18th January 2006

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18th January 2006 Powered By Docstoc
					19th May 2009

Bye the Bye

Let’s start with a true story.

Last week, after a hard day’s work in the Town Hall. I returned to my (very

modestly furnished) flat at ‘Bye Towers,’ opened the front door and found four

leaflets on the door mat. One was from the Labour party, one was from

U.K.I.P., one was from the B.N.P. and one was from Princess Cruises. In my

then frame of mind, and given all the political furore, I thought Princess

Cruises would probably get my vote.

Never has there been such a need for strong political leadership and never

have we all felt so let down. Whoever wins the next General election will face

enormous problems trying to balance the nation’s books. But how will they

have the nerve to ask us all to tighten our belts, or share a bath or dig for

victory or whatever, when we know some MPs have been putting in for

everything from groceries and stamp duty on their second homes, to luxury

furniture and goodness knows what, all at our expense? This is on top of a

salary and pension arrangements which look fairly attractive to most folk.

How can we take seriously the acumen of a bunch of politicians who are

supposed to be leading us through the greatest economic downturn since the

1930’s, when some of them are apparently unaware that their own mortgages

might have been paid off, or when (or how much) they have to pay for Council

Tax? Having said that, many do seem to possess sufficient acumen to know

how to minimise Capital Gains Tax liabilities on their second homes, which we

have helped pay for.

It is a very sorry story indeed and the purpose of this week’s essay is to look

ahead through the next 12 months and, ever the optimist, see how these

problems might be resolved.

First, I must say that our democracy is a precious gift and I would caution

those who might think the best solution is to ‘go on strike’ and not vote, or else

to vote for an extreme political party which does not support the democratic

tradition. At least the current arrangements do give us the chance of voting

for an alternative and all sorts of opportunities, through the political process, of

ensuring change. This political process is something previous generations

gave their lives for and we should not put in jeopardy.

Change must come from the top and in fairness, all three major Party Leaders

have made it clear that the current system is unacceptable. David Cameron

was especially blunt last week, in effect naming and shaming some of his

closest colleagues. Nick Clegg has also performed strongly.

Those who appear to have made fraudulent claims, or those who appear to

have avoided tax, must be pursued in exactly the same way as everybody

else. Nobody can be seen to be above the law, especially the lawmakers.

There are a much larger number, however, who ‘acted within the rules’ (as

they keep telling us) who are simply guilty of a gross error of judgement. But

politics is all about exercising judgement.    Parliament is absolutely not a

gallery of the brainiest, or the richest, or the prettiest or the fastest. It is,

rather, 600 plus men and women who we have elected to exercise their

judgement on our behalf and conduct that portion of our nation’s affairs which

falls within the remit of Westminster.

By showing such extraordinary lack of judgement, I would suggest that some

MPs negated the whole point of being there.

In this part of the world, few of our MPs have large majorities. Most are

vulnerable to quite modest swings against them and it is a far cry from the

situation twenty years ago when the majorities of most South West MPs could

be weighed, rather than counted. Some voters will be looking at sitting MPs’

expense claims as closely as Party Manifestos and it will take just a few

hundred unhappy electors to unseat our most vulnerable MPs.

I would guess there are Constituency Associations whose Officers and

members are considering whether the behaviour of their MP may put the next

election at risk. All political parties depend upon an army of unpaid workers to

go out and knock on doors, push leaflets through letterboxes and get the

voters out on Election Day. Frankly, this is a thankless task at the best of


But who will want to do this for somebody who has been making the headlines

for all the wrong reasons?

Of course, the conduct of many MPs has been exemplary. In a situation like

this there is always the tendency to say ‘they are all the same.’

But that is clearly not the case. There are MPs who live away from London

who still commute each day and do not claim the second homes allowance.

Some MPs seem to be able to provide perfectly decent service to their

constituents on £80,000 or £100,000, whereas others are up there claiming

£160,000, or more, in allowances. Does this extra money make them twice as

good an MP? I think not.

Locally, our three South Devon MPs have found themselves in some difficulty.

Hats off to the Herald Express for trying to get straight answers to straight


On Wednesday evening Anthony Steen announced he was going to stand

down at the next election. I have a huge amount of affection for Anthony. I

campaigned with him in 2001 and 2005, and know he is good hearted,

independent minded and a dedicated constituency MP who has helped

thousands of people over the years. His decision was honourable and must

put further pressure on other MPs to consider their own positions.

I have some sympathy for Michael Martin, the outgoing speaker. Anybody

who started life in a decrepit tenement in Anderston, Glasgow, (rougher,

apparently, than the Gorbols) and ends up holding one of the highest and

ancient offices in the land, deserves considerable admiration. But, sadly, he

did not rise to this big occasion and instead of using his office to bang heads

together, he became the self appointed shop steward of old fashioned


The way forward is to sort it out at Westminster and very quickly devise a

simple and transparent system for meeting MPs’ necessary expenses. The

local political parties must also sort it out so the electorate are presented with

candidates at the next election who they can vote for, trust and respect.

Nick Bye

Mayor of Torbay


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