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The Mail on Sunday took the unusual step of sharing its front page story with other Sunday papers today, ensuring Geoff Hoon’s ‘three homes’ scandal was splashed around generously. Hoon was outed for living rent-free in Admiralty House for three and a half years – apparently due to security reasons as he was defence minister at the time – while claiming expenses on his home in Derby and renting out his London townhouse.

The general impression of MPs rolling around in public money like pigs in litter isn’t helped by the shabby excuses they put out when Paul Dacre and friends inevitably track them down. Hoon told the Mail:

I only claimed whatever the rules allowed for. The [Commons] fees office was aware what was happening. Indeed, I was told to move to Admiralty House on security advice. I was told unless I went into secure premises I would have to have round-the-clock police protection at my home in London and that would cost the taxpayer a great deal more.

As more revelations showed Jacqui Smith claimed £304 for a barbecue – they must have been pretty amazing burgers – the home secretary took the the blue airwaves of the Telegraph to defend herself. “I thought that was the wrong thing to do [to claim for her husband’s porn films] and that’s why what we immediately did was apologise and pay the money back,” Smith told the newspaper, using that cunning New Labour formulation that looks like an admission of error but is actually just an excuse.

barbecue2

Amid all the expense hounding, one story in the Telegraph made me laugh. Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, is loathe to claw back expenses from the taxpayer and is apparently keen to get his annual claim even lower. “I’ve got a board [with my name and contact details on it] at Kettering Town football club and that’s £15,” he told the paper. “I could stop that.” I think we can all allow him that little bit of hedonism.

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taperecorder1Today The Guardian published some tasty titbits from Hugo Young’s forthcoming compendium of off-the-record briefings.

Every time he unofficially interviewed a political mover or shaker, Young noted down his impressions and the highlights of the conversation. A couple of morsels:

He is a man who is lightweight as a butterfly, skimming along the surface… He does lack gravitas, terribly so.

That was his rather damning verdict on Tony Blair. And:

I have seldom seen a less healthy-looking man. But he also has the sharpest mind, deeply engaged by the whole spectrum of issues… He just does not know how to distract himself from the problems of state and come down to the level of humanity.

Recognise him?

Funnily enough, because Young died in 2003 and no-one was quite sure whether he intended his background notes to be printed or not, every person mentioned in the book had to consent to their publication.

I often wonder whether politicians read their bad press, but in this case they must have had to. It must have made for a few dreary afternoons.

In a week dominated by the Sachsgate affair, it’s no surprise the Sunday papers have taken a look at the BBC through a critical lens.

This morning the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson told The Andrew Marr Show Jonathan Ross would be keeping his job, although he described his three-month suspension as a “final warning”. Thompson went on to defend his £816,000 annual salary:

I get paid significantly less than my opposite numbers in ITV and Channel 4. I took a pay cut. People are happy to do that because of the creative challenges.

No doubt he had in mind the News of the World’s splash when he said that. The NotW used a simple Freedom of Information request to get details of the BBC’s top 50 salaries – all of whom earn more than Gordon Brown’s relatively modest £190,000 a year.

The story’s strapline on page 4 sums up the paper’s thrust: “For £14.3m [the aggregate of the salaries] we could employ 677 nurses, 695 teachers, 540 firemen or 596 coppers.. but what DO we get? 50 money-grabbing BBC fat cats!”

The Sunday Times had the same table of stats showing the Corporation’s top earners but didn’t deem it as newsworthy, stashing it away on page 13 as part of a double page spread on the fallout from Sachsgate. Instead the paper led in with comments from a source close to Cabinet minister Andy Burnham suggesting the BBC should “tackle its salary culture”.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a senior Tory source saying the Conservatives would force the Beeb to cuts its licence fee by £6, effectively returning £800 million to viewers in a year. The source tells The Telegraph the Tories would “rein in the overweening ambitions of the BBC” which, in spending huge amounts of money on the likes of Ross, was “acting as if it were Manchester United buying Ronaldo”.

Zeituni Onyango

On the other side of the Atlantic, a real auntie has been giving Barack Obama an unwelcome distraction.

According to The New York Times, Obama had no idea the 56-year-old Kenyan relative he affectionately referred to as “Auntie Zeituni” in his memoir was living with illegal immigant status in Boston.

She made small donations to his campaign amounting to $260 which David Axelrod has said will be refunded.

In today’s Observer, Paul Harris and Gabby Hinsliff remark: “Illegal immigration is a political minefield in US politics and the story could be a vote-losing headache for Obama.”

With a matter of days to go until America’s next president is sworn in, all indicators are pointing to an Obama victory. Like Tony Blair in 1997, he is playing this down. Several commentators have hoped this won’t result in an overly cautious first term as it did for New Labour.

On another note, Andrew Rawnsley thinks David Cameron is quietly keeping his fingers crossed for a Democrat win.

Finally, in today’s Telegraph, Philip Sherwell and Tim Shipman report that if elected Obama will face an early test from Islamic terrorists, who have threatened to test the new president’s mettle. There is a great piece in this quarter’s Granta Magazine that ties in with the ongoing threat from within presented by extremists. Unfortunately you can’t get it online but I’m planning a longer blog piece with some of the higlights.