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Cleaning bill leaves new stain on Britain's Brown

BRITAIN'S ailing Labour government suffered another blow to its authority today when a newspaper published details of expense claims made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other ministers.

Brown, trailing the opposition Conservative Party in the opinion polls ahead of an election due by mid-2010, reclaimed 6,577 pounds (US$9,866) he had paid his brother for cleaning services at his London flat, the right-leaning Daily Telegraph reported.

A spokesman for Brown's office told the newspaper he was reimbursing his brother for his share of the cost for a cleaner they jointly employed, and was within parliamentary rules.

But the report, four weeks before local and European elections, added to public perceptions that lawmakers are taking full advantage of generous perks while ordinary people struggle to cope with a harsh economic recession.

"Absolutely outrageous," was the headline in the Daily Mail, often seen as representing the values of the conservative English middle classes. House of Commons Leader Harriet Harman, Brown's party deputy, told BBC radio: "I know that this looks bad and that people are angry."

She added: "I believe our House of Commons is not scarred by corruption on the scale of other political systems, but we all recognise that we have to act to win back the respect and confidence of the British in their parliament."

The report showed that Justice Minister Jack Straw had claimed back his full local tax despite being given a 50 percent discount. Straw has now repaid the excess claimed.

Other ministers claimed for home improvements, furnishings and work on their gardens.


The row over perks is politically damaging for Brown's centre-left government at a time at a time when voters are tightening their belts in the deepest recession since World War Two.

Labour faces local and European elections on June 4 and a bad performance is likely to raise fresh speculation about whether Brown should lead the party into the general election.

Brown took over from Tony Blair as prime minister two years ago, pledging to build trust in a government that had been undermined by the Iraq war and allegations of political sleaze.

But his image has been tarnished by a scandal over offensive emails sent by a close adviser, the expenses allegations and an embarrassing parliamentary defeat last week over the rights of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers to settle in Britain.

Joanna Lumley, a popular television actress, has led a high-profile campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas, leaving the impression that she is controlling the agenda on the issue.

Members of parliament from all parties will be bracing themselves for a storm of public protest in July when full details of all expense claims going back to 2004 are published.

Opposition Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said that while the claims were legal because lawmakers set the rules, voters would take a dim view of what appears to be lavish spending.

"The reality is that it doesn't wash down the pub. It is difficult to go and meet your constituents and say: 'This is acceptable.' It isn't acceptable," he told Sky News.


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