When Iain Dale leapt to Caroline Spelman’s defence a little over a week or so ago, some of what he had to say in her defence seemed, to me at least, to pose rather more questions than it provided answers, for example…
I remember when Caroline Spelman was first elected… I remember she had an Association which was trying to deselect her.
That struck me as a little odd at the time I first read it. Yes, one can see from the circumstances in which Spelman became the candidate for Meriden, in the wake of the untimely death of the previous incumbent, that she’s very likely to have been parachuted into the seat by CCHQ and that can stir up a measure of local resentment. Nevertheless its still somewhat unusual for a local association or branch, and particularly a Conservative Association, to continue hostilities after an election in which a candidate, even one foisted on them from on high, successfully defended the seat, all of which left me wondering whether there might be something more to this than meets the eye.
What had Spelman done, or perhaps not done, to attract the ire the her own local association?
As ever, on local matters, the sensible place to look for an answer or two is my esteemed blogging colleague PoliticalHack and answers he has certainly provided on this occasion:
Firstly, nowhere does Ms Spelman specify where her home was in 1997-98 – she is not going to disabuse you of the thought that it might have been in Meriden itself. Thing is that it wasn’t. During 97 and 98 – and possibly for a little longer – Ms Spelman lived with her family in Kent. I’ve been digging away and discovered that the local Conservative Association in Meriden were furious at her delaying a promised move to the constituency. I believe that she didn’t find anywhere in Meriden to live until 1999.
And, with that, a few things begin to coalesce and a somewhat different picture of Spelman’s early days as MP for Meridan starts to emerge.
While it would, in my experience, be a little unusual for a Conservative Association to round on their newly elected MP, even if they had misgivings as to the manner of her selection for the seat, it would not be anything like so unusual for the local party members to become more than a little miffed should that MP prove to be somewhat tardy in taking up permanent residence in the constituency, and if that situation dragged on for just a little too long, they may even get miffed enough to start making noises about deselection in an effort to jolly their recalcitrant MP along.
And so, things are starting to get a little more interesting.
Spelman would certainly have had an address in the constituency at the time if the election – standard practice is that candidates who live outside the area will rent some sort of accommodation in the constituency to give them a local base as a temporary arrangement and then, if successful, relocate their primary, or sometimes secondary, place of residence to the constituency.
But whether she would treat that first local address as her family home and relocate her children to the area to attend local schools while her main family home remained in Kent – well that’s an altogether different question and one that needs exploring further, because on that hinges the veracity of her defence.
Remember, Spelman’s account of her arrangement with Tina Haynes, who may have been known by her maiden name of Tina Rawlins at the time specifically states that:
I accepted the opportunity to have part-time administrative and secretarial help from Tina Hayne because I had advertised my home as constituency office – there was no other constituency office that Ian Mills had, nor staff in the constituency…
All of which presents rather a problem as PolitcalHack also notes here that several sources, including Spelman’s Who’s Who entry from 1997, all list her contact address in her constituency as being at an address in Manor Road, Solihull, the same address that houses her constituency office today and which was then (1997) as it is now, the premises of her local Conservative Association.
This certainly doesn’t preclude possibility that, for at least a short period time. Spelman may have used a private address in the constituency as her contact address, particularly if, for a period of time, she;d had a falling out with the local association – but during which period exactly did this take place and for how long?
Was it before the entry for Who’s Who was compiled and published? Was if afterwards? Was it only, perhaps, during the period in which her relationship with her local association appears to have broken down sufficiently for them to consider deselecting her?
Hack’s inquiries have yield up yet another conundrum:
Rumour reaches me that the Tories have been spinning the line that she actually moved to Meriden sometime in late 1997, while the truth is that the family company Spelman and Cormack Associates recorded a change of director’s address from the 15 December 1998 to an address in Dorridge. Curiously, the company had been parked since June that year at another address in Blackheath, London – not the home address in Kent.
Could this provide yet another hint as to why her relationship with her own local association became, at one point, rather fractious?
There is one means by which a definitive answer might be found. Remember, Spelman said of her arrangement with Haynes that it:
offered a practical solution as she could deal with the secretarial side while the children were in school and then after school provided childcare for my kids…
This would, and could, only be the case if, even without having relocated her main family home to the constituency until the end of 1998, Spelman had placed her two oldest children into schools that were, if not in the constituency itself then at least within reasonable travelling distance of the constituency and, that her youngest child, who was under the age of three when Spelman was elected, attended a local nursery.
Only if the children were living in the Meriden area from Monday to Friday during school terms from September 1997 onwards would Spelman’s account of her nanny’s secretarial role stand up to scrutiny as, if this is not the case and the children either attended schools in London or near the family home in Kent, then there is no means by which the nanny could possibly have been carrying out secretarial duties in Spelman’s constituency until, at the earliest, September 1998, when the children might have moved to the area in anticipation of the family home being relocated to the constituency in December 1998.
The veracity or otherwise of Spelman’s account of her arrangement with her nanny/secretary hinges on one very simple question, a question that needs to be put to Spelman.
Where, between September 1997 and 1998, did your children go to school?
If the answer is anything other than the West Midlands then Spelman’s account of her arrangement with her nanny collapses on the spot and she should resign her position as Chairman of the Conservative Party.
So, Newsnight, the ball would, it would seem, be firmly back in your court and you have only one more question to ask.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has been authorised by the Committee on Standards and Privileges to undertake an inquiry into whether Mrs Caroline Spelman MP breached the rules of the House in the arrangements she made for the employment of a secretarial assistant who was also her children’s nanny for a period from 1997.
The Commissioner had a meeting with Mrs Spelman on 9 June to discuss this matter with her. He undertook to consider carefully her request that he undertake an inquiry, despite having received no formal complaint about her conduct and that the events complained of were more than seven years ago. Such an inquiry would be exceptional and would require the agreement of the Committee.
Having carefully considered the matter the Commissioner has recommended to the Committee that exceptionally he should conduct an inquiry. The Committee has accepted that recommendation.
The Commissioner is therefore initiating an inquiry into whether the circumstances of Mrs Spelman’s employment of her secretarial assistant from 1997 breached the rules of the House in force at the time.