Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Sir Christopher Kelly takes the wheels off Levitt's gravy train

Details of the much awaited report into MPs expenses by Sir Christopher Kelly have started to emerge before it is published next week. And the revelations should give Tom Levitt cause for concern (that is if he seriously thinks he stands a chance of being re-elected). The recommendations so far revealed would affect Levitt as follows:

Second homes can only be rented in future, and not have the mortgage interest costs covered: as we know, Levitt has always claimed for his second home in Lambeth. Under the new proposals, if he remained an MP he'd have to sell that home within 4 years.

A ban on MPs employing family members: Levitt employs his wife, Teresa, as his 'Parliamentary Assistant' and also his stepdaughter, Victoria Fletcher, as a part-time junior secretary. If Mrs Levitt is as good at her job as Tom insists*, we wish her luck in her search for employment with another MP when Tom is dumped by voters in the High Peak next year.

One thing that won't change, according to the Telegraph, is the limited scope of the ongoing Legg inquiry in failing to examine the capital gains tax dodge that Levitt has taken advantage of. This is supposedly the doing of the new Speaker, John Bercow, who took advantage of the tax-dodge himself. Whether the Kelly report closes that loophole is another matter that should concern Levitt, as we pointed out last week.

In the meantime, there is a meeting of the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) this Friday (30th October), and we've no doubt that the capital gains tax issue will be on the agenda. Councillor Anthony McKeown, the secretary of the CLP and previously a Levitt loyalist, has already openly criticised Levitt over his behaviour regarding the Legg letter, which is presumably a bad omen for Levitt if not a move towards a Putsch. Will the CLP have the bottle to consider deselecting Levitt, as we have called for them to consider before, or do they wish to share his fate come the election next year? We'll see.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Levitt Caption competition

Just a little reminder about our caption competition. We didn't set a deadline, but to keep things fresh, let's just say we'll close it a week from now. Keep those captions coming in!

We think it's time we had a little competition here on this website. So given the recent revival of the MPs' expenses scandal (and the inversely proportional decline in Tom Levitt's fortunes), we think it's time the public took the piss out of Tom for a change.

Have a look at the photo opposite, and come up with a caption and/or a quote (in the style of Private Eye). The prize? Just that smug, warm feeling that you're an amusing smart-arse. To enter, you can either email us, or leave a comment on this post.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Levitt confesses to Capital Gains Tax-dodge

Tom Levitt has now publicly confessed to his 'legal' avoidance of capital gains tax:
When asked about the claims ... he confirmed that no tax was paid on the sale
Two local newspapers have decided to take up the exclusive story about Tom Levitt's tax affairs that was broken on this website last Sunday and continued on Monday. There are significant - and contradictory - differences between each story.

So let's start with the contradictions. In the Buxton Advertiser, Levitt is apparently quoted as saying that our allegation that he was able to avoid capital gains tax "is not true" whilst the article in the Glossop Advertiser reveals the quote to actually be a press release which lazy journalists in the Buxton paper - seemingly with a political axe to grind - have decided to 'cut and paste' to suit their story. Here's the same phrase appearing in the (much better) Advertiser story (emphasis added):
The innuendo and implication in the poisonous stories currently circulating is that I was involved in something underhand. This is not true and I resent this...
See how the meaning has been changed?

The Buxton Advertiser is also badly off-target with the main thrust of our blog articles. It mentions that Legg had given Levitt a clean bill of health regarding 'flipping' - but we never accused Levitt of that in the first place. We're not sure the journalist knows what he's talking about.

Ultimately, Levitt is in denial about the main issue before not only him, but his party. That is that he chose to conceal the "legal" capital gains tax-dodge despite concerns raised by those in his party when the expenses scandal broke. This issue is tackled by neither newspaper, and the main focus is on the 'Legg refund'..

What is worse for High Peak Labour Party is that, so far, they have failed to bring this issue to the attention of the public in an open way. Although Councillor Anthony McKeown has criticised Levitt's openness regarding the Legg letter, we know that he knew about the capital gains tax-dodge, but did not speak out about it. And clearly, the atmosphere in the local Labour Party is poor, or we would not have people contacting us with the information. This 'invisible' show of public unity with Levitt by local Councillors may be 'party discipline', but it also means that are busy lashing themselves to the mast of Levitt's sinking ship.

No doubt there'll be more to say about these issues in due course.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Levitt was worried about capital gains tax in May 2009

Our research has discovered that Tom Levitt asked questions about MPs' expenses and capital gains tax in the House of Commons in May of this year, just as the whole expenses issue was breaking out into the open.

