Uri Geller spoon helps straighten register of interests.

26th February 1999

The Financial Times

Uri Geller spoon helps straighten register of interests

By George Parker,

Political Correspondent

The 11 words which might have saved Peter Mandelson’s ministerial career were yesterday published for the first time, in the new register of MPs’ interests.

Amid the usual catalogue of bizarre gifts and exotic freebie trips was Mr Mandelson’s single entry: “Loan from Geoffrey Robinson MP to assist in purchase of home.”

Mr Mandelson was the latest MP to discover the peril of failing to make full disclosure in the register, and paid the price with his resignation at Christmas as trade secretary.

His downfall has made MPs even more eager to list the most trivial gifts in the new register, which provides compelling evidence that the majority of parliamentarians are not in it for the perks.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, endearingly declares a “llama rug” he was given by a constituent, while Quentin Davies, the Tory MP for Stamford, announces his ownership of a small flock of sheep”.

Anthony Steen, the member for Totnes, was rewarded for his interest in fishing issues with the gift of “a quantity of crabs and lobsters”. The Cuban embassy felt fit to offer Ian Taylor, the former Tory minister, a box of cigars.

Meanwhile Ann Widdecombe, the formidable shadow health secretary, declared receipt of a tea spoon, albeit one bent by the powers of Uri Geller. “Intrinsic value nil; value added, according to Geller, considerable,” she wrote.

The new register gave Tony Blair a chance to record the family trip he took to the British Grand Prix in 1996, a free trip that he had previously omitted to mention.

Labour MPs were unimpressed with William Hague’s “catch-all” list of various unnamed gifts, hospitality and transport which may sometimes be greater than £215″.

Christopher Leslie, MP for Shipley, wrote to Elizabeth Filkin, new Commissioner for Standards, demanding he be more specific.

Tory MPs focused on the hospitality enjoyed by Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet “enforcer”, who accepted tickets for various events from the English National Ballet, BNFL, Coca-Cola, Scottish Coal and Newcastle United FC.

The register makes riveting reading for those interested in what MPs get up to in their spare time.

Nicholas Soames, the heavyweight gastronome who sits for Mid Sussex, combines a hobby of eating and outside interests including a directorship of Wiltons Restaurant, and work as an adviser to the Welcome Break chain of motorway service stations.

Alan Meale, the junior environment minister, confesses to being the parliamentary spokesman for the “Stand By Me Club” – an obscure body devoted to promoting the classic soul song, “especially the recorded versions made by Ben E. King and/or Kenny Lynch”.

Nigel Evans, the freshfaced Tory MP for Ribble Valley, reveals what he gets up to after work by announcing his complimentary membership of Stringfellows nightclub.

Additional research by Emily Horgan



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