Friday, June 15, 2007

Thank the Lords
The political story of the past week has to be the rejection by the House of Lords of the controversial Bill to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. Perhaps the most stunning result was that NOT ONE Lord bothered to support it. It’s a far cry from what prevailed with our MPs in Lewisham.

If ever anyone still needs to be convinced why politicians are so despised (and I know how that reflects on me personally), then you need look no further than this awful proposal. Originally put forward by the Opposition’s David Maclean (Penrith and The Border), the Bill sought to protect the contents of private letters between MPs and their constituents. The fact the Bill got as far as it did is nothing short of a total disgrace: The Freedom of Information Act already prevents the disclosure of confidential letters containing personal data. Critics said the real motive for the Bill was the embarrassing release of information on MPs’ travel expenses and allowances earlier this year. In some instances, MPs had notched up costs of hundreds of thousands of pounds. When the House of Commons voted in favour of it on May 18 (78 MPs for versus 25 against), it was aided and abetted by two “closure motions” – a Parliamentary device designed to stop opponents who want to kill off a Bill by talking it out of time. It had been nearly twenty years since two closure votes were used on a Friday session of the Commons. And how did Lewisham’s MPs stand up and be counted?

Jim Dowd, MP for Lewisham West actually voted FOR the bill. Bridget Prentice, MP for Lewisham East, while not voting for it, didn’t exactly rail against it either. Quentin Letts writing in the Daily Mail on May 19 was dismissive of, as he described her; a “Justice Minister” pretending the whole thing was nothing to do with the Government. And what of the final member of this borough’s Parliamentary trio? At least Bridget Prentice’s fence sitting was neutrality of a sort. But Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford, did her damnedest to push it hard. As a member of her party’s Parliamentary Committee, she signed off on an emailed plea to her fellow colleagues to