Just another greedy bastard

I was called yesterday evening by a reporter seeking my views on yet another story about a Member of Parliament and their expenses. I spoke for a few minutes, but mindful that I am never quoted in full I have decided to elaborate a little here.

I can recall canvassing session right through the expenses scandal in the long run-in to the last General Election. I recall one conversation with a Benfleet resident where I was accused of being a liar and a cheat immediately after I had announced who I was. Liars, cheats, greedy bastards – I have been lumped in with them all. I am also told that I am only in politics for what I can get for myself, that I will promise one thing and do another.

Now, I am far from perfect but am invariably taken aback when called a liar and a cheat by someone whose familiarity with me can be counted in seconds.

Sometimes the conversation moves onto friendlier climes, sometimes no matter how much I protest I cannot convince that my motives are honourable. Somehow the idea of a political class mostly populated by scoundrels has become fixed in some people’s minds. And this is why I get upset with another tale of ill-advised expenses claims.

Politicians must be able to claim expenses, and these expenses should be provable as being incurred whilst doing the job, and be backed up by receipts. I cannot imagine anyone arguing with that. The problem is, no system is fool-proof, and anyone determined enough will be able to benefit when benefit should not be sought.

I live closer to London (and therefore Parliament) than does the MP for Rochford and Southend East, and if I am lucky enough to succeed next May I will almost certainly have some overnight stays in London. However, I will be using cheap hotels, and not using the MP expenses system to acquire a property portfolio. As Matt Dent has pointed out, James Duddridge takes delight in punishing those on benefits, helping to introduce the odious concept of under-occupancy (a per pro the bedroom tax), and yet cannot help but use the expenses rules to enrich himself (expenses which, like housing benefit etc., are ultimately paid for by the tax-payer). I profoundly disagree with Duddridge over the bedroom tax, but would at least respect his position if he was consistent in his objections to taxes being used to provide properties larger than what is really required. If one of my terminally ill residents has one bedroom too many, then owning three homes and still claiming for rent on another is surely wrong.

I do not doubt that this will be mentioned when I next venture onto doorsteps – how can it not be? I care little for Mr Duddridge’s personal reputation, but I care a lot about the reputation of politicians in general. I have even defended Conservative politicians on the doorstep, because despite Duddridge (and Hanningfield) I still believe that most are in this game for the right reasons (even if they are misguided). I want Ian Gilbert to beat Duddridge because he will be a better MP for Rochford and Southend East, because he wants to look after the vulnerable, build more social housing, and do something about the cost of living crisis. He should not be chosen just because he is less greedy. Politics should be about the battle of ideas, not an arena for self-enrichment.

Tony Blair put it thus: “Some may belittle politics but we know, who are engaged in it that it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is on occasions the place of low skulduggery it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes”. At least, this is how it should be.

“Crisis, what crisis” I can imagine the hapless Duddridge saying, because he is clearly not in it with the rest of us. I hope, though, that he realises that he has made the job for the rest of us a little bit harder.

As for the greedy bastard in the title of this post, well it must be me because I am a politician.

Westborough intouch Autumn 2014 – as delivered in Prittlewell

AmessInTouchWestboroughI picked this odd beast up in Prittlewell ward. Aside from questions as to whether Westborough Tories understand where their ward begins and ends, I find this a somewhat amateurish effort. (It is also dated Autumn 2014 – Summer may be near to ending, but it is still with us.) It looks like it was created in Word and printed on a standard computer printer. Perhaps this was the effect Westborough’s Conservatives were after.

This newsletter has a proliferation of font types and oddly worded headlines. What does ‘STOP! the fortnightly waste collection’ mean? – Westborough enjoys a weekly collection in common with the rest of the borough. This is either scaremongering or stupidity – take your pick; either way it is wrong.

The reverse includes three photographs of places outside of the ward (and one not even in Mr Amess’s constituency) – not one picture of Westborough in the whole thing.

Mr Amess’s letter manages to be factually inaccurate in relating the results of May’s elections. He describes it as if all fifty-one council seats were being contested, whereas the truth is that only eighteen contests were staged. They won four out of eighteen, are far less impressive ratio than nineteen out of fifty-one.

It contains little in the way of real news, and certainly no celebration of all that the MP has done in Parliament. If I was an MP I would be reporting back on what my Government was doing to make lives in Westborough better. That Mr Amess does not refer to his Government speaks volumes in itself. Of course, he raises questions on such topics as the EU, immigration, and the benefits system – and not one mention of education, employment, the cost of living, workers’ rights, public services, etc.

Natural renewal – come again?

The Conservatives electoral failure in recent years in Southend-on-Sea has many causes, not least of which is their lazy complacency. They have lost in places that were once considered rock-solid strongholds of Conservatism.

Sometimes you get a glimpse of Conservative thinking vis-a-vis elections and the electorate. Cllr Mark Flewitt’s gloriously awful blog now includes an item entitled Echo Headline is wrong…..

Herein is this: “… until the natural renewal election of 2015.

