Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Gentle Art of Cheese Rolling

A short video for anyone who hasn't enjoyed footage of this two hundred year old tradition. Think flower-sprigged frocks and dancing round the Maypole...then think again.

I think I read that 34 were injured this year; thirty-three were chasing cheeses, one fell out of a tree.

Friday, 22 May 2009

An Open Letter to Nadine Dorries

I listened to you this morning on the Today programme. You defended free use of the Additional Cost Allowance as part of an MP’s pay, and likened the Telegraph’s revelations to a McCarthy witch hunt. You said, ‘People don’t understand what is happening’.

You just don’t get it, do you?

You argued that the allowance is justified because an MP’s salary is not commensurate with anyone else’s at that professional level. Do you view MPs as some sort of overclass, more deserving of rewards than the rest of us? What makes you think that election as an MP infers or confers instant professional qualification? There are dedicated, hard-working MPs, and there are under-performing, self-serving ones. Election is not a measure of ability. I was a professional in local government. Seven years of training enabled me to start at the lowest grades. I never earned more than £30,000, and survive on half that now. I could have earned more in the private sector, but I believed passionately in public service as a vocation. Being an MP is a vocation; it should never be a profession.

You say that everyone, other than the electorate, understood that the allowance was a discreet adjunct to salary, because no Prime Minister would dare stand up to the media and increase MPs’ pay. It was not simply that Prime Ministers lacked the courage to stand up to the media; it was that the electorate would not support such increases; electors like me who lived with years’ of cut-backs and below-inflation pay restraint. Did you see nothing wrong with that cosy, tacit acceptance? Did you believe that such a deception of the public was moral? If you did, maybe you are indeed a consummately professional MP, but perhaps you are not a vocational one.

I have read your response to the Telegraph’s query about your claims for a second home. You explain that you had misled your constituents for privacy reasons. I understand those, and recognise the difficult circumstances which underlay your claims. But many ordinary people share such difficulties. A nurse or a teacher may also need a second home in similar circumstances to enable them to do their job. They receive no subsidy. Most of us believed the provision for second homes allowances for MPs reflected their need to have a presence both in their constituencies and at Westminster, not to complement an additional home elsewhere to address the problems arising from a broken marriage. ‘Ordinary people’ get no such support, although it is they who funded yours.

In likening the Telegraph’s revelations to McCarthyism, you do a disservice to the many honest and committed individuals whose lives and careers were unjustly damaged in that time. The Telegraph has achieved a public service in exposing shameful abuses of the allowances system, which parliament, abetted by the Speaker, has assiduously sought to conceal. It may be unpleasant, but it is a predictable, self-inflicted and thoroughly deserved wound. To rail against the public exposure of these abuses is to misjudge the public mood. The electorate has at last found itself empowered to influence reform, and it is not going to be dissuaded.