Politics Summary: Thursday, February 4th

MPs' expenses, the Conservatives' fiddling of crime stats, the Lord Chief Justice's calls for the scrapping of fines for serious offences, N. Ireland and Obama.

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All the papers lead on what The Times calls a “day of reckoning” for expenses-fiddling MPs, with Sir Thomas Legg delivering his “final damning verdict” says The Independent. 350 MPs will be ordered to pay back more than £1 million, an average of £2,850 reports The Guardian, though individual amounts vary wildly. The Express believes “fiddling MPs will get away with it”, while the Standard says all 350 involved will be named, as will all those who have handed back money since the scandal was uncovered. The Telegraph, the paper which broke the story last spring, says Sir Thomas will criticise MPs for establishing a “culture of deference” that allowed abuses to flourish, and make it clear he believes “the entire system was corrupt”. The Times, however, reports that the expenses crackdown “may leave MPs better off”, with only those living within Zone 6 barred from claiming overnight expenses.

The Times reports on the Conservatives’ “fiddling” of violent crime statistics, for which Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling was heavily criticised yesterday after sending violent crime figures between 1999 and 2008 to every Tory candidate in England and Wales – described by official statisticians as “misleading” because the method of collecting data changed in 2002; “the effect was to force up recorded violence by an estimated 35 per cent in the first year,” adds the report. The Guardian, meanwhile, says the figures “omitted Home Office caveats about use of crime statistics”. Yesterday, Left Foot Forward reported further inaccuracies in Grayling’s claims, namely his claim under-16s weren’t included in the British Crime Survey – their experiences have been included since 2009.

The Lord Chief Justice has called for the scrapping of fines for serious offences, reports the Telegraph, expressing concern over the use of on-the-spot fines and cautions, saying he was “troubled” by their increased use. In his first report since becoming head of the judiciary, Lord Judge says: “I have said publicly that any assault which causes injury should be dealt with by a court. I welcome the review launched by the Lord Chancellor (Jack Straw) and I hope that it will lead to material changes in the way fixed penalty notices, cautions and conditional cautions are used.” Of the 1.3 million crimes solved each year, adds the report, one in four is dealt with by a caution including serious assaults and even some rapes.

Peter Robinson’s return as Northern Ireland First Minister is reported by The Guardian. The Democratic Unionist Party leader stepped down on January 11th to clear his name following allegations of financial misconduct in the wake of revelations about his wife’s private life. His return comes amid another row over policing, with the Hillsborough Castle talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein showing no signs of a successful resolution – after nearly two weeks of discussion. The Prime Minister yesterday stepped up the pressure on the unionists, warning them that the government would call a “snap assembly election” if the two sides fail to reach a deal.

And, one year into his presidency, The Financial Times profiles Barack Obama’s team of closest advisers, dubbed the “fearsome foursome”. They are: senior adviser David Axelrod, Obama’s longest-standing mentor, from his days in Chicago politics, he is the chief defender of the Obama brand; communications chief Robert Gibbs, who delivers the White House daily briefings, described as the “least likely member of the circle”, a former Democrat press officer who worked on John Kerry’s 2004 camapaign, seen as a “keeper of the flame”; Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff, the least honey-tongued politician in Washington, and one of the most effective, he may well achieve his aim of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House of Representatives; and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, an old friend of the Obamas – briefly considered as a candidate to fill Obama’s Senate seat, she was part of the circle he consulted before running for president.

• The British Muslims for Secular Democracy conference takes place at SOAS on Tuesday 15th February – to register email director@bmsd.org

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