Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Telegraph picks up on Levitt's Expenses Play for BBC Radio 4

The Telegraph has just posted an extensive article about the Radio Play Tom Levitt has written and submitted to the BBC, an admission he made in his response the the IPSA consultation which we revealed this week.

The Telegraph regard the play as 'a thinly disguised account of his own involvement in one of the biggest political scandals of modern times', and seem to have inside knowledge, and also quote Levitt which suggests self-publicity.

As we commented the other day, it's amazing that Levitt has the bare-faced cheek to portray himself as so dedicated and hard-working when he clearly has a lot of time to devote the writing a play.

The text of the Telegraph article can be read below upon clicking 'read more' at the foot of this post.

After being caught up in the MPs' expenses scandal, you might have expected Labour backbencher Tom Levitt to resort to a dignified silence.

But the public exposure of Mr Levitt's claims for thousands of pounds of bathroom equipment and a poppy wreath led to an unlikely blossoming of artistic creativity.

Mr Levitt wrote a radio play for the BBC starring an innocent MP who was wrongly vilified for his expenses, which – in a case of art imitating life – include claims for a poppy wreath and thousands of pounds for work on his house.

Unfortunately for Mr Levitt, Radio 4 were less than impressed by his efforts and have turned down the thinly disguised account of his own involvement in one of the biggest political scandals of modern times.

A Ten Minute Wonder – a play in 20 scenes – opens with MP Daniel Barrett attending to a single mum constituent's complains at his Saturday surgery.

As he gives her a piece of extraordinarily prophetic piece of wisdom, "Sticking to the rules isn't always enough unfortunately", the expenses scandal breaks.

"My waters tell me it's 'something'" a party worker tells him.

"Your waters? You only use waters to dilute your malt," quips Dan before assuring him: "I'm squeaky clean."

But Dan's world quickly falls apart as his kitchen and wreath claims are exposed.

During one scene, Dan explains how his claim for a poppy wreath came to be made – it was his secretary's fault.

But Dan admits that when he spotted the mistake on the official claim form, he submitted it anyway because he knew the fees office would reject it. "So there shouldn't be a problem," Dan says perhaps more in hope than with conviction.

But what causes real problems in the eyes of Barrett's own party members is the fact that taxpayers paid for a new kitchen for his flat.

In an echo of the angry criticism aimed at Mr Levitt and other Labour MPs received at the hands of their supporters, Kevin, an activist, tells Dan: "I didn't slog my guts out on doorsteps getting you elected so you could have a kitchen like Jamie Oliver. I did it for socialism, Dan."

Although he survives attempts by members of his constituency party to deselect him, Dan is faced with the prospect of paying back £20,000 in mortgage interest payments he has claimed from the public purse for his second home. Dan decides to resign at the next election.

The 38 page script is drawn closely from Mr Levitt's own experience of the expenses scandal.

The spotlight fell on Mr Levitt last May when The Sunday Telegraph revealed that he had submitted a claim for £16.50 towards the cost of a poppy wreath he laid at the war memorial in Buxton, on Remembrance Sunday, 2006.

We also revealed that he had been reimbursed £5,281 for renovation work to his south London maisonette, including new flooring, and a further £6,335 for a new bathroom.

The fees office had reduced Mr Levitt's original £8,013 claim for the bathroom, in line with the limit set by the 'John Lewis list' on what MPs could be reimbursed.

The fees office also rejected the claim for the wreath, which Mr Levitt – – said had been submitted in error by a member of his staff.

This reporter – who wrote the story of Mr Levitt's expenses – is given a brief role in the play, in the guise of 'Ben Deal', a Telegraph journalist who confronts Barrett about his own claims.

Like his fictional hero, Mr Levitt initially criticised the Telegraph's investigation, accusing this newspaper of "conniving with criminals in gutter journalism" for publishing the contents of a leaked disc containing uncensored details of all MPs' claims – though he later admitted "the [expenses] rules have been weak, poorly enforced and in some cases very poorly observed".

For his part Mr Levitt, who previously served on the Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee, was forced to repay £6,000 after over-claiming on his mortgage interest payments.
Like Dan he too has had enough. He has already decided to resign at the next election, saying it is time for him to take up new challenges.

These might include more fiction and even stand up comedy – he has already performed at the Buxton Fringe, in a show called No End of an Ass.

