-drip of revelations has led to calls from Brown and Cameron for the expenses system to be overhauled.
But fears that the nature of the hundreds of thousands of claims have undermined public trust in politicians appeared to be supported by an ICM poll for the News of the World newspaper on Sunday.
It showed that 89 percent of respondents said the reputation of MPs had been damaged. The telephone survey of 508 people was conducted between May 8 and 9.