I wrote this post at the time of the expenses scandal. I have a great respect for Peter, as he’s generally a principled politician, and has taken admirable stances on human rights. So finding that he had claimed the maximum expenses possible was rather surprising. However, Peter contacted me after reading this blog, explained his actions (he’d previously claimed less, and fellow MPs had asked him to raise his claims) and asked me to take it down. I chose to do that. However, Peter then accidentally forwarded an exchange of emails, between him and fellow MP Tim Loughton. In those emails, Tim pretty much said Peter didn’t need to work on my behalf as I was a Lib Dem. I wasn’t – I had voted for Peter in the past, and am part of the shadow cabinet’s ‘Creative Conservatives’ group as well. But reading this again, in the heat of an exciting election campaign, I think it deserves to be republished.
I have always admired you – your strong stance on human rights and immigration has been admirable, and your commitment to local issues impressive. We may have disagreed on the big things – you were pro-war and supported foxhunting. But you seemed honest and decent whenever I spoke to you. You were, after all, that rare thing for the Conservatives, a union man who stood up for those poorer.
However, in the last week, as MPs expenses have been in the spotlight, the earth has moved and I don’t think you have noticed. Your support for the Speaker of the House Michael Martin MP (to me privately, and today publicly) looks wrong, and your answers to the local press appear too glib – you joke that you ‘hope’ there is nothing embarassing and say that some things may look wrong ‘out of context’. You offer, as recompense, to publish your expenses in future. This means nothing; it’s a pledge from your party leader, not something you have any control over. I wonder if, without an order from Cameron, you would ever have made this offer?
Indeed, would we have known your full expenses at all, without the campaigning work of journalist Heather Brooke?
And after her hard work, we find that you have claimed the maximum you can, an additional £23,083 on top of your wages last year – and your wife Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone also claims expenses on the same property from the House of Lords. This is a maximum, not an entitlement – just as a 70-mile-an-hour limit is a maximum, not a speed you should drive at all the time. It may be within the rules, but it is not in the spirit of public service which is the greatest tradition of our parliamnentary democracy.
You are one of the 20 longest-serving MPs in the house, and perhaps that is where the fault lies. You are entrenched in the system, and you may well have always benefitted from the maximum expenses available to you. It is, I think, time for that to end.
“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have defiled by your contempt for all virtue …ye are a factious crew,and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches and would … sell your country for a mess of pottage,” Cromwell told the rump parliament, “Gold is your god. You have grown intolerably odious to the whole nation … In the name of god, go!”
Peter, I ask you to do the decent thing; stand down, force a by-election – and of course, feel free to stand again if you and your local party feel you have any chance of winning again after this. Put the power in the hands of the people; that’s what our democracy demands.