Page last updated at 01:20 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

MP loses cash over 'rude' blog

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

Paul Flynn's website
Mr Flynn called Labour colleague Peter Hain a "shapeshifter"

A Labour MP says he has been stripped of a Parliamentary allowance for making fun of other MPs on his blog.

Paul Flynn was told to remove posts including ones calling ex-Labour minister Peter Hain a "shapeshifter" and Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik a "clown".

When Mr Flynn refused he had part of his communications allowance removed.

Other MPs have complained of the Commons trying to "censor" their blogs but the authorities say there are rules on using public money for "propaganda".

MPs voted last year to give themselves a 10,000 allowance to spend on boosting the public understanding of Parliament through websites and other publicity material.

They were warned that they would not be allowed to use the money to publish political "propaganda" on their websites.

But Mr Flynn - whose award-winning blog has been praised for its outspoken take on Westminster life and was once described as "magnificently rude" by Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts - said the authorities were not concerned about bias on his site.

They don't understand the net. They simply don't get it. It is like 1984
Derek Wyatt
Labour MP

They were instead trying to impose the same rules of etiquette that apply in the Commons chamber on the internet, which he said amounted to censorship.

"They didn't have any complaints about the party political content, it was the courtesies of the House," he told the BBC News website.

"But I have never seen the rules written down. They just rang me up after reading my blog and said 'you can't say that'".

In one post, Mr Flynn compares Labour colleague Peter Hain to a Star Trek character "who liquefies at the end of each day and sleeps in a bucket to emerge in another chosen shape the following morning".

'Cash for comrades'

He also turns his satirical fire on Lembit Opik, who recently failed in his bid to be elected Lib Dem president, whom he describes as a "clown" and a "turkey" whose speciality is "mindless political populism over intelligence".

Other MPs branded a "turkey" include Tory Nigel Evans, who Mr Flynn describes as "a tabloid newspaper made flesh".

He has also been critical of Labour colleagues such as Richard Caborn and Ian McCartney who are consultants to the nuclear industry, dubbing their payments "cash for comrades".

Mr Flynn said the authorities had told him to go through his site and remove any criticism of other MPs.

But the Newport MP said he would not be toning down the content of his site and was now paying the 250 a year it costs to run it out of his own pocket.

"Imagine how boring it would be if the only thing you could say about other MPs were nice things. What the hell is the point of that?," he said.

'Random checks'

Another Labour MP, Derek Wyatt, has clashed with the Commons authorities over the content of his website.

There is nothing to stop MPs having a blog but there has to be appropriate use of the communications allowance
Commons authorities

He said he had been forced to remove 13 video clips which allegedly included party political points.

"They don't get in the way of my letters or phone calls, so why do they want to interfere in what I put on the web? They only want me to publish anodyne videos that no one will watch.

"They have got it completely wrong. They don't understand the net. They simply don't get it. It is like 1984."

The Commons authorities say there are clear rules on what MPs can publish on publicly funded websites.

"There is nothing to stop MPs having a blog but there has to be appropriate use of the communications allowance," a spokesman said.

The rules say communications paid for by allowances "must not seek to compare the member's party favourably with another, promote one party at the expense of another or seek to undermine the reputation of political opponents".

MPs are encouraged to submit their newsletters to the authorities for clearance and, the rulebook adds, the Commons authorities carry out "random checks" of MPs' websites and report the results to the members' estimates committee.

Members of the Welsh Assembly were given similar, but more specific, warnings about what they could publish on their websites earlier this year, prompting complaints of censorship.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific