Lose the chains
“Why should officials have the right to tell MPs what they should say on thier websites when they have no power to censor what they say elsewhere?”
There was no convincing answer to this question asked at a recent meeting in parliament. Commons officials have been trawling through MPs’ websites and ticking off the MPs if they found anything interesting, provocative or original. One woman MP was eloquently and colourfully furious in the Commons last night.
She explained that a Commons Official instructed her to ‘take down’ large areas of her website. Previously she has never claimed for any of the expenses for her site from parliamentary allowances. She about to give it a makeover and the official said her site would have to be filleted in order to qualify. So she told official to ‘Blog off!’ or words to that effect.
A similar row is underway in the Welsh Assembly. It’s entirely fair that public money should not be used for political propaganda. It’s a great turn-off anyway. Those who try party political rants guarantee that surfers visit their sites once only. This is the most compelling reason why I have avoided party political material from my website for the past nine years. In the 2001 General Election, I set up a special political website which was included in election expenses. It was a complete flop. For understandable reasons very few people bothered to read it.
The Welsh Assembly suggest permissible information should be confined to the less than riveting information about the AM, the Assembly, debates, surgeries and services to promote the Assembly but not political activities. Not much fun there.
MPs are fortunate in that we have a Communication Allowance with similar restrictions. We can use that to pass on information about our surgeries.
Those who want the joyful freedom of blogs and websites will have to go private. Why not? The running costs are modest and the public’s cynicism on politician’s expenses is oceanic.
Let a thousand blogs bloom.
All yesterday’s Commons votes were won by science not religion.
In the last debate on abortion in 1990, I was approached by ten per cent of my constituents. Their pleas were impassioned and serious. I went to great trouble to let them know how I reached my conclusions on the votes. It did not dissuade the main campaigning organisation from denouncing me as a ‘baby murderer’ at the next General Election.
This time, I had about a hundred messages – many from outside my constituency including some from Ireland.
For two days, parliamentary friends become adversaries and vice versa. We MPs must think for ourselves and not be shepherded into the lobbies by whips. My vote will continue to be based on the evidence not the emotion.
When does a contribution to a political party become a bribe?
Many who fume at the prospect of national funding for political parties are unaware that the Tory Party had nearly £5 million of taxpayers’ cash this year. Short money was introduced so that opposition parties can compete in argument with the civil service information available to Government. It’s a fully justified lubricant to the political process.
Revelations about cash being pocketed by Tory frontbench spokesmen provokes other questions. Grant Shapps, a housing spokesman who has opposed Home Information packs took ten of thousands of pounds of cash from five different companies who opposed the packs.
George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, failed to declare £500,000 from donors for running his office, a sum that had been channeled through General Conservative party funds but earmarked for his use.
The commissioner found that Osborne broke the rules. The Commons Sleaze inspector has decided there was a ‘misunderstanding’ and imposed no punishment. He has now ordered the entire Tory frontbench to disclose who will be funding their offices over the next four weeks.
If the Short Money is insufficient to allow the opposition to do their job it should be increased. There should be no place in a transparent open democracy for a network of vested interests buying influence from shadow ministers.
Any move to fuller national funding will be condemned by our moronic press. But it is the best way to cleanse the political system and expel those out to corrupt it.