British Parliament Food Expenses Exposed! [scandals]
So apparently this is a big deal in the UK: A year ago the High Court ordered the release of expense reports of British Parliament members. Back in May, The Daily Telegraph got their hands on the database before it was released by buying a disc from a mole, and the paper ran story after story, exposing one MP who expensed the cleaning of his moat, another for renting adult films, and another for a duck island. Etc etc.
So on Monday, the House of Commons published 77,252 pages of documents of members' expense reports, and controversially, tons and tons of information was blacked out in what's being called a "cover-up attempt" (no duh). Newspapers are having a field day examining every little detail, especially the food expenses. The Telegraph reported:
Thirty-two MPs claimed full £400 food allowance each month, including for periods when the Commons was not sitting... In total, the 646 MPs spent £1.197m in 2007-08, an average of £154 a month, every month, for every MP.
Since some MPs itemized with receipts, the newspapers are looking into who bought what — especially food. Take the The Telegraph, for example:
Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, appeared to have claimed for a £4.99 Toblerone bar, but later insisted the item had been a free gift from a supplier and he had not claimed for it. Mark Francois, Conservative MP for Rayleigh, spent £66.66 in March last year in Tesco on a range of food stuffs from digestive biscuits, stuffed olives and HP spicy BBQ sauce. On another occasion his £111.77 supermarket receipt included expensive pate and two bags of sweets.
Some of the odder purchases were listed by The Guardian, such as "£19.55 for biscuits, tea, coffee … and mint imperials," "82p on a flapjack," "£1.50 on ice cube tray," "67p on ginger crinkle biscuits," "£1.31 on jellied eels," and "£1.59 for a pineapple from Sainsbury's" (and that's just the food! The rest is stuff like £119 on a trouser press and £609 to trim hedge around "helipad.")
Newspapers are having a ball, running cheeky headlines like:
- "Who ate all the pies? They did. Who paid for them? You did." (not online)
- "Labour MP Derek Wyatt billed 75p for scotch eggs" and
- "Who ate all the fries, Ian?"
In addition, for extra fun (and mockery), newspapers are running photos of the MPs side-by-side with the foods they expensed (see above), like Derek Wyatt and a scotch egg (left), and Austin Mitchell and a packet of ginger crinkle biscuits (right).
It's so much information — no one newspaper could possibly scan through that much data — that The Guardian is employing a crowdsourced strategy by having the public read and then flag important pages. It's been so useful for The Guardian that they wrote on their MP expense live blog (which itself is an amazing read):
[I]t's been a good day for citizen journalism. Frankly, you've done most of the work. It's been great. Some of us do wonder if there will be any role left for professional journalists if you're doing all the investigation yourselves, but that's another story. In the meantime, thanks very much. And keep digging.
This is only going to get better.