You may remember this debate as being the one where the Speaker at the time, Michael Martin, was later heavily criticised for his behaviour, especially the way he dealt with Kaye Hoey MP and David Winnick MP. Earlier in the debate, the MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, had sought to clarify whether an amendment he had proposed in an earlier session regarding MPs expenses and capital gains tax declarations would be valid (emphasis added):
On 3 July 2008, amendment (f), which I proposed, was agreed unanimously and without dissent by the House. It removed the ability of Members of the House to designate separate homes as main homes for capital gains tax purposes as opposed to main homes for expenses.
Later in the same session, Tom Levitt made his only contribution to the debate with the following (see the video above):
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), Mr. Speaker. Whatever the outcome of the discussions he has with the House of Commons Commission, is it your belief that any such change on the question of the nomination of homes could not be retrospective and therefore would not apply to any of the information currently in the public domain?
Now we wondered at the time exactly what the point of all this was. But because information has been given to us revealing that Levitt avoided capital gains tax, it all starts to add up. Levitt is clearly concerned that any changes in the rules which were retrospective would land him with a large bill, not to mention the embarrassment it would cause. What other reason would Levitt have for intervening in the debate in such a manner?

Legg latest: Levitt spills the beans?

In a complete volte-face from his position only 7 days ago, Tom Levitt has sought to dampen down the flames of discontent surrounding his decision to keep the contents of his 'Legg letter' secret by revealing it was a bill after all. He issued this statement today:
Tom Levitt has agreed to repay to the House of Commons £389 as requested by Sir Thomas Legg. This is in respect of a sofa bed purchased in 2004 which Sir Thomas has deemed ‘extravagant’ even though the Fees Office approved it at the time. He said “Had I been asked to pay this balance at the time I would readily have agreed to do so
Remember that Levitt had said to the Independent that he'd rather resign than repay his expenses. He's clearly a man who likes to make decisions - and then completely change his mind. A true politician.

However, Levitt's critic of this morning, Councillor Anthony McKeown, throws a little hint that this may not be the end of the matter:
Whilst I don't know if this is the full details or not (of the letter)...
Indeed, we have to take Tom's word that this is all there was to the letter. After all, why get so steamed up about repaying £389? We await the local press later in the week with much interest.

But in the meantime, it's worth reflecting on all of this sofa bed business. Looking at the details of Levitt's Additional Cost Allowance claim for the year 2004-2005, you find that the total cost of the sofa bed was £1,599. Clearly, Legg considers that a reasonable price for a sofa bed is £1210 (!). The issue of why the public should subsidise Levitt's furniture is a point completely lost on a twerp like Legg, hardly surprising since he was appointed by Gordon Brown in the first place.

If Tom Levitt thinks this has now resolved the whole matter, and that we can now all get back to things as normal, he must think we were born yesterday. Apart from anything else, there's still the not insignificant issue of the capital gains tax.

Levitt criticised by Labour Councillor for stance on Legg letter

The first sign of anyone breaking previously loyal ranks has come this morning, with Councillor Anthony McKeown criticising Tom Levitt for his stance on the Legg letter:
the earlier openness on the expenses issues should be replicated now or does the earlier comments from Tom on those MP’s who will not be forgiven from bringing their role into disrepute no longer apply
...which is pretty much what we said last week. It'll be interesting to see how many other Councillors join with Councillor McKeown, or alternatively, how Levitt responds to this criticism.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Exclusive: Tom Levitt the tax dodger

Some of you may have noticed stories in the press in the past few days referring to the fact that Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) are investigating the tax affairs of 27 MPs.

You may also remember that other MPs - in particular James Purnell - have faced criticism for not paying capital gains tax (CGT) on the sale of properties purchased with expenses. The way this scam works is that an MP describes one home as their main residence to the HMRC in order to avoid paying CGT when it is sold, whilst at the same time describing it as their second home to the Parliamentary fees office in order to be able to claim on expenses for the mortgage payments prior to sale. All of this is entirely legal, but as we've pointed out before, that does not make it right.

Tonight, we can exclusively reveal that Tom Levitt has taken full advantage of the law in order to profit from a home he has bought and sold with taxpayers money. Sources have revealed to us that when Levitt sold his first London flat as an MP, he told the Revenue it was his main residence whilst telling the fees office it was his second home.

When the expenses scandal broke in May of this year, you may recall how adamant Levitt was* that he had never 'flipped' the designation of his first and second home, unlike MPs such as Hazel Blears and others who subsequently faced a storm of criticism in the press. He may have been telling the truth, but if our sources are right then this was merely a smokescreen to conceal the capital gains tax scam from the press and public.

Levitt's words on these matters are returning to haunt him. You may remember that when the Telegraph originally turned the spotlight on him in May, he said that "as a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, my conscience is clear". He may want to think again now he has been caught concealing the truth for months.

