April 6, 2010 • 9:00 am

The emails contain extracts from a speech made by Oliver Cromwell in 1653 to Parliament before it was expelled.

“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation”, the speech says.

The standard email is sent anonymously and signed from ‘The People’. You’ve Been Cromwelled (YBC) says on its site that: “Many if not all MPs have used and abused the expenses system to their benefit, some even using our taxes to pay for second homes.”

Full Fact contacted You’ve Been Cromwelled to establish why they were making the accusation against all MPs, regardless of their expenses record.

You’ve Been Cromwelled

The YBC website provides a list of the top 25 most targeted MPs – what it calls the Cromwell League.

There seems to be little relationship between an MPs expenses record and how often they have been emailed.

Danny Alexander, Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey tops the list, having so far received 2,455 emails. He was asked to repay just under £300 by the review of expenses claims, including for the inadvertent overpayment of council tax.

Grant Shapps, Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield, has been targeted over 2,220 times by email. Despite not being asked to repay any money, not claiming a second home and being described by the Daily Telegraph as one of the “saints” of the expenses scandal, Mr Shapps was the second most targeted MP. Mr Shapps was contacted by Full Fact about his experience but declined to comment.

Some MPs have responded to the anonymous emails. Labour MP Stephen Ladyman told Full Fact he replied to challenge the claims and was on the receiving end of a further 500 emails in just a few minutes. He said another flurry of almost 500 emails followed just days later.

Mr Ladyman is now listed as the eighth most targeted MPs having received 1,018 emails. The experience suggests that multiple emails were sent by the same person to boost the number of hits against his name.

Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, told Full Fact he had received similar treatment with many scores of emails being received within seconds of each other.

Mr Ladyman spoke to Full Fact about a campaign he said was being run by “bullies and cowards”. He said that You’ve Been Cromwelled was not constructive in any sense and he put the people behind the campaign in the same category as those MPs who had abused their expenses.

Mr Ladyman also expressed concern that some of the emails may have come from actual constituents. He said that as an MP he responds to every constituent who contacts him. However, due to the anonymous nature of the YBC campaign he is unable to engage some constituents in dialogue. 

He said people were right to be very angry about MPs expenses. But, he added, campaigns for change need to targeted to be credible. Mr Ladyman was not accused of any wrongdoing over his expenses.

Lib Dem MP Andrew Stunell told Full Fact that he felt indignant about being on the receiving end of an “indiscriminate, cyber-attack”. He questioned the meaningfulness of a campaign which claims to be upholding democracy but chooses Oliver Cromwell as its figurehead.

“I might have been a roundhead myself in the civil war but Cromwell was an anti-democratic tyrant,” Mr Stunell remarked.

Michael Mates MP told the YBC website: “Anonymity in making false accusations is utterly contemptible.”

MPs record

The scandal over MPs expenses dominated politics in 2009. A recent Hansard survey showed that public trust in politicians had sunk again.

Three MPs have been charged with criminal offences. Hundreds of MPs repaid money and a record number will be standing down at the general election as a result.

However, many MPs were never accused of any wrongdoing despite what the YBC campaign suggests.

The Legg Report reported on MPs use of the Additional Costs Allowance in February 2010. The allowance of around £24,000 per year is used to pay the extra costs of MPs having to split their time between Westminster and their constituency. 

Sir Thomas Legg’s report exonerated 360 MPs after investigations into their expenses (48% of the total) and no request to repay money was made.

The review followed a series of revelations in the Daily Telegraph about MPs expenses last year. The Telegraph acknowledged that many MPs had committed no wrong. It profiled 48 ‘saints’ which it considered shining examples of probity despite the wider scandal. The list included MPs from all parties. Ed Miliband, Ann Widdicombe, Grant Shapps, Rob Marris, David Howarth and Lynne Featherstone were among those listed.

All of these MPs have however been accused of shirking their responsibility to the people of Britain, through the You’ve Been Cromwelled emails.

Justifying the claims

Full Fact contacted YBC to get their take on the validity of the campaign. The man behind the YBC website defended its decision to tar all MPs with the same brush.

Going by the monicker ‘Olly Cromwell’ he said: “Those who were classed as saints [by the Daily Telegraph] may not have abused the expenses system but they did not do anything to combat that abuse. So they were and are complicit.”

‘Olly Cromwell’ did not accept that MPs who had previously voted for transparency in Parliament deserved to escape such emails either. He said: “No, they are all treated equally [by the campaign]. Which is very generous considering the taxpayer is not.”

On the decision to send emails anonymously, ‘Olly Cromwell’ insisted it was a way of exposing the hypocrisy of MPs who had attempted to keep their expenses private. He also said that: “a lot of people fear MPs and the power they have and so I wanted to protect them from any further action should an MP see fit to take any further action.”

Conclusion

The MPs expenses scandal roused strong passions. Several MPs have themselves described the whole Westminster system as “rotten” and in need of reform.

But, the YBC campaign makes specific charges that all MPs are guilty of wrongdoing. As a result it has targeted every single one of the 646 MPs without concern for their record – either on expenses claims or on supporting a more transparent parliament.

This is unjustified and misleading. The Legg Report makes clear that 360 MPs acted entirely properly in the use of allowances which support their work as public servants.

A parliamentary staff member, who declined to be named, told Full Fact that the tone of the emails felt “nasty, vicious and personal”. They said the anonymity of the emails led them to believe that they were likely to have been sent by a very small number of people.

Rob Marris MP told the YBC site that emailing anonymously without providing a right of reply did not promote debate or political engagement and could not be taken seriously.

By John Pym

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