In the grand scheme of things, not a lot of people know the rules MPs are subject to when it comes to using parliamentary stationery.
If you were an MP with a boatload of postage-paid envelopes, you could probably abuse them with impunity, and send them out unsolicited to 95% of your constituents without getting any redress.
But there is one group of people who are much more likely to know the rules: people who work in politics. A subset of those are councillors. And if you are really keen on getting shopped to the House authorities, who best to try it on with but councillors of an opposing party?
So, in the run up to Lib Dem Spring conference, Labour Shadow Minister John Healey wrote a letter to 295 Lib Dem council group leaders with party political content, and was duly shopped to the authorities. It was the on the issue of the Health bill – and from the same John Healey who went to the conference hoping for a massive dust-up and appeared a little surprised at the mature discussion he witnessed. He has repaid the cost of headed paper and pre-paid envelopes, and when he was slapped on the back a second time, also managed to cough up the cost of lasering the letters.
After a fair bit of ill-tempered arguing, which appears to boil down to Healey saying the rules shouldn’t apply to him because he is a front-bencher, the shadow minister was ultimately ordered to apologise to the House.
And the moral of the story? a) don’t break the rules and b) don’t break them in front of a group of people with a ready made motive to dob you in!