Picture 16 On the day when the Cabinet is heading to Durham for the latest regional Cabinet meeting, The Times splashes with allegations that ministers are using the taxpayer-funded events to go about Labour Party business. The paper reports:

As Gordon Brown takes his Government on the road to the North East, it was revealed that Harriet Harman, the party’s deputy leader, used a publicly funded trip to Exeter to hold an election meeting with activists. In a leaked letter from Ms Harman seen by The Times, she made plans to meet candidates, officials and trade unionists from across the South West region to discuss campaign strategy.

The letter, sent 12 days before the February 5 visit, said: “This will be a chance for me to hear directly from you as party members in a private meeting to talk about the issues and campaigning activity in the South West. It will be particularly helpful for me to hear from you in the run-up to the general election about the activities taking place in the area.” Details of the meeting were not released to the press at the time. Labour is vigorously defending the seat, held by Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, with a 8,559 majority over the Conservatives. Ed Balls used the same occasion to visit Plymouth, where Labour holds two seats.

Many have previously suggested – and the Times leader today agrees – that the regional Cabinet meetings are an expensive gimmick, costing at least £200,000 per meeting to host and police, and all close to or in marginal constituencies.

Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell has today written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell asking him to look at stopping any further regional Cabinet meetings and to investigate whether whether ministerial rules (stating that taxpayers' money cannot be used for political events or electioneering) have been breached.

Mr Carswell said:

“Gordon Brown has been caught red-handed using government money to fund political activity. It is clear that these meetings are simply designed to ship the Cabinet into marginal seats to secure good PR for Labour’s election campaign at taxpayers’ expense.”

Jonathan Isaby