Ruth Kelly has issued an overnight apology for spending part of her parliamentary communications allowance on a constituency newsletter that, in clear breaches of guidance, boasts of Labour Government achievements. The guidelines state that "no party political or campaigning material is allowable in any part of a publication funded, in whole or in part, from the allowances."
Mrs Kelly told the newspaper that broke the story - The Mail on Sunday - that she apologised unreservedly. Her autumn newsletter includes the following sentences:
- “This reaffirms Labour’s commitment to investing in the NHS”
- “The Labour Government has invested so much in improving early years’ services"
- It boasts of “the difference made by Labour’s commitment to investing in and modernising our NHS"
- It includes the slogan from her website “Your NHS. Better with Labour”
- It also promotes the work of Bolton West Labour Party.
David Davies MP has written to the Serjeant at Arms to complain of these abuses.
Mrs Kelly is not the only offender. CCHQ has identified other leaflets - paid for by taxpayers - but which appear to be in breach of parliamentary guidelines:
- "Bridget Prentice, a Minister for Justice, has the Labour Party logo on every page of her newsletter – and even includes a photo of her local Labour Party HQ.
- Gisela Stuart, majority 2,349, also uses the Labour Party’s colours across the entire leaflet, including photographs with Gordon Brown and claims Gordon Brown is ‘delivering a fair deal for pensioners today’.
- Julie Morgan includes a section in her leaflet celebrating the arrival of ‘a new Prime Minister’ who has seen ‘many testing occasions’ as well as pointing out she supported Harriet Harman for Labour’s Deputy Leadership."
There are also problems with Labour MPs' websites. Andrew Mackinlay publishes press releases attacking the Conservative Party – linked from his main news page. Janet Anderson's website boldly displays Labour party logos and does not acknowledge that the site is taxpayer-funded.
Commenting Francis Maude said:
“The Communications Allowance was deliberately created to enable sitting Labour MPs to protect themselves against their democratic opponents. This is further evidence of how Labour voted through taxpayers’ cash to bankroll their political campaigning in marginal seats. If Gordon Brown is serious about restoring trust in politics, he should scrap this unfair Allowance now”.
Lord Ashcroft and his beneficiaries have contended that his and others' financing of Conservative candidates in marginal seats is a necessary counterweight to the huge advantage enjoyed by incumbent MPs - at taxpayers' expense. Even without the abuses identified by CCHQ, these leaflets give a huge boost to incumbents and thus produce a very unlevel playing field.
Ruth Kelly's offending newsletter - please click on the graphic to enlarge.