New revelations pile pressure on Darling
CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling was facing renewed pressure over his expenses last night following reports that he claimed second-home allowances on two properties at the same time.
Mr Darling, who earlier faced Liberal Democrat calls to quit after being "caught with his fingers in the till", was again the subject of further revelations. According to the Daily Telegraph, leaked records showed that in July 2007, ten days after becoming Chancellor, he submitted a 1,004 claim for the service charge on his south London flat.
It said the charge covered the period up to the end of that year by which time he was also claiming second-home allowances on his grace-and-favour Downing Street apartment. That would appear to contravene parliamentary rules that allow MPs to claim on only one property at a time.
From the September, the flat was being rented – the tax advice for which arrangement Mr Darling claimed from the taxpayer, the newspaper said.
However a spokesman for the Chancellor flatly denied the alleged rule breach saying: "The allegation of double claiming is simply untrue. He paid the bills due for his flat until he moved out in September 2007 after which he made no further claims for it."
However, a spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said last night that Mr Darling needed to explain his actions. He said: "Alistair Darling should face up to the electorate and get out and meet his constituents and explain his actions face to face."
It was also reported last night that former Tory leader Michael Howard claimed more than 17,000 for "gardening services" at his second home over a four-year period.
Cabinet colleagues had earlier defended Mr Darling after Lib Dem economics spokesman Vince Cable, backed by party leader Nick Clegg, launched a stinging call for Mr Darling to be thrown out of 11 Downing Street over expenses claims for accountant's fees and switching his second home.
Mr Cable used his column in a Sunday newspaper to demand the Chancellor's scalp, writing: "Here is the company finance director caught with his fingers in the till.
"He doesn't explain. He doesn't apologise. He just blames his colleagues for not stopping him. His moral authority has vanished. He must go, now. We need a Chancellor focusing on the national accounts rather than his own. There are some urgent economic questions to address."
Joining the demands, Mr Clegg said: "As Chancellor, Alistair Darling occupies a very special position in government. He needs to enjoy the public's trust when it comes to issues of financial probity, of money, of managing our nation's finances.
"And given that very unique responsibility that he has, it's simply impossible for him to continue in that role when such very major question marks are being raised about his financial affairs."
The pair were accused of descending to "cheap jibes" by Trade Secretary Lord Mandelson.
Mr Darling was among ministers who paid accountants thousands of pounds of public money to complete their personal tax returns, his own bills coming to 1,400 over two years, it was previously reported.
He was also accused of "flipping" the location of his second home four times in four years, allowing him to claim thousands of pounds towards the cost of his Edinburgh home and a London flat.
However, a spokeswoman for Mr Darling said: "The allegation that he changed addresses for personal gain is untrue.
"He changed the designation of his second home when his circumstances changed in accordance with the rules. He also pays tax on the benefit of living in Downing Street and pays the council tax there."
The row came amid continued speculation that Mr Darling could lose his job in an anticipated cabinet reshuffle by Gordon Brown after what is expected to be a devastating night of European and local polls on Thursday.
Some reports at the weekend suggested the popular Mr Cable could be drafted in in an attempt to limit the damage to Labour and restore trust in politics – a possibility he firmly dismissed.
Another report suggested Schools Secretary Ed Balls, once Mr Brown's right-hand man at the Treasury, would be promoted in place of Mr Darling.
Mr Cable said: "I would not agree to be co-opted into a Labour government in its dying days. There is not a scintilla of truth in the idea that I might become chancellor.
"I am part of Nick Clegg's team and that is where I intend to remain. This kind of arrangement might have been possible in the early days of Tony Blair's government, but not now. What we need now is an election."
Tory leader David Cameron also became embroiled in the scandal yesterday when it emerged he had paid 75,000 off his London home four months after increasing his mortgage for his second home to the maximum amount.
Mr Cameron took out a 350,000 mortgage to buy a large house in his Oxfordshire constituency in 2001.
Had he paid the same money off on his second home, rather than his London house, he could have saved taxpayers 22,000.
But he denied this, saying: "I think what I did was very reasonable," he said.
"I don't think what is being said that somehow I could have reduced the claim on the taxpayer, I don't think that's right."
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