Sunday, May 10, 2009

Canvassing in Sunderland

Interview with Bridget Phillipson

There's been no let-up after two days of solid work in Hartlepool's Rossmere by-election. On Friday I joined Asok Kumar's team in Guisborough, and yesterday I was out again with Julie Elliott's 8-strong team on the Hollycarrside estate in Sunderland Central.

And it was back to Sunderland today, but instead to what will be the new Houghton and Sunderland South constituency, where I joined Labour's excellent new PPC Bridget Phillipson, local councillor Betty Gibson and party members in Doxford.

After the downpour in Darlington at lunchtime, I was dressed for a gale, but in fact it was a glorious afternoon, and we chatted to lots of residents. It was good that Labour supporters needed little persuasion to turn out in the crucial European elections on June 4th.


Anonymous said...

Let down Socialist.


Come on Nick.

Bridget clearly says that a major issue is the expense debacle. You, however, in a reply below to Alan McNab say that it is not a major issue among the electorate you have canvassed. Selective hearing, or selective canvassing?
Let me tell you, it is the single most important political issue that is being debated throughout the country at present.It is appalling. The minority parties will be the big winners at the June elections. Greens, UKIP and the BNP.
By the way. Who, or what is "Guido" that seems to cross up in a few posts lately.Please enlighten me.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

Nick. Oh yes it is a major issue. The vast majority of people in this country are shocked and angry that MPs should be so greedy and selfish and it spreads right across the political parties. No one party holds the moral high ground on this.

What is also deeply shocking and offensive is they tried every legal loophole open to them to block the publication of their wrong doing and then they had the gall to call in the police to investigate who exposed their behaviour.

It's a bit like a burglar calling in the police to arrest the householder whose home he or she is burgling. Having said that the police have done this very thing in this crazy country of ours.

My attitude is now very hard indeed. Sorry from the PM is not good enough. MPs and members of the House of Lords of whatever political party they belong to - Labour, Tory, Lib Dem or whatever or no party who have been making dodgy claims which have been accepted or rejected must immediately or be forced to resign their seats because they have brought shame and dishonour to Parliament and to themselves and if they are a member of a political party their membership must be revoked immediately.

If that triggers a general election so be it.

That will send a powerful signal that wrongdoing among our legislators will not be tolerated and the stables can be cleansed once and for all.

What do you think Nick?

Ian W said...

Here Here Alan

Anonymous said...

FYI: Guido is here:

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes again....

If an employee or a group of employees in the private sector or local government were found to be fiddling their expenses it would be classed as gross misconduct and they would be immediately sacked.

The same should occur to MPs and the Lords who fiddle their expenses.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, everyone.

You can read the latest developments in the scandal here

Firstly, there would be absolutely no point me trying to delude readers of this blog (or myself) about the issues that have been raised on the doorstep by me. It is the case, that canvassing and door knocking, most recently first in Rossmere, and then Hollycarrside and Doxford saw this issue raised sparingly with me.

(The longest and most moving discussion in Doxford was with a constituent who passionately wanted all our troops pulled out of Afghanistan now - she had a grandson who had just returned from serving in that country).

I'm not suggesting that it isn't a matter of significant concen to voters, of course - the Times poll today will make grim reading for MPs of all parties. I suspect that it is simply the case that the issue has taken a little time to take hold in the public imagination. As it happens, I wasn't canvassing yesterday, but will be out today (Tuesday). I will be very surprised if it isn't the chief topic of conversation then.

As for the future - well clearly we are in uncharted territory. (I cannot think of a similar Parliamentary affair in modern times). Perhaps you have to go back to the spectacularly wrong conditions of the 1820's and 30's for a comparison - I'll expand on this further another time, but MP's and candidates were then operating within a system which was patently inappropriate at election time, and yet was quite lawful in the strictest terms. It required an enquiry and a landmark piece of legislation (the 1832 Great Reform Act) to begin to root out the abuses.

Should the party leaders "clear out the Augean stables" and deselect MP's who have been fingered by the Daily Telegraph? I fully understand your sentiments, Alan, and think you make a telling point when you ask what would have happened in local government had expenses been distributed in this way? I can only think of the 'Donnygate' scandal, which was on a far smaller scale. Parliament was quick to jump all over local government as a whole after that. Ironically, elected mayors were one of the prescriptions that would root out excess and increase accountability - an experiment which has had such a 'challenging' time (in my opinion) in Doncaster itself.

However, for Parliament to be rendered rudderless right now as we navigate our way through the most significant recession in living memory may not be wise. It's also the case, to be fair as we must be, that several MP's have disputed what the Telegraph have written, and legal action may be taken. And of course, constituents will have the right to judge their MPs on this and other matters anyway no later than May next year.

I think we need some perspective on the whole affair - sometime over the next few weeks, the right course of action will be quite clear.

Ian W said...


You say..."And of course, constituents will have the right to judge their MPs on this and other matters anyway no later than May next year."

