Living on the margins

I was both pleased and intrigued by Roy Greenslade’s column in today’s Evening Standard. Pleased because it’s always nice to be recognised by someone you admire. Intrigued by this recollection of his experience giving evidence to a parliamentary committee.

Brooke follows in the tradition of journalists who pursue single-minded missions on behalf of the greater good, earning only a meagre reward for their efforts. But MPs, who should act for the greater good, cannot believe that Brooke doesn’t have some kind of vested (financial) interest in exposing their expenses to the public gaze.

One Labour MP said as much a couple of weeks ago when the investigative journalist Nick Davies and I appeared before the Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee. It was a pathetic attempt to sling mud at Brooke and a forewarning of MPs’ reactions to the Daily Telegraph’s acquisition of their expenses claims.

Well my interest was piqued. Which MP was slinging mud at me? I did a little digging and found the oral evidence given to the Parliamentary Committee examining press standards, privacy and libel. It was not without a chuckle at his chutzpah that I saw my detractor was the Member for Feltham & Heston, Alan Keen. With his wife, Ann, the couple are known as ‘Mr and Mrs Expenses’ for using £175,000 of taxpayers’ money to help buy a flat near Parliament – while they already had a constituency home nine miles away. They claimed more than £300,000 between them last year alone.

Q484 Alan Keen: There is a woman who has frequently been on television and in the press who appears to me to be a campaigner for freedom of information, an American I think.

Mr Nick Davies: Heather Brooke?

Q485 Alan Keen: Yes. Does she earn a living from this?

Mr Davies: She is a journalist. She is a specialist in freedom of information. I think she is actually British and she worked in America and used their Freedom of Information Act, came back to this country just as ours was about to come into force so wrote a book which is a guide.

Q486 Alan Keen: I have seen her being interviewed.

Mr Davies: You are wondering whether she has some vested interest.

Q487 Alan Keen: Yes, because I have seen her on television being interviewed.

Mr Roy Greenslade: I know her quite well. She teaches the students at City. She is a single interest journalist in the old tradition of having one niche interest and following it to its logical conclusion. She lives, in monetary terms, on the margins.

28 Responses to “Living on the margins”

  1. Andy B says:

    Heather, you’re a legend, keep it up!

  2. Alun Hill, MCIJ says:

    Heather – keep at them, never give up.
    It’s great to see a fellow journo work so hard and so long on reports.
    Proud of you.

  3. >appears to me to be a campaigner for freedom of information, an American I think.

    Which do you think is worse in his eyes? 😉

  4. BritSwedeGuy says:

    Good work!
    We need real Freedom Of Information (like, you know, a civilised country), protection for whistle-blowers and more real investigative reporters.

  5. James Southern says:

    Missed a trick there.
    You do have a vested interest, it’s your (our) bloody money they’re spending!

  6. Mike B says:

    Don’t worry – he will be all over the Telegraph tomorrow – Friday is COUPLES Day!

  7. kevin says:

    You are one hell of a sassy lady. Its seems we need more people like you about. Because although the BBC and most main stream media emply thousands of people on extremely high salaries they seem to do jack shit.

  8. gbrown057 says:

    Keep it up! You’re doing a great job – and chickens are coming home to roost.

  9. Congratulations on your first class work, Heather. Any chance of digging into some of our more exuberant Labour MP’s in Scotland? Anne Moffat, Jim Devine, Jim Murphy (secretary for the state of Scotland), David Cairns, Adam Ingram, Eric Joyce and former MP David Marshall would be an ideal jumping off point…

  10. Brian says:

    brilliant work Heather and MPs are now running for cover but they now understand how annoyed the general public is

    Heather — can you now move on to the BBC where the waste of licence-fee payers money is unbelievable — related to the MPs expenses fiasco, Lord Foulkes got very upset the other day with a BBC 24 Newsreader named Carrie who I’d never seen before or heard of; he asked her how much she earned as he was getting rattled and she admitted to £92k per annum — £92k for being an ordinary newsreader and I now undersatand that her fellow newsreader, Simon, is paid £190k per annum

    We must investigate this waste of our money and I’d love to look at expense claims made by all those journos

    It seems to me that the BBC budget consists of “take about £3bn of licence fees and let’s spend it every year” ?!

