Tory MP says it was OK to bill taxpayer for his 500 tree forest, critics are "jealous" of his private forest

People outside of the UK might have missed the huge scandal over MPs' expenses -- basically, it turns out that Members of Parliament have been billing the public for all kinds of crazy things, including mortgages that they'd already paid off, maintenance on their moats (I shit you not) and pools, tampons (for male MPs), private security details, and so on. Most MPs have fallen over themselves to apologize for their unethical behavior.

Not Tory MP Anthony Steen.

Steen billed the taxpayer for maintenance of his 500-tree forest, upkeep of which was apparently necessary to the conducting of his duties at Parliament.

Steen says that constituents who resent their tax money going to pay for his forest are "just jealous."

After pondering the question of exactly why people were so angry over his claim for the treatment of 500 trees in the grounds of his house, he offered a succinct explanation today : "Jealousy".
Expenses row: MP who claimed for 500 trees accuses constituents of 'jealousy'


  1. On the one hand that is terribly unethical, on the other hand I’m thrilled that that sort of person still exists.

  2. If they toss out every MP who cheated, the Queen will be running the government until the next election. Every day there’s a new story about an MP who claimed for a mortgage on a house that was paid off five years ago. Why don’t they just get a flat allowance? The current system encourages private forests and moats.

  3. That he was allowed to claim for 500 trees is worse than actually doing it. I don’t get why the scandal has stuck to MPs only, and not the department who signed off on their expenses.

    Why can’t we have openly published expenses, it is taxpayer’s money after all? Instead of the current mire of documents one has to wade through to see what MPs are claiming for.

    I think it might be a tactical move. Give the public a few of the ‘bad apples’ in lieu of any actual change in regulation, and they can go back to their old tricks in a few years.

  4. @Antinous:

    Crawley will still be OK, from the article:

    The MP for Crawley gave up her rented London flat last year because she said the “annual cost did not sit comfortably with me” … and has only made one claim for personal goods in 2007/08, under £20″

    I agree, the problem is the system.

  5. #1 and #8: I didn’t think there could be anyone more clueless than Steen, but you proved me wrong!

  6. I have long known that British [Insert any major developed power here; i.e American] politics is equally, if not more corrupt than so called undeveloped countries we sneer at.

  7. This nasty piece of works thinks he’s inherently superior to the peasantry. In a BBC interview about the electorate wanting to know how MPs spend public (ie taxpayers’) money, he actually said : “What right has the public got to interfere in my private life?” Unbelievable. He’s also a long standing opponent of the Freedom of Information Act – although his party leader has now made him read out a statement of support for FoI. (Hopefully as a prologue to having him dragged away to a deep, dark hole.)

  8. The main problem is the way the system evolved over time. It started as a quite modest allowance but continual increases (including a huge jump of 6k in 2001) led it to being treated as a pay rise.
    The system is ‘allowances’ not ‘expenses, so they only need to say “I spent…” and do not have to say “because”.

    They were all encouraged (though by whom I wonder) to claim for everything, so what we see is the ‘receipted’ part of where they spent their (in total quite generous) salary.
    If you remember that they were all treating it as an extended salary and not an expense account you start to see why most of them saw nothing wrong in it.

    I have less of a problem with them spending money on things that actually exist because at least the money went somewhere and it doesn’t involve deception. If someone tells me that I am supposed to be maxing out the claims then yes, I’m going to be getting moats and chandeliers and duck-houses and a bigger boat.

    We shouldn’t throw them all out just yet. Focus on those whose claims involved deception (the phantom mortgages, or used them to make money for themselves (swapping ‘residence’ designations or claiming for places they didn’t use).

    Better to give them all a straight salary with simple adjustments for travel/accommodation (all unconditional) and require that receipts are provided for half of what they are paid. Anything else and nobody would take the job.

  9. The guillotine may be too good for these kinds of people.

    IMHO politicians should be paid the median salary of their country. Plus an allowance for a small bedsit somewhere on the outskirts of the city and then they can ride the tube in to work like everybody else.

  10. That’s nothing, I’ve claimed for a castle, a shark tank, a truffle farm, and a whip.

    I bet he’s jealous of me now!

  11. Little known fact, especially amongst the howling mob screeching about how politicians earn more than they do, is that their salary’s been frozen since the 70s. It was always thought too politically embarrassing for MPs to be seen to be voting themselves inflation adjustment rises. Therefore the ACA – Additional Costs Allowance – was introduced. Note the word “ALLOWANCE”. It was £24K per year that was GIVEN TO THE MPs.

