Julian Lewis is Conservative MP for New Forest East and was the subject of a piece in this morning’s News of the World, questioning his use of parliamentary housing allowances. He responds to that report here.
Quite early on Friday morning, I looked out of my bedroom window in New Forest East and saw a photographer standing in the middle of the road taking picture after picture of the front of my home. This caused me concern.
For many years, both before and after becoming an MP, I have been involved in work against political extremists at home and abroad. As a basic security precaution, I have never publicly disclosed where I live, but have always registered to vote under a nom de plume, by arrangement with the relevant local councils. More recently, the Chief Constable of Hampshire has authorised the process of ‘anonymous registration’ – so that my name doesn’t appear anywhere on the electoral register.
The photographer was from a local picture agency and, through them, I was directed to the picture-desk of the News of the World who, in turn, gave me the name of Jamie Lyons – a political reporter whom I understand to be accredited to the Commons press gallery. Eventually I succeeded in getting hold of him and we had a long conversation – initiated by me, and ended by him – in which it became clear that I was dealing with someone determined to write a hostile story.
Curiously, although the reporter had evidently been working on it for some time and could have sought to interview me easily in the Commons, he had made no approach to me at all until I discovered what he was up to and called him the day before his Saturday deadline. This did not bode well for a fair or objective piece of reporting.
The resultant concoction of half-truths and total distortions is published today, and I must say that being attacked – falsely – for sleaze by this particular tabloid does seem to me like a contradiction in terms.
About halfway down the story is the telltale sign that the libel
lawyers have warned that the paper is at risk. It is the grudging
admission that “There is no suggestion [that] Lewis has broken any
rules”. So what, then, is the story all about?
First it suggests that I “hardly visit” the home in New Forest East
into which I moved in 1998. That is the headline, though the actuality
is very different. As I explained to Mr Lyons, I am there every week
but – like every MP who takes his job seriously – I stay in my
Westminster flat four days a week when Parliament is sitting. This is
I repeatedly invited Jamie Lyons to visit my house so that he could
inspect it and satisfy himself that it is my genuine home in New Forest
East – in regular use by me. He said his diary would not permit this
and he declined my offer to show any accredited member of his paper’s
staff around in his stead. It is obvious that no-one from the newspaper
has set foot in my constituency in order to research this ‘stitch-up’.
According to the NoW, “neighbours say [that for] most of the week [I’m]
not there”. Even if any of my neighbours have said this, it is hardly a
revelation that, when Parliament is in session, an MP – however
assiduous – cannot be in Westminster and in his constituency
What the paper seems to be arguing is that no MP who puts in the normal
time at Westminster should ever be allowed to nominate his constituency
home as his main home and to claim the second home allowance on his
London flat. This is patent nonsense and explains why all reference to
the number of nights spent in one’s constituency and London homes is
being dropped from the new edition of the ‘Green Book’ recently
approved by Parliament.
Both my homes are genuine homes in normal use – in so far as an MP’s
life, split between Westminster and the constituency in different
proportions at different times of the year, can in any case be said to
be ‘normal’. I have always checked very carefully with the House of
Commons authorities whether I was entitled to nominate either my London
flat or my constituency house as the ‘main’ one, so as to claim the
allowance on the other one. I have always been assured that everything
was absolutely correct and in order. And the News of the World knows
perfectly well that this is the case.
Secondly, what seems to bother the paper is that I have managed to pay
off the mortgage on my constituency home which, as the article admits,
was a modestly-priced £125,000 when I bought it. I was able to do this
for two main reasons:
(i) I live without extravagance and I don’t like borrowing money; for
example, I have never owned a new car – my present one is 11 years old,
and the one before that was 23 years old before it went to that great
Cortina scrapyard in the sky.
(ii) I have fought and won two major libel actions: the first against a
tabloid which made false allegations about my political activities and
had to pay me £25,000; the second against the printers and distributors
of a scurrilous publication which made false allegations about my
private life. They had to pay me £38,000.
I could have invested this money and my other savings elsewhere; but I
prefer to own a property outright, if possible. Indeed, that is what I
have also done, up to now, with my small buy-to-let flat in
Southampton. (This is my only other asset – as anyone can check in the
Register of Members’ interests).
To add insult to injury, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker is quoted
apparently condemning me by implication on the say-so of that pillar of
respectability and reliability, the News of the World. However, it
appears that Norman’s claims on his second home are almost identical to
mine so far as the second-home allowance is concerned; and he also
apparently claims significant extra sums on this home – in respect of
its role as his constituency office – from a separate Parliamentary
allowance. No doubt this is all within the rules too; but I used to
respect Norman rather more, 24 hours ago, than I do now after reading
his quoted remarks in relation to me.
Thirdly, the newspaper suggests, falsely, that the Chief Constable of
Hampshire has not authorised the anonymous registration of my home on
security grounds. That he has done so can be confirmed by calling his
Chief of Staff, Scott Johnson, at his headquarters in Winchester. Far
from seeking to “CENSOR this News of the World report”, as Mr Lyons
tendentiously claims, I only requested that photographs of where I live
should not be published. I also sent the following request to the paper:
“Dear Editor/News Editor,
Security of my Home Address
One of your political reporters is, as you know, writing a story concerning my home.
Yesterday, he told me that he intends to publish a photograph of my home, though not its exact address.
On the authority of the Hampshire Chief Constable, my home address
is withheld from the electoral register, on security grounds because of
the work I have done in the past and may well do in the future against
extremists at home and overseas.
I am writing formally to request that, if you do publish a picture
of my home, you will do so in such a way as to make it difficult to
identify the particular building – for example, by using a strap-line
across the picture to obscure the house-number, which will otherwise be
Taking such precautions will not in any way inhibit the story you
wish to publish, so I trust you will acknowledge that this is a
perfectly reasonable request by me for responsible behaviour by you.
These requests are being deliberately misrepresented as a bid to block the story.
Finally, I can just envisage commentators on this blog complaining that
I “protest too much” etc. etc., but it is much easier to smear people
in a few words than to disprove those smears concisely. For that
reason, as for many others, I am grateful for the existence of