  11. John L Bell says:

    Vindication at last, Heather! When they start the mudslinging it is a sign you have definitely got them on the run! When the mud slinging fails then we have the acceptance of ‘errors’ and ‘mistakes’ and a variety of other substitutes for the word ‘Fraud’.
    How many fraudsters (as defined by Sections 2-4 of The Fraud Act 2006) expect to ‘kiss and make up’ AFTER being caught with their fingers in the till and AFTER an extended period of HIDING their frauds including the removal of the ONE public official who tried to bring them to book?

    I regret I am less than impressed by the flood of quivering bottom lips and the veritable flood of ‘crocodile tears’ witnessed of late!

    There has been wholesale, organised and disgraceful FRAUD on a massive scale!

    I am less than impressed by the slough of ‘born again’ honest politicians who are promising, (‘Cross my heart and hope to die!’) they will never…. ever …. ever steal a single penny piece again and it was all everybody else’s fault anyway!
    We have a Fraud Act 2006 which could have been written to deal with this organised band of fraudsters! Check it out on the parliamentary website. Search also for the Crown Prosecution Service criteria for charging a suspect. At least three of the criteria are met by these MP actions.

    Both of these documents show that a large number of those fraudsters in parliament SHOULD be having a visit from a Fraud Squad Officer, followed by a thorough and open investigation, followed by a speedy, open and fair trial, followed an extended stay in another type of establishment paid for by the British taxpayer!

    In a true democracy, in which EVERY citizen is subject, without fear or favour, to the same CRIMINAL LAW, this process will take place, for a substantial number of MPs in a very short time!

    If we are really the corrupt ‘banana republic’ which we must now appear to every citizen of every other country in the democratic world, the dust will settle…. ‘mea culpas’ will be many and various, ‘dodges’ will be reformulated…. and fingers will be back in the till before the year is out!

    We already have evidence of this from that deceitful CABAL of ‘concerned’ politicians and their parliamentary cronies attending the meeting last weekend where an attempt was made to rush through a plan to zoom future expenses claims out of the reach of The Freedom of Information Act and aware from the eyes of these damned inconvenient taxpaying citizens – whatever they are!!
    Contrition! These people don’t know the meaning of the word!

    Investigate!
    Prosecute!
    Sentence! (Upto 10 years according to the Fraud Act 2006)

    And do it now!

  12. Duncan94 says:

    I’d just like to echo Kevin’s sentiments: most political journalists are so delighted to be ‘in’ with the Westminster Village that they are simply mouthpieces for the system. How come they never got this story while Heather Brooke pursued it so vigorously? Either 1) they are useless journalists or 2) they had the facts but didn’t want to rock the boat. Which is worst?
    I’m afraid to say some of these off-the-pace journalists should step aside and let someone who is Any Good have a go; and that some of these MPs should be looking at jail. Surely?

  13. Andrew McP says:

    After reading the Guardian article I had to visit and say thanks for your considerable efforts on behalf of all UK citizens. The fallout from this mess may be potentially unpleasant in the short term (especially with the elections coming up) but it will be a pleasure to watch the Stygian stables washed clean (ok, a lot cleaner!) thanks, in no small part, to your efforts.

    The more I discover about how you’ve been treated, the more proud of your determination I become. Very well done indeed.

  14. Dan Hamer says:

    Whole hearted support. Well done. Keep at it. This morning’s news from Westminster is both shocking and a vindication of your tireless efforts over the last few years. Let the Law now take its course…………

  15. Dan Lockton says:

    Heather,
    Thank you for all your efforts and persistence over the years: you are a huge inspiration, and I am sure history will record the importance of what you started. Well done, and keep up the good work.

  16. Quietzapple says:

    Feltham Station to Westminster station is 44 / 48 mins at this time of day, so the journey would be over an hour unless the MP lived close to the station.

    The fact that many suffer such journeys is not a good reason for MPs, whose duties can even include judging and voting on whether war should be declared, to live in Feltham.

    But Hang ’em High! I suppose, the popular instantaneous will, as per dangerous dogs, Princess Diana’s death, the latest singing sensation . . .