    Now, there’s some fascinating sociological detail in what they spent it on, but TBPH the current furore almost makes me physically ill. How much are those Daily Telegraph hacks paid? How about you? Remember, you’ve got nothing to fear unless you’d be embarrassed by screaming 144pt headlines trumpeting some detail of your finances.

    Oh, and of course the final irony in all this is that the leaked information was being collated for publication BY PARLIAMENT ITSELF in July this year, because Parliament passed a Freedom of Information Act a decade or so ago.

    I’ve never had more contempt and revulsion for the British press than I’ve felt in the last couple of weeks.

  12. @IMIPAK

    So your saying they were too gutless to give themselves the pay they wanted, so they created a backdoor into the till and then shrouded it in language like “necessarily incurred [..] for the purpose of performing their parliamentary duties” to make it sound more uplifting than it actually was. Nothing wrong with that (!)

    Who cares what a journalist makes, they aren’t payed by the taxpayer. They also aren’t expected to be above reproach.

  13. @IMPAK
    I’m afraid the MPs attitude to the Freedom of Information act was that it applied to everyone except ‘us MPs’. I remember writing to my MP just a few months ago asking him to vote against the latest attempt to stop the expenses info being released. The reason that we are getting the information from a politically biased newspaper is because MPs still have not provided it. As to the excuse that it was a secret pay rise — that leaves us with the unedifying spectacle of MPs setting a pay restraint in public while secretly giving themselves a pay rise called ‘allowances’. In simple terms: lying.

  14. Apparently Steen is already on a warning from the Tory party, one more interview like that and he’s out. Pretty unbelievable stuff although my jaw dropped when I saw another MP questioned on the news last night, he had apparently claimed for a mortgage on a property that didn’t exist. He claimed it was a mistake – here’s the exchange, it’ from memory but I swear it’s accurate:

    Interviewer – So you’re saying you put the wrong address on the form by mistake?
    MP – Yes
    Interviewer – But… 23 times?
    MP – Yes, that’s right
    Interviewer – How could you possibly write the wrong address 23 times?
    MP – Well no-one told me I had put the wrong one done the first time so I kept doing it.

    The interviewer was gobsmacked and the MP seemed icapable of understanding how anyone could think he’d been a bad boy.

    Has to be said though, the last word on the whole subject went to John Oliver on the Daily Show last night (two nights ago in the US). I was cracking up by the end of his speech/tirade, it was just genius :-)

  15. “To assume that if given wealth and power you would not behave like the rich and powerful is to assume that you would remain sober after drinking all day.”

    “The poor and weak are just like the rich and powerful, except they don’t have any more or power”

    To be honest, I more admire the sheer dogged expanse of the fraud going on here than anything else. They just seem to claim EVERYTHING. Waugh would be proud.

  16. I agree with #1 and #8. This level of arrogance and sense of entitlement towards the peasants is hilarious. “Moat maintenance,” especially, is Monty Pythonesque.

    And hey: “Still less corrupt than Russia.”

  17. Yeah, Yeah. The rich get richer, people with power take advantage of power and everyone else gets screwed. Blah, blah, blah.
    Wake me when you have monkeys (MONKEYS!)

  18. You can help your MP understand the public outrage over this by simply asking them to imagine how outraged they’d be if some welfare mom bought steaks at the market.

    Yeah, Tony – we’re jealous of bank robbers, too.

  19. @ #11 imipak:

    If you can’t get a pay rise because voters wouldn’t like it, why is it ok to give yourself an allowance and then treat it like a pay rise? This is not poor MPs trying to get by, this is having your cake and eating it.

  20. I’m not English, but I’m extremely jealous of this douchebag’s smirk. He even looks villainous.

  21. What about the MP who claimed expenses to have his moat cleaned or the one who claimed expenses for building a ‘duck island’ is his pond/lake to protect his ducks from foxes. You can’t make it up . Off with their heads…

  22. I appaud him for his honesty. Because I’m certain that the rest of the apologizing little turds think the same, they’re simply too spineless to admit it.