You would have thought that things couldn't look much worse for Levitt, but this revelation proves what slippery snake this individual really is. The truth must out, and he has a lot more explaining to do than he did this time last week.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Levitt: 'I'd rather quit than repay expenses'

The Buxton Advertiser has today picked up a nugget from a story in yesterday's Independent. At a meeting of Labour MPs in Parliament on Monday in which Gordon Brown told MPs to comply with the Legg audit findings, Tom Levitt stated that we would sooner quit than repay any expenses:
Another MP, Tom Levitt, told Mr Brown that he would "consider his position at the next election" rather than return expenses he believes he claimed fully in accordance with the rules.
However, talking to the Buxton Advertiser, Levitt appeared to be backtracking somewhat:
"I was describing emotions, not intentions. And I was speaking before anyone had received the letters – a classic example of Chinese whispers, as no journalist heard what I said at a private meeting."
But then the Buxton Advertiser is keen to point out that they have spoken to the political editor of the Independent, Andrew Grice, who said the Indie had spoken directly to Levitt. Someone is telling lies.

Another newspaper, the Derby Telegraph, is keen to point out that, along with Margaret Beckett, Levitt is the only other Derbyshire MP to have refused to reveal the details of their Legg letter.

Tom Levitt now finds himself well and truly in a hole. If some reports that many MPs simply can't financially afford to repay what have been asked are true, then Levitt must be amongst them. After all, if this was a matter of a few hundred pounds (perhaps even a couple of thousand), surely Levitt would bite the bullet and pay it back, and tell everyone he'd done so, just to keep the matter further away from people's minds come the election?

But despite this news, it's still no clearer what Levitt's Legg letter has said. At first glance, his comments to Gordon Brown seem to indicate he's had a bill, and doesn't want to pay it. But remember that Levitt's second home doesn't have a Garden and his cleaning bills are below the limits set retrospectively by Legg. So what else is it?

Perhaps it's Levitt's mortgage that has attracted attention? Legg has apparently requested mortgage statements rather than bank statements as evidence to look into mortgage claims. Remember that the Telegraph revealed he had over-claimed by £6,000, with Levitt saying he had paid it back when he realised a 'mistake' had been made.

There are perhaps many more questions that can be asked, and we hope that the Buxton Advertiser continues to "go the extra mile", rather than be content to simply regurgitate Levitt's press releases, like the Glossop Advertiser et al (a print article so small that it doesn't even make it onto their website).

We're sure we're not alone in our thoughts about Levitt's latest comments - if repaying money you have ripped off from us is such a big deal, why wait until the next election - for god's sake GO NOW.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Levitt's not 'Leggless' - but his lips are sealed

Tom Levitt has issued the briefest of press releases today regarding his 'Legg letter':
Tom Levitt MP has made the following statement in the light of press interest in the latest developments of the Legg enquiry on MPs' expenses:

"Like every other MP I have received a letter from Sir Thomas Legg. It is a letter which invites discussion on certain issues, it is not a bill to be paid as some parts of the press would have us believe. I will be replying to this private correspondence in due course."
So there we are then. It's a 'private matter', and none of our business. One thing is clear - he's not exonerated, otherwise he'd be telling the world he's got a clean bill of health. So either he has been asked to repay something, or been asked for more information - tell us what you think it will be in our new poll, top right of the blog.

Back in a June Column for local newspaper*s, Levitt commented about his contituent's concerns thus:
...people want to be kept informed of developments in the issues that interest them. They have a right to be told.
He also said this in another column in the same month**:
those MPs who have done most to bring our role into disrepute will not be forgiven easily
Does this mean that Tom Levitt thinks it is reputable to seek forgiveness by publishing his expenses details online in June, but now to withhold further information? Is that not completely disreputable?

Either way, he hasn't escaped unscathed. Will the local press make an issue of it? Or will they give him an easy ride, as they did during the summer? Watch this space.

*when this link no longer works, you can try this screen grab
**when this link no longer works, you can try this screen grab

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

What's in Levitt's 'Legg Letter'?

Several months have gone by since this website ran a story about Tom Levitt's expenses. To a certain extent, the website reflected wider coverage in the media, and as Parliament wound up for the Summer, the debate moved elsewhere. In truth, the local press avoided putting difficult questions to Levitt, and Levitt himself did the least amount possible to hold himself up to scrutiny, as you'd expect of any politician.

But as you may have by now noticed, the issue has now come onto the agenda again with the audit of MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg. All MPs received a letter yesterday concerning their Additional Cost Allowance claims for the past 5 years - some were exonerated, some asked to repay monies which Legg adjudged to have breached new limits he had applied retrospectively (which seems to be causing a lot of ire amongst MPs), and other have been asked for more information to aid further investigation. In addition, MPs will have also received emails about their mortgage claims.

But so far, there's silence from Levitt. Readers may remember how hasty he was to explain himself back in May when the Telegraph tuned the spotlight on his expenses. If he gets a clean bill of health from Legg, you'd expect him to shout it from the rooftops shortly. Either way, the last thing Levitt needs at the moment is further attention on his expenses in the run up to the General Election next year.

In the meantime, it's worth watching this page on the Times website which will update with information about all MPs' interactions with Legg as and when the information is obtained by them.