  17. Eileen Draper says:

    Well done Heather! What a triumph. Breaking through the barriers of secrecy and the power of the institution. Exposing the abuses of power. . . Still work to be done because, they will go into damage limitation and minimization and will stonewall against radical reform

  18. Willem says:

    Fantastic work, and perhaps vile characters such as the Keens will get called to account – they keep on trotting out their rather lame defence of having broken no rules, yet have sucked money out of taxpayers pockets for years and also have several of their children at one time or another ‘working’ for them at the House of Commons. Oink little piggies.

  19. Quietzapple says:

    Heather Brooke: “. . .the Member for Feltham & Heston, Alan Keen. With his wife, Ann, the couple are known as ‘Mr and Mrs Expenses’ for using £175,000 of taxpayers’ money to help buy a flat near Parliament – while they already had a constituency home nine miles away. They claimed more than £300,000 between them last year alone.”

    I suppose you have become so familiar with the H o C expenses system that you realise that this sum would include office and secretarial staff wages & etc?

    Some of your readers do not.

  20. Rapid says:

    Well quite honestly I want to know, why we have an American journo here nosing into our MP’s, whether she is right or not wtf has it got to do with her, doesn’t she think America has enough corruption itself without coming here with her whiter than white attitude? who the hell gave her a work permit anyway? I thought we had laws about foreigners coming over here and taking jobs that Brits can do? PS. I agree with Stephen Fry, there are far bigger problems going on in this world to worry about other than MP’s expenses. Americas bullying of most of the rest of the world for one!
    Might I suggest Heather Brookes good housekeeping starts at home there is plenty of injustice to deal with there.

  21. To rapid says:

    #20 “taking jobs that Brits can do” – well, then, why didn’t they? They’ve had years, decades even to do it. But British journalists prefer to slap each others’ backs, and British people by and large prefer to stare at their shoes and criticise anyone who dares to want something better. The remarkable thing about this story is just that, that it is remarkable. This is what normal journalism is supposed to be, and is every day in most other countries. But in Britain, journalism and the media have been in bed together for so long that when good investigative journalism like this comes along it knocks the country unconscious.

    If you don’t like what she’s done, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

  22. robert, Birmingham says:

    Heather, Crack on and expose all those Mp’s who parasitically pray on us the tax payer. I have lately become bored with the excuse, when caught, that it was an oversight, error of judgment, or silly mistake, this surprisingly is coming from well educated members of the house . The truth is, they have been caught, trousers down ,and have nowhere to run, especially now, with pressure on the speaker to resigned and the ability to suppress information diminishing .

    Well done Heather I’m am just a member of the public, and one that has become disheartened with this political rip-off, and the smarmy smiles of politicians such as Hazel Blears who we all now know , is laughing at us .

    Keep up the good work
    Regards BoB

  23. Maggie Wrench says:

    Well done you; we the taxpayers of Britain) owe you a huge debt of gratitude. The Keens, and all those slimeballs who tried to keep this information from the public are beneath our contempt. I know of pensioners living on peanuts; how can these creeps who clearly have massive sense of entitlement possibly begin to understand what it`s like to live on very little, That toffee-nosed idiot, Steen, yesterday claiming that he thought it reasonable for the taxpayer to contribute a third of the upkeep of his large Devon estate. What qualifies him, Douglas Hogg, Heathcot=Amory et al rto represent ordinary people? (I am old enough to recognise the surnames of the latter 2; they doubtless see themselves as entitled tpo a seat in parliament by right of heredity. Shame on them all – but thanks again Heather

  24. Gregg Collins says:

    Well done Heather. Keep up the good work!

    Also, just for Rapid (Post #20). Heather isn’t American, she is British. Keep up old boy! 😉

  25. Jeff Astall says:

    have you got a fan club co`s I want to join fantastic they can`t beleive it
    more more thanks

  26. tracey says:

    “This is what normal journalism is supposed to be, and is every day in most other countries.”

    Hmm, are you sure about that? France, Italy?

  27. This is such a revealing post. It says volumes about the Keens and about MPs in general that they cannot understand how someone would do something for other than venal motives. MPs clearly do not feel accountable to voters, which I suppose is an accurate perception given that most are in safe seats where voters would elect a donkey it was wearing the right colour rosette.

    Freedom of Information and some kind of accountability is essential for the preservation of democracy. We could learn a lot from the scandinavians.

  28. heather says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone.
    I am actually a dual US/UK citizen just so everyone knows. Not sure if I feel more american or british – really a hybrid of the two.

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