It would have been a surprise had we have not seen at least one more minister exiting the Cabinet yesterday as the Government prepared for the inevitable storm due today with the publication of a full list of MPs' expenses (well, almost full - some of the most damaging details are going to be left out, it seems, so whether or not the data is worth the paper it's printed on is a matter of personal choice and faith in the Government) over the last four years, not least from the Labour party where Prime Minister Gordon Brown is doing all he can - with the exception of saying the voters will get to read a full, unedited version of the report on the system due in October - to convince us that he understands our anger and will do something about it.
That sacrificial victim was Kitty Ussher (pictured right), junior Treasury Minister, who is reported to have "flipped" homes, as so many MPs have, in order to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax. Ms. Ussher represents Burnley, where she had what was designated as her main home - defined by Commons guidelines as the one at which an MP spends most nights and the costs of which the MP is responsible for - and a second home in South London, designated as her second home, for which she has been entitled to claim expenses as a property closer to Westminster than the constituency home is deemed necessary for many MPs to attend Parliament as regularly as they are required to do.
However, in 2007 Ms. Ussher decided it was time to sell the residence in Burnley. If you have two homes, selling one leaves you liable to pay Capital Gains Tax on profit made from the sale (£40,000 in this case) so on the advice of her accountant Ms. Ussher changed the designation, making the house in Burnley her second home for one month. That meant that when it sold, she could make a claim from the Commons to cover the tax - a move which saved her somewhere between £9750 and £16,000. The Daily Telegraph has a copy of the letter in which Ms. Ussher's accountant advised this and has published it today.
Ms. Ussher is understood to have contacted Gordon Brown and though "flipping" homes is legal, he told her that by taking advantage of the loophole for personal gain she would no longer be considered a suitable candidate to stand as a minister. She has since said that she will stand down as an MP at the next General Election, a decision she puts down to the pressure of combining her work as an MP and Minister in addition to being the mother of two young children. She has already been under scrutiny after it emerged that she claimed £20,000 for Artex textured paint to be removed from the walls of her London home - though Acid Rabbi fully understands the need to rid all the world's buildings of the horror of Artex (and would fully support a new law banning it forever, especially if that law was extended to fake-Tudor pubs), Ms. Ussher really should have paid for this herself, or better still got herself down to B&Q for a big tub of Polycell Smoothover.
The Minister had been employed at the Treasury up until last October, from where she was moved to the Department of Work and Pensions and put in charge of housing benefit. The recent Cabinet reshuffle, during which Mr. Brown surrounded himself with people either loyal to him or too spineless to stand up to him - and, oddly, Peter Mandelson, surely a piranha in a tank of guppies - in an attempt to form a sort of human shield insulating himself from attacks upon his leadership, saw her back with the Treasury again. An enconomist known for her pleasant and likable manner, Ms. Ussher was tipped for the top, and it is a pity that she has been revealed as just yet another money-grabber.