On leaving Parliament Mr Levitt will receive an estimated resettlement grant of around £54,000 – equivalent to 84 per cent of his salary – to assist him with the cost of adjusting to life after politics.

He will not be able to top that up with lucrative royalties from his play just yet.

The BBC rejected his radio play on the grounds it already has too much Westminster-based material and was too long for the 45 minute Afternoon Play slot on Radio 4.

A spokesman said: "BBC Radio 4 give all submissions due consideration, however, on this occasion it was felt the subject matter had already been covered in other plays both recently broadcast and in production for broadcast later in the year."

Mr Levitt says that writing the play has "helped get things out of my system".

"It's fiction, but it is all based on things that happened to me and other MPs," he admits.

"I'm not trying to justify anything, but it does explain the frustration felt my me and my colleagues. There was resentment at the media coverage, but the press were shining a spotlight on a murky area that should not have been secret in the first place."

Not everyone has welcomed Mr Levitt's farewell work of fiction.

Mark Wallace, campaign director for The Taxpayers Alliance – to which Dan refers to disparagingly in the play – said: "You would have thought that after all the public outrage at Mr Levitt's behaviour he might have focused his efforts on serving the people and repairing the damage he caused to Parliament's reputation.

"It beggars belief that he has chosen to spend his time writing a self-justifying play."

Far from being downhearted, Mr Levitt has not given up on his play and is already considering adapting it for the stage or TV.

Extracts from the play

Scene One

John: My waters tell me it's [The Telegraph's expenses story] "something".

Dan Barrett: Your waters? You only use waters to dilute your malt.

Scene 2

Penny (Barrett's wife): "What'll the man on the Downley Estate think when he's been told that he's paying towards your Council Tax and TV licence?

Dan: "Come on, you know that we're talking about the second [underlined] TV licence and the second [underlined] Council Tax here. The principle of funding the second home is well established.

Penny: Dan you can't go round telling your core voters they are wrong –

Dan: No –

Penny: And they wont see it as fair. The press will focus on the big names, but you'll all get tarred with the same brush."

Scene 7

Ben Deal (reporter): "Your kitchen? £4,718.75.

Barrett: So I believe.

Deal: What other jobs give you a free kitchen makeover?

Barrett: That kitchen was 40 years old. It's an ex-council flat, the kitchen was falling apart. You try and get a decent kitchen make over – as you call it – for that price.

Deal: Will that make it easier for the public to accept?

Scene 8

Barrett: There's a claim form here which includes a poppy wreath, in your handwriting.

Kerry (his secretary): Yes, I started in September and you helped me with the first few claim forms I sent in. You are always busy on Fridays, so you just signed some blank forms for me.

Barrett: That rings a bell.

Kerry: A couple of weeks later you checked them and asked me why the wreath was there. I said "shouldn't it be?" and you said "no". You said the Fees Office would spot it and wouldn't pay it, so no need for a fuss.

Barrett: That's right. And they didn't pay it. So there shouldn't be a problem.

Scene 10:

Craig (Barrett's election agent): The trouble is all MPs are tarred with the same brush. The duck house, the moat, Cameron's wisteria. You're all as bad as each other, that's what they're saying. Our council candidates are getting it on the doorstep.

Scene 11:

Penny: Danny, this thing's huge. I hate it. It may be a new era of openness and transparency . . but it feels like the threshold of anarchy, where no elected person is ever trusted again. (Pause. Kiss)

Kevin, a party activist (loud whisper): I didn't slog my guts out on doorsteps getting you elected so you could have a kitchen like Jamie Oliver. I did it for socialism, Dan."

Barrett (loud whisper): And so did I! Look what we've achieved! Minimum wage, rights at work, war against poverty -"

Kevin (loud whisper): "Don't get me started about war!"

Scene 12:

Barrett: Jesus Christ! My priorities are working for my constituents and my Party, not counting beans. I followed the rules, I took advice and guidance. Were was I supposed [underlined] to get my moral compass from? This is hair shirt morality – 'It's expenses, so it can't have been earned, so give it back'! It makes me sick!

Scene 20:

Barrett (to Craig): I've had six months of petty, prurient personal attacks and insinuations, distracting me from my real work of serving my constituents and getting decent laws passed.

I've got too much baggage, Craig. Someone will now carry on the work that I had been stopped from doing properly ever again.

I'm moving on. And do you know what? I feel better already.

1 comment:

  1. How does the arse have the time to do this? What a cunt.