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Chris Moncrieff asks how EU 'junketing' can be curbed

By Chris Moncrieff | In-depth | Published:

The greed of some of the European Union grandees did not get the bad publicity it deserves, largely because everything else has been dominated by the Trump-Kim Jong Un ferocious war of words over North Korea.

Jean-Claude Juncker

Some - but by no means all - of the junketing at EU taxpayers' expense has come to light. But it is suspected that, like the proverbial iceberg, there is far more of it below the surface than can be seen above it.

The latest issue is the case of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spending £24,000 on a private jet for a one-night trip to Rome.

And this is but a tiny fraction of the scandal. Figures grudgingly released show that claims for the first two months of last year amounted to nearly £450,000 for 261 official trips, working out at £8,000 per month for each of the 28 unelected commissioners.

Campaigners who want to unearth the whole sordid story have been told by the Commission that they cannot disclose other expenses because of the "excessive administration burden", claiming it is already "one of the most controlled organisations in the world".

Don't make me laugh. The auditors have refused to sign off the EU's finances for more than a decade now - and no one seems to bat an eyelid.

This is an outrageous state of affairs which makes the expenses misdeeds of UK MPs seem puny by comparison.

:: Can you picture the scene: A contrite Theresa May on the stool of penitence pleading forgiveness at the forthcoming Conservative Party conference for her catastrophic misjudgement in calling last June's general election?

Personally, I don't see it like that. I expect her to make some kind of apology to the party's activists, but she is not, as some commentators are suggesting, a groveller. And she is a long way from being "dead woman walking" as described by the former Chancellor George Osborne.

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It is far more likely that she is a Prime Minister who, although not attempting to sweep this miscalculation under the carpet, will be more interested in looking forward rather than holding painful inquests on past mistakes.

Things are starting to look up a little within the Conservative ranks. And about time, too. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, who had created some turmoil in the Cabinet and elsewhere in the Tory Party with his campaign for a softer than soft Brexit - seen by some as treachery - appears to have suddenly altered his view.

We may never know whether there was any pressure put on him to change his stance, but however it happened, there will be sighs of relief from the Prime Minister. Even so, there remain elements in the Parliamentary Conservative Party who regret the Chancellor's action and they will want to make their views known loud and clear.

So I think those who are still predicting a political bloodbath at the Tory conference are wrong. Even the most hard-line anti-Brexiteers must now realise that to rock the Tory boat at the moment could leave them all floundering in the water, facing another, and much worse, electoral disaster.

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Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn, so seriously under-estimated by the Tories and even by many of his own colleagues, surprised everyone with his impressive election campaign.

He will not get a standing ovation at the Labour conference - they don't do that sort of thing - but even the most grudging Labour "moderate" should acknowledge the performance of this hard-line left-winger.

:: David Miliband, once the favourite to win the Labour Party leadership, is beaten by his own brother. So he quits Parliament and flies off to the United States to take a mega-paid job heading an international charity.

Now, he describes the pro-Brexit vote at the referendum as "an unparalleled act of economic self-harm".

If he believes that, why didn't he stay on and fight his corner? Just asking.

:: You would have been justified in thinking that after their relative success in the Brexit referendum last year, Ukip would have become a thriving, even possibly influential, party on the UK's political landscape. But no.

Things have gone from bad to worse, to an utter shambles for them. Since that referendum, I have lost count of the number of failed leaders they have had. And the party is riddled with personal animosities, friction and political blood-letting.

At this rate, it seems likely to collapse into a heap of smoking dust at our feet. Indeed, that prospect is now seen in some quarters as inevitable.

The latest chaotic event is the resignation of Mike Hookem, as the party's deputy whip in the European Parliament. This is, he says, because Anne Marie Waters, who founded the Sharia Watch pressure group and has called Islam "evil", has been allowed to stand in Ukip's leadership election.

Hookem said he was not prepared to "turn a blind eye" to extremism and that Waters should not be in the party, never mind bidding for the leadership.

David Cameron seems to have got it right when he dismissed Ukip's membership as "fruitcakes". This now ludicrous outfit has certainly provided us with a textbook masterclass in how not to run a political party.

:: Yet another long-standing political myth has suddenly blown up in our faces. It has been universally assumed for two decades that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, while having a historic dinner at the Granita restaurant in London's Islington, discussed how they would "share out" the Premiership once Labour were restored to power, which they were three years later.

Apparently the critical talks on the future leadership of a Labour Government - which did not turn out as Mr Brown had hoped they would - had already taken place at two separate meetings in Edinburgh.

Yet, oddly, the two men were content to let the world think these discussions had taken place at Granita.

But wherever they took place, these talks probably ignited what would eventually be the bitter feud between them.

Chris Moncrieff

By Chris Moncrieff

Journalist and former political editor of the Press Association

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