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No one left to blame? There's always the press... [Jan. 21st, 2009|10:47 am]
The Mabiblogion
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As a rule I don’t do schadenfreude. I must confess, however, that the merest of smiles crept across my face on hearing of the latest allegations against Conservative Assembly Member Nick Bourne.

It was reported over the weekend that Mr Bourne is to be investigated by the police in relation to payments made to Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservatives and later claimed back from the Assembly.

Labour Parliamentary candidate Jenny Rathbone has asked police to investigate whether or not the payments were illegal.

This last scandal hasn’t finished Mr Bourne off. Remarkably he is actually getting sympathy from his critics, a number of whom regard the allegations as nothing more than opportunistic political point scoring.

Fair enough, they may well be right.

I must be a bit old fashioned though, as I tend to think politicians who are accused of crimes should be investigated.

Whether the allegations hold water or are just a Machiavellian strategy I have no idea. And I have no intention of guessing. Suffice to say that if it emerges that it was simply an opportunist strategy there should be consequences for Rathbone.

Nick Bourne’s 2009 has started in much the same way as his 2008 ended. That is, not very well.

Last year his expenses claims caused outrage after it emerged he spent £5,000 of tax-payers’ money on his bathroom. Then it emerged he had also claimed for a trouser press and an iPod.

It was all entirely legal and correct within the rules of the Welsh Assembly, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the people of Wales thought £5,000 of their money was a bit much to spend on a bathroom. And just maybe, politicians should fork out for their own upmarket ironing boards and music accessories.

Despite all this, things did seem to be improving for Nick. Last week the Welsh Conservative Group released a statement saying he would remain their leader. They also, without even a hint of irony, launched their ‘robust guidelines’ for how AMs should claim expenses.

What really struck me, observing all of this, was that Nick Bourne still doesn’t get it.

Despite all the months of allegations, negative press coverage and public anger, Nick Bourne still believes it was a ‘witch-hunt’ and that the newspaper reports of the scandal were ‘near hysterical’.

He then went on to illustrate, even more clearly, just how little he had learnt from the scandal. He said he knew of AMs making large claims for lunches, but wasn’t going to reveal their names as he didn’t want them to become victims of a witch hunt as well.

Hang on just a minute there - I want to know what Assembly Members are doing with my money!

So we have robust guidelines from the Conservatives on expenses accompanied by Nick Bourne announcing that he knows people are abusing the rules but he’s not saying who they are. Mixed messages?

To make matters even worse he also retreated to that famous last refuge of the scoundrel: blaming the newspapers.

The coverage of the expenses scandal was extensive but measured. The facts were reported and the views of those who thought Nick Bourne’s actions were not acceptable were represented, alongside the views of those who thought it was all a storm in a tea cup.

It was nowhere near hysterical.

It must also be remembered that Nick didn’t really help himself. Releasing the statement that there was no music on his iPod was a political suicide attempt.

Nick Bourne should be thankful that the media in Wales is in no fit state to really scrutinise him.

Newspaper cutbacks are already reducing the amount of political coverage that goes into the two national newspapers. One of the most worrying things about the Welsh media is that Assembly Members do not face the kind of media scrutiny they should.

For Nick Bourne, however, it is evidently still too much. His claim to have been the victim of a witch-hunt just doesn’t stand up in the light of what we know about the Welsh press.

If he can’t handle the limited scrutiny Assembly Members face from the newspapers, maybe Nick Bourne had better hop on his broom and find another job.

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