Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Over the Top
The Mail newspaper did a bit of a 'number' on Ken Livingstone the other day - the Labour candidate in the race to become London Mayor.
Now while some of these 'revelations' are no doubt politically motivated - my own view is that much of the criticism is richly deserved - for example the fact that yet another politician recruits his own spouse (pictured above) as office manager - on a £45,000 a year salary.
All a bit too cosy if you ask me - and they all have such pathetic excuses for their behaviour.
Similarly with the defence that such extravagant expenses claims were justified because they won business for London - because you don't have to adopt a lifestyle of the rich and famous - in order to become the Mayor of London.
Not if you're a 'stand up' guy - and not if you're a man of the people - not in my book anyway.
How 'man of the people' Ken enjoyed lifestyle of a jet-setting executive - all on the taxpayer
Livingstone's lavish expenses as London Mayor - from first-class travel to cases of Puilly Fume wine, £260 shoes and a £1.89 coffee
Well off: Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, pictured on his wedding day with wife and £45,000-a-year 'office manager' Emma Beal.
Ken Livingstone spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money as London Mayor on first class air travel, luxury hotels, fine wines and even a £260 pair of shoes.
Documents show that among a string of expenses claims he used a special Mayor’s credit card to pay for a £282 dinner with Ed Balls, then a Labour Minister, at a top London restaurant. Afterwards he dipped into public funds to pay for his £30 taxi home.
Mr Livingstone spent £135.94 on a desk lamp, £41.25 on a shirt, £42 for an ‘emergency passport’, and £23.87 on water at a Paris hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
He bought fine wines from upmarket supplier Laithwaites, including four cases of Rioja Luis Canas Reserva 2001 (£475); two cases of Corneau Cyllene Pouilly Fumé 2005 (£199); three cases of Rovalley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (£299); and six half bottles of Foudre No 8 Cognac (£95). One of his Laithwaites wine sprees cost £2,884.
To ensure his drinks were chilled, he obtained a quotation for a £132 mini bar for his office.
When he attended the Davos World Economic Summit in Switzerland, he charged £256.98 for a pair of ‘heavy-duty shoes’ – presumably to cope with the snow. The summit for tycoons and world leaders features a series of free dinners and cocktail parties, yet he charged £1.89 for a cup of coffee.
The documents also suggest that Mr Livingstone spent £130.73 on taxi trips to the dentist.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has uncovered details of his lavish expenses during his last term of office from documents published recently by the Greater London Authority, in addition to secret receipts.
The disclosures come only weeks before the London mayoral election. Mr Livingstone, who was Mayor from 2000 to 2008, is hoping to grab back the post from Tory Boris Johnson.
The claims for his second four-year term from 2004 are likely to dent his self-styled ‘man of the people’ image, revealing extravagance closer to the lifestyle of a jet-setting executive.
They also give a revealing insight into the role of his wife, Emma Beal, recruited as his £45,000-a-year ‘office manager’ when he became Mayor.
Confidential invoices show how she took charge of paying for expensive wines and luxury airline flights for Mr Livingstone and his entourage.
Ms Beal arranged for him to fly first class to Florida in 2007 at a cost of £6,404, while the orders to drink supplier Laithwaites bore specific instructions that they were to be delivered to Ms Beal at the Mayor’s office – and that she would settle the bill.
The couple met ten years ago and married in 2009 after he had left office. Explaining why he took her to City Hall, Mr Livingstone said in his autobiography that in her previous job running a newspaper office she was good at handling ‘difficult’ people and their ‘extravagant expenses claims’.
According to a list of published personal expense claims for his last four years as Mayor, he ran up a £66,000 bill, about half of which were filed under ‘Livingstone K, corp card’ (corporate credit card).
Ms Beal booked Mr Livingstone a £4,234 club class seat on a flight to Miami – while his spin doctor travelled economy class on the same flight for a fraction of the price.
Two weeks ago, Mr Livingstone said that if he regains the mayoralty, he will embark on a ‘round the world’ tour to drum up investment for London.
GLA Tory leader James Cleverly last night wrote to the authority’s anti-sleaze monitoring officer, Ed Williams, demanding an inquiry into Mr Livingstone’s expenses by the GLA Standards Committee. He claims Mr Livingstone may have breached the GLA’s code of conduct on three counts: Serving the public interest; accountability; and prudent use of public funds.
Enlarge Enlarge Referring to Mr Livingstone’s election slogan, Mr Cleverly said: ‘The only person “better off with Ken” is Ken. At a time when he was increasing council tax by 152 per cent he was happily abusing the London taxpayer.’
Mr Livingstone’s image is of a man who gets about London on the Tube and buses. In 2007, he said: ‘Politicians should resist the temptation to glide around in chauffeur-driven cars, and stay in touch with issues that matter to Londoners.’
But documents show he clocked up £6,893 on taxis for him and his personal staff. On a trip to Los Angeles in 2006, he hired a car and driver for £180.
His choice of London restaurants reads like an Egon Ronay guide. In 2008, he and an aide took Ed Balls, then Education Secretary, to Shepherd’s, a top Westminster restaurant. The £282 bill was charged to Mr Livingstone’s corporate credit card.
The documents suggest that afterwards, he got the GLA to pay his £30 taxi fare home.
Enlarge Mr Livingstone’s travels took him to the luxurious Taj hotels in India, including the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, a favourite of Pierce Brosnan, and the Taj Mahal Palace in the same city.
He stayed at New York’s Hotel Jumeirah Essex House, rated as the second best in America by Global Traveller Magazine.
Mr Livingstone enjoyed lunch in London with American actor Kevin Spacey, at a cost of £220.28, and dined royally with senior Labour figures including Tessa Jowell in 2007 at London’s Mon Plaisir, known for its foie gras. And he spent £466.35 on dinner for his Cuban translator during a trip to Cuba.
Mr Johnson was forced to trim his own spending after being accused of over-reliance on expenses-funded taxis in his early days as Mayor.
And he was hit by a credit card scandal in 2008 when one of his deputies, Ian Clement, received a suspended jail sentence for abusing his City Hall corporate credit card. Mr Clement admitted using it to buy lunches for himself and his lover. A judge said Mr Clement had ‘flagrantly and arrogantly’ misused public money. He was forced to quit his £127,000-a-year post.
As a result, Mr Johnson banned all GLA staff from using such cards. His aides say he has never used one himself. They state he has only ever bought economy-class tickets as Mayor, though he has occasionally been upgraded and received a ‘small number’ of free flights. They say he uses few taxis and prefers to use his bicycle. An official said Mr Johnson rarely dines at public expense and publishes all details of such events.
Mr Livingstone recently faced charges of hypocrisy after claims he avoided at least £50,000 in tax through a company set up with his wife. He denied any impropriety.
A spokesman for Mr Livingstone refused to comment on individual expense claims and defended his foreign trips, claiming they won valuable business for London.
‘They were part of a campaign to promote London, win the bid to host the Olympics, and open new markets to London business. The visit to Miami sealed the first official NFL [American football] game for Wembley.’
The spokesman claimed Mr Johnson had failed to publish details of his own flights and expenses.