Natural renewal? Er, excuse me, is that not rather taking the St Laurence electorate for granted? There will be an election in St Laurence ward in May 2015, but it is no natural renewal process. It is a time for St Laurence voters to pass judgement over their councillors and the council. It should be noted that earlier this year they showed what they thought by comprehensively rejecting the Conservative Party’s offering.

In touch, and losing touch

WestLeighInTouchWest Leigh is pretty safe territory for the Conservatives – not even the charms of Georgiana Phillips could lose this seat for them. I guess this accounts for the somewhat bland offerings in their latest leaflet. It is another example illustrating their reluctance to mention anything from their Government – not one Con-Dem policy/initiative/law change is boasted about here. One could almost believe they are ashamed of what their national counterparts are doing.

It really is one big yawn. The only thing that did make me smile was when I noticed that their councillors surnames begin with ELP – I cannot quite see this trio performing a fanfare for the common man though.

It looks like the Tories will be one down as regards to non-Southend residents in Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s council chamber; this leaves only Ann Holland having to cross the borough boundary to attend council meetings. Ann’s tenure is by virtue of her being employed in the borough – as a councillor! Once elected you can move to Timbuktu and remain a councillor. I’d like to say Adam Jones will be missed, but in truth I cannot. The Barling Representative wanted a giant blue cock in the Victoria Gateway which is the most memorable I have heard him utter in the two years I have been a councillor.

Thinking on Clacton: and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started

It would seem that there is little point in actually running the Clacton by-election, opinion informed in large measure by opinion polls declares that Douglas Carswell will be re-elected with a handsome majority.

Carswell is the second Tory in recent times to have forced a by-election on his constituents in the hope that the status quo prevails. Is this a sensible use of tax-payers money, especially in austere times? Democracy should not be bounded by financial constraints, but neither is it an excuse to be profligate.

Six years ago David Davis resigned and got re-elected over a civil liberties issue, forcing an estimated £80,000 bill on the tax-payer. Carswell is intent on humiliating his ex-boss, and to see no change in who represents the residents of Clacton.

Whilst two may not be a trend, I cannot help but wonder whether elections should be used for anything but putting into office representatives of those who can vote. Carswell’s and Davis’s egos may be massaged by these vanity exercises, but is democracy served?

Mr Carswell may argue that a change of party means he needs to seek a fresh mandate, and there is sense in this argument. However, with just about eight months until a General Election, where I presume he will again present himself for re-election, I wonder whether a little more patience should have been exercised.

The opinion polls and the result last time show a pretty clear picture:

Lord Ashcroft poll Survation poll 2010
UKIP 56% 64% —–
Conservative 24% 20% 53%
Labour 16% 13% 25%
Liberal Democrat 2% 2% 13%

** Survation poll figures from here – http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/8950

*** Lord Ashcroft poll figures from here – http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/8955

Whilst all parties are taking a hit from UKIP, the biggest hit is coming at the expense of the Conservatives. I believe the Tories somewhat ambiguous stance over Europe does not help their cause.

I note that the Tories are opting for an open primary to select their candidate – which smacks of desperation to me. This does invite the intriguing prospect of a non-Tory being chosen – perhaps their talent pool runs so shallow that this is what they are hoping for.

Tim Young would be my choice for the election, naturally. I know Tim pretty well and he would be a good voice for Clacton and its people. Follow his campaign on Twitter here.

 

If you can’t stand the heat

Cllr Mark Flewitt is upset with me. The Conservative councillor for St Laurence ward writes a blog, and I often find it wanting. On such occasions I write my critique here.

In an email to me (copied to all councillors), and entitled “Your harassing and un-wanted blog contributions” he has written:

Your blog contribution to my blog are un-wanted and harassing.

I do not need to say any more than that, stop messaging or I will get legal advice.

I never look at your blog, I have no interest in it whatsoever.

Comments on his blog are moderated – this means he can delete them if he chooses. He often exercises this right.

If he writes a blog, which is in the public domain, and allows comments how can he then complain when this offer is taken up? I am puzzled. Of course I am bound to be largely critical – we are, after all, political opponents. He was scathing of the Conservatives when he was a Labour Party member – something he doubtless tries to forget nowadays.

Does Cllr Flewitt think his commentary, which also peppers the local print media, should go unchallenged? He may aspire to a North Korean norm when he publishes his world view – unfortunately for him I do not agree.

I suggest he seeks that legal advice. He should then decide whether he embraces the notion of public debate, and the accountability that comes with it, or not.

Mark’s blog can be read here.

Every which way but lucid

It is a gift that keeps on giving. I refer to Cllr Mark Flewitt’s blog. His latest delight begins thus:

The Planning meeting being held from 6pm on 1st September at Tickfield has become murky because the meeting is being held at the suggestion of Cllr Mark Flewitt who wanted the meeting for public and members as to a 200 page Highway Report “Ardent” in respect of the Bellway Development application currently awaiting decision by the Development Control Committee.

Read that without taking a breath, which the lack of punctuation suggests is what is intended.

I wonder whether Cllr Flewitt realises he is supposed to represent all who reside in St Laurence ward, not just those opposing a brown field housing development. Still, it gets me wondering as to how I can get him to boycott other council meetings.

“Right turn, Clyde.”

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