Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, has been spending the first few months in opposition sending Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to our new political masters. One seemingly neverending saga concerned his request to know, of all things, the contents of the Foreign Office wine cellar.
If Tom Watson really wanted to know the contents of the FO’s wine rack, why did he wait until his party was out of government to find out? He could have asked his friends in government at any point between May 1997 and May 2010 should he have wished to know. Instead, all these FOI requests feel like cheap stunts from a man who knows where the political skeletons are buried, and is now uncovering them in opposition to create embarrassment for the present government.
His latest “scoop”; a bigger story than “man bites dog” but of less value than, say, a scoop of ice-cream, is this whopper, that could not be any less of a story if it were a novel written by Richard Littlejohn.
A “league table” of how much each Cabinet minister spends on salaries in their private ministerial offices has been published…
Senior Liberal Democrat Mr Cable has six ministerial staff at an estimated cost of £258,924…
The most expensive ministerial office belongs to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, whose 18 staff cost around £582,193.50, ahead of Home Secretary Theresa May, whose 14 ministerial employees cost £545,307.50.
[Tom Watson] said it was “quite remarkable” that Mr Cable has just a third the number of private staff hired by Mr Hague
Let’s be clear. William Hague at the Foreign Office employs 18 staff with an average wage of £32,344.08 a year. This, remember, is the Foreign Office. The bit of government that deals with the rest of the world. “The world” is quite a big place, and you probably need quite a lot of staff. Whereas Vince Cable is responsible for business. No wonder he has no office staff; I’m not sure what does pass for British business now, seeing as successive governments have destroyed our manufacturing base and our only other industry, high-finance, just got credit-crunched. It’s hardly therefore a reflection on how popular a particular minister is, and to take that line anyway is only to retread a tedious “my dad’s bigger than your dad” line.
The costs don’t seem excessive to me. An average wage of around £30,000 is only just above median wage, and seems acceptable if you’re working for a Cabinet minister. Note, though, that the comments below the sky news article all seem to think that these office costs are going on wine, women and song instead of paying people’s wages.
Please note that I am for transparency. I like freedom of information, transparency, facts and knowing things about government. And I’m sure that Tom Watson would argue that the publishing of these figures is just part of his wider campaign to introduce some transparency into government. Which is an excellent idea, though I’m not sure Tom Watson is the ideal front man for it.
Let me introduce you to Tom Watson’s voting record, which is fairly hideous. To be fair, he was outspoken against the Digital Economy Act, and should be commended for that, but on the basis of that record he has been on the wrong side of every issue (except gay rights) since he entered Parliament.
Part of the voting record is this little gem, and after I read it the first time I temporarily lost my power of speech:
Voted strongly against a transparent Parliament
Yes! That’s right. Tom Watson, the new campaigner for Freedom of Information, the man who wants to fling open the corridors of power and let our new ministers breathe the new air of transparency, voted strongly against a transparent Parliament.
There’s a further breakdown of Watson’s votes here in which you’ll find he voted to ensure MPs expenses details were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. You can read a couple of news articles about Tom Watson’s expenses here and here. To which I have very little to say except, “free pizza wheel?!”
I am astonished. Utterly, utterly astonished at the hypocrisy and sanctimonious nonsense. I have nothing more to say on Tom Watson’s campaign, except this: