There are many unsung heroes in a working democracy. Each of the main parties relies on volunteers to deliver leaflets, to tell the public about their local and national party policies and actions, and to support their Council candidates. They also rely on volunteers to come forward to contest seats where the prospects of winning are not good as well as where they are good. No greater love hath man or woman than this, to give up their evenings and week-ends to campaigning in places where in the past their parties have done badly.
I remember it well when I fought Peckham for the GLC and for Parliament before I came to Wokingham. I am therefore usually sympathetic to Labour candidates in Wokingham, who see the need to tell us about their party and its national ambitions and deeds, but who in the past have not found enough support to win. We need Labour to take Wokingham seriously, just as Conservatives should take Peckham seriously. A national party needs to feel comfortable in both places and to understand the needs and views in both. They are different in many respects. To be a national party you need to explain your views and actions in every constituency, and keep alive political activity in your name. National parties should not take victory for granted in some places, and write off their chances elsewhere. Upsets can happen.
I am pleased that Labour has an active prospective candidate sending out press releases and seeking attention in local newspapers. That is good news for democracy. No-one should resent a fair debate. Democracy is about choice, and electors should have all the main offerings before them when they vote. What I find disappointing is that our local prospective Labour candidate is silent on the big issues of the day. He does not tell us about how Labour will control the large deficit they have built up. He does not explain why the UK is still in recession according to the Chancellor when most other countries got out of it months ago. He does not explain why they spent so much money on propping up banks, yet small businesses are still unable to borrow enough at realistic rates of interest.
He has instead one main interest – my expenses. If he wishes to make that the big issue I think he has some explaining to do about Labour MPs’ expenses. In order to help him I have some questions for him that he might like to answer when he next writes about it.
In 2007-8 I was the 19th cheapest MP, with total expenses of £105,917. I set myself the task – before the expenses issue blew up in the papers – of cutting my costs by 10% in each of the following two years. I am pleased to report that my expenses will come in well below the £95,000 target I set for 2008-9 when we see the total audited figures, and should come in well below the £83,000 I set for 2009-10 this year. This compares with an average of £144,000 for all MPs in 2008-9 (this audited figure is now available at last).
My questions are these. Why do Labour MPs cost the taxpayer so much more than I am doing? It’s not all additional travel for the ones that come from further away. Why do London Labour MPs on average charge more than I do? Why did the average Labour MP cost around £50,000 more or one third more in 2008-9 than I charged? Why did the Prime Minister have to pay back more than £11,000? Was he wrong to claim that money in the first place?
What would his budget be for the first year were he elected? If he thinks he could do it for less than me, can he explain why current Labour MPs cannot? I would give serious consideration to any sensible budget he cared to propose, as we can all learn how to do better with less spending.
I want Parliament to offer a lead in cutting the deficit. We have to show we can deliver more for less, because we are going to ask the rest of the public sector to do just that.