Do you not think that a stop needs to be called right now to these expense claims after all "May next year" is a long way away and this could let them keep creaming (although I think all will be careful at present) for another 12 months.

Why not buy/build a purpose accomodation for all MP's in London (not Mayfair or the likes), flats if you will, where each one gets a flat of exactly the same size and location and when their tenure is over their replacement moves in with a reasonable redecorating allowance.

It seems to me some are no more than free property developers buying a second home, doing it up at tax payers expense selling it for profit and then buying/claiming for doing up another "cheapy" and doing it again.

Surely my plan would remove with a relatively small one off outlay for construction etc. all the second homes perks once and for all and all would be equal.

I am sure there are thousands more out there like me with sensible ideas to save money, why not ask them instead of asking those who profit from this gravy train to vote on whats best for themselves?

Your Thoughts?

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, Ian.

Firstly, I don't think that the current arrangements are going to be left in place until the next election - some reforms have already taken place, and it's pretty clear that there have to be more to follow.

As for the exact shape they should take - well that's still under discussion, I think - I hope that Parliamentarians will listen hard to the views of their constituents on what any future package should look like.

It's interesting that in the 1970's, when there were no allowances of this sort, MP's would have to kip in their offices after long Commons' sessions. That was rightly seen as being unacceptable, so an allowance was made for overnight hotel expenses. That then became housing allowances (payable without receipts) and we end up in the mess we're in now.

Your idea is one that would find favour with many people. Another could be to expect MP's to stay at hotels overnight, given that Parliament doesn't sit for 365 days a year. As I've already said, this should become clearer as the debate progresses - I feel this has still a long way to run.

ianh said...

Any politician who underestimates public anger on this subject will do so at their own peril. The Speakers comments in the Commons yesterday (in response to Kate Howey) being a prime example of just how out of touch these people are in their ivory towers.

The vast majority of people in this country have to work damn hard to achieve a reasonable standard of living and are sickened to see the "system" being abused. It does not matter whether it is benefit fraud or MPs allowances, the principal is the same. Far too many have played the system, often within the letter if not spirit of the rules.
Whether it is getting an allowance for manure on your garden or being "creative" with benefit claims, the result is the same, with the British taxpayer picking up the bill.
The taxpayers of this country are being ripped off and this will only play into the hands of the minority parties. If we see a strong upsurge for the fascist bnp or loopy ukip in the coming elections, the mainstream parties will only have themselves to blame.

Ian W said...

Not sure how the Hotels over night would work, they no doubt would expect nothing less than the ritz.

Then they would be running up room service for steaks and lobster, not beans and chips?

What about a caravan each, they all seem to like to move a lot an ideal solution.

miketually said...

It's interesting that the need for a second home is because of needing a home in their constituency and one in London. I know of one MP who doesn't trouble himself with a home in his constituency...

We shouldn't be too hard on MPs, however. We can't expect them to clean their own moats and swimming pools or to change their own light bulbs!

How far can 'ordinary' people go when claiming tax back on expenses? For my job, I need a space to work at home. Could I claim back the tax on the extra cost of buying a house with an office, or having an extension built?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

Ian H I agee with you. Mike T I would like a tax rebate as well but it isn't going to happen unfortunately.

The party leaders - Brown and Cameron have apologised. Cameron has ordered the Tories to repay the money they have claimed and has introduced measures to stop the abuses. I don't know what Brown has done apart from apologise.

However things have moved on. 'Sorry guv we won't do it again" will not do anymore. The thing is the party leaders and Speaker Martin are as much to blame for turning a blind eye to the abuses. Speaker Martin even criticised those MPs who are so appalled and ashamed of what has gone on. There was even a threat by an MP today to turn the water cannon on protesters in Parliament Square.

The legitimacy, the dignity and respect for Parliament has now gone. The public now know that fiddling has gone on and yet the drawbridge is up. Nick you are right that we haven't seen anything like this for well over a century. Perhaps longer.

Saying sorry, ordering the repayment of expenses and tightening up the system do not cut any ice any more with the public who see the sytem as being rotten to its core. The culprits must resign or be dismissed from Parliament. The police must be called in to see if the criminal law has been broken or not. Speaker Martin must go as well.

Only this will lance the boil but it will take a long time to restore respect for the institutions of government. The frightning scenario of a plague on all your houses may well be played out in the European elections unless action is taken soon.

Carrying on as normal in the hope of it all dying down with the culprits still in the chamber is not an option any more. If the drawbridge remains up and a state of denial exists the thing will drag on and on and the more dangerous it will become.

There must be action to rid the House of Commons of its rotten apples and it must happen in days not weeks or months.

Finally, how does this mess look to the people who have or are about to lose their jobs and homes and the elderly who have saved all their lives for a decent standard of living? How does it look to the children and young people of this country and the code of behaviour which we expect them to follow and to uphold? Can I now say to my children they must respect Parliament when this wrong doing has gone on and the wrong doers remain?

Changes must come and soon.