  23. I have no time for people who claim to act with the highest integrity and then “flip” their main residence for their second home in order to maximise the amount of claims they can make in this plainly bizarre system of alowances, BUT I totally agree with #5… the Fees Office seem to have been the ones co-ordinating and encouraging this, even phoning up MPs to explain to them how to exploit the system to the maximum.

    They were the ones responsible for the fact that one husband and wife team claimed one residence as his second home and the other residence as her’s, in order to claim the maximum possible from the system. OK, they agreed to that, and seemed incapable initially of seeing why anyone on the outside might think this was much less than an honest way to deal with tax payers’ money, but nevertheless it seems that the wizard wheeze at the bottom of that was dreamed up, not by the MPs themselves but the Fees Office.

    I feel unhappy that MPs are being hounded for claims which were legitimate under the rules, rather than the system and the Fees office being assigned their part of the blame.

    Fortunately, my MP in Uxbridge, despite being further away from Westminster – at 15 miles – than some MPs who claimed second home allowances… has only claimed for office expenses and is not embroiled in the expenses scandal. He is actually a fantastic MP, and worth every penny we spend on him ten times over as far as I am concerned.

  24. Probably not long until his Wikipedia page just reads “a mindless jerk who will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes”

  25. I can’t believe that nobody made a joke yet about not seeing the forest for the trees.

  26. Imipak:

    “How much are those Daily Telegraph hacks paid? How about you?”

    I don’t give a damn how much the Telegraph staff gets paid. That money is negotiated between the Telegraph and the workers. Because we’re not shareholders the profit margins don’t affect us and we, rightfully, have no say in that.

    Presumably the journalists have an expense account to cover travel, payment for sources, etc. If the bosses or shareholders discovered that their staffers were claiming huge amounts of company money for personal expenses, you can bet that they’d be fired.

    The objection is not about the MP’s basic wage. It’s that the MPs were drawing vast sums of money from the public purse for items that had nothing to do with their jobs. Unlike the Telegraph or any other company, this actually is our money, collected to be pooled and improve the country for all of us. Instead, they’re fiddling their expenses (in spirit if not against the letter) and spending it on making their homes more luxurious or pocketing it in outright fraud.

    “…How about you?”

    Not that it’s particularly relevant, but I get paid less than some MPs were claiming in non-work-related expenses, even if we disregard their basic salary of £64,766. Source.

    “Remember, you’ve got nothing to fear unless you’d be embarrassed by screaming 144pt headlines trumpeting some detail of your finances.”

    I keep seeing this argument crop up all over the place. Am I really the only person in the country who has never lied or defrauded on an expense account? Or is this argument just coming from people who do, and assume that everyone else does too?

    “Oh, and of course the final irony in all this is that the leaked information was being collated for publication BY PARLIAMENT ITSELF in July this year, because Parliament passed a Freedom of Information Act a decade or so ago.”

    …So you didn’t notice the media storm surrounding their attempts to make themselves exempt from the FoI act in 2008 and again in January this year?

    I broadly agree that this has turned into a witchunt, with journalists sensationalising the story and angry people refusing to listen to justifications or context. We need to approach this with much clearer heads than are prevailing. But lets not pretend that a lot of MPs have been acting very badly, and deserve to suffer consequences for it.

  27. @ #30 adonai – Nah, he’ll be second after the entire Marketing Division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

    And +1 (or +42) for the reference!

  28. What Bug @#32 says. Plus, you have to understand the global context: in the last 30 years productivity skyrocketed all over the world, and the rich classes have grown filthy rich. MPs’ salaries, like most public-sector and low-paid workers’, didn’t grow in line with inflation in real terms. They started to feel underpaid. So, being the only ones who could give themselves a raise, they basically did exactly that, but in the less transparent way they could devise, because they knew working-class voters wouldn’t take it well.

    The rage now comes from those same classes, who also saw the increase in economic inequality but were powerless from stopping it… because when they tried, MPs inevitably ended up feeling “very relaxed about the rich getting filthy rich” (as Lord Mandelson, Blairite extraordinaire, famously declared). A 64-grand salary, in the North West of England, is a very good salary; in Glasgow or Sheffield, people would kill for it; in London, it is barely average. MPs living in London, they cared only about keeping up with their peers (friends and relatives who became bankers etc and made a killing in the last 20 years), not about reducing inequality, so a quick & dirty pay raise was the solution. They should now be sent back to their £64K basic salary, so maybe they’ll think more about inflation in real terms and economic disparity. But somehow I don’t see that happening, they’ll just vote to integrate the allowance in the basic salary…

  29. My understanding is that in British constitutional theory, Parliament (technically, the Queen in Parliament) can legislate anything, anything at all, just by means of ordinary legislation. A.V. Dicey, I think, said that by a simple majority vote, Parliament could decide that all children with blue eyes could be put to death. (This was in the 19th century, when ideas like that were considered obviously absurd and suitable for making purely theoretical points.) The monarchy and the House of Lords have been weakening for a long time, and lately, the Conservatives haven’t offered much of a challenge to Labour. Labour MP’s are a tiny minority of the population, but have potentially unlimited power. So far, they’re only slowly and hesitatingly learning how to act like Soviet-era nomenklatura. This current business is awkward for them. But the way things are moving in Britain, I think this must be just a minor speedbump on the way to a more naked and open system of oligarchy.

  30. That tampon thing was wrong, it was on a receipt but it wasn’t claimed for, he wasn’t claiming for everything on that receipt. But the Daily Telegraph is on a mission.

  31. Britain’s own Clean Hands Scandal? Here are some tips for the outraged:


    People used to demonstrate in the streets wearing white gloves to show they had clean hands. They would try to scare MPs they felt were corrupt by sending them spoof versions of the ”avviso,” the official notice that warned potential offenders they were under investigation. The avviso itself became one of the enduring symbols of the scandal, almost like the guillotine in revolutionary France. Reproductions of it used to sell well as birthday and Christmas cards.

    Another favourite among the angry public, if any disgraced politician dared show his face his public, was to mockingly shower them with coins.

  32. I live in his constituency.

    But he had a completely valid reason for claiming for his forest: he had already spent most of his money on his doomsday laser.

  33. Dwittfs @#37: I seriously hope not. Clean Hands in Italy was a train wreck in slow motion, producing a system which is even more corrupt and unstable than the previous one. In the fury of replacing an entire corrupt political class, nobody paid attention to exactly who we were replacing it with: a bunch of younger and even more shameless thieves, headed by an old friend of the *most corrupt* politician from the old guard.

  34. Steen’s interview has been posted on youtube.

    I urge everyone to listen to it, it really is beyond parody.

    “I’ve got a vewy vewy large house”.

  35. He does have a point though. Admittedly, I am quite jealous. As only the owner of one potted cactus, I would love a 500 tree forest.

  36. @ #16:

    With respect Imipak, most of your points are simply false. MPs vote yearly on whether their pay should rise or not. This year, for example, they voted for a 2.33% increase in their basic salary. This number was arrived at by averaging the pay increases of workers elsewhere in the public sector:

    Whilst it is true that the information was due to be released this summer, this was only after the Commons fought tooth and nail for three years to stop it from coming to publication. It eventually took a High Court ruling to force the matter through. Furthermore, the records as were to be published this summer would have had all addresses blacked out, which means that the process of ‘flipping’ residences would not have come to light:

    I think that the system is at fault, as are individual MPs. The Speaker’s resignation will hopefully be the first step on a long road to constitutional reform, bringing more openness and transparency to the political process, and perhaps helping to counteract the political apathy that plagues much of the nation.

    I’m not entirely sure what an immediate general election would solve. I fear that what it would mean is a slew of new MPs riding into Whitehall, and many old ones being kicked out, all on the basis of this one issue. And whilst it is a very important matter that demands resolution, I can’t help but feel that it pales into insignificance when compared with other economic, social and foreign policy issues that the nation is faced with.

    A general election now might also be the perfect means of pushing reform issues to one side as the political circus gets into full swing. Part of me thinks it would be best to give the current government another year to keep dying this slow death, in which time perhaps some of the ramifications of this scandal will have been more thoroughly worked out.

    Barring a war breaking out, I’d say a Tory victory is a foregone conclusion either way.

  37. I have a roundup of the U.K. expense scandal here:

    The coolest thing about the affair (if you’re a Yank) is that the woman who was pivotal in breaking the case wide open is an American who became an expert in Freedom of Information Act requests while schooled and employed stateside (she now lives in London). Her name is Heather Brooke, and we all owe her a debt of gratitude for helping expose the corrupt, bumptious fuckers.

  38. “To assume that if given wealth and power you would not behave like the rich and powerful is to assume that you would remain sober after drinking all day.”

    So, Scandinavia is a collective hallucination?

Comments are closed.