A West Midlands MP has been forced to deny claims he launched a four-letter verbal assault against a leading Conservative in the House of Commons.
Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North and one of Gordon Brown’s key aides, was accused of swearing at George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor.
But Mr Austin denies using bad language, insisting there was simply a light-hearted exchange of words.
The incident took place in a corridor just outside the Commons debating chamber, as tempers were running high over the issue of Parliamentary expenses.
MPs were voting on reforms including scrapping the “John Lewis list”, which allows them to claim for furniture including televisions for their second homes.
Mr Austin, Gordon Brown’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, voted to keep the second homes allowance, alongside Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (Lab Redditch), Pensions Minister James Plaskitt (Lab Warwick & Leamington) and Labour whips Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) and Mike Foster (Lab Worcester).
According to Conservatives, Mr Osborne told opponents of the reforms that what they were doing was a “disgrace”.
Mr Austin replied: “F*** off, you toff,” it was claimed. But Mr Austin last night said there had been a friendly conversation involving Mr Osborne, Labour whip Tommy McAvoy and himself.
He said: “I saw George Osborne and a Labour MP engaged in what I thought was a light-hearted exchange.
“I cracked a joke about George Osborne being a multi-millionaire. I didn’t swear at him but he seems to have thrown his toys out of the pram anyway.”
MPs voted by 172 to 144 to keep the second home allowance, a majority of 28, even though Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, supported the reforms.
Downing Street said Mr Brown was “disappointed” at the result. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has always made clear that he is in favour of any move that would enhance transparency.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Black Country MP John Spellar (Lab Warley), who voted to keep the second homes allowance, said MPs needed a second home in London as well as the home in their constituency to do their jobs.
This meant they needed funding for furniture, “rather than having just the four bare walls,” he said.
Mr Spellar added: “I presume that if even a prisoner’s television breaks down or their bed wears out, they get a replacement.”
But David Winnick (Lab Walsall North), who voted to scrap the allowance, said: “What has recently come out on what are described as second homes has understandably caused a great deal of concern. I am concerned that there has been a form of abuse, and that cannot be justified.”
He added: “The public must be confident that the money that we claim for allowances and expenses is above board and legitimate.”
MPs also rejected proposals for external auditors to check their expenses claims, after some backbenchers warned it would mean they had to account for every paper clip.
Instead, there will now be additional scrutiny of MPs’ expenses claims but conducted internally by the Commons authorities.
And they approved a new programme to get bigger and better constituency offices at an additional cost to the taxpayer of up to £3.2 million every year.
More than half of MPs – including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling – stayed away from the Commons for the contentious vote.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling said: “When Parliament has been under fire in the way it has been over the last few months, it is essential our leaders set the right example.
“David Cameron and the shadow Cabinet voted for the abolition of the ‘John Lewis list’ whilst Gordon Brown and his most senior ministers went Awol.
“They are showing blatant contempt for very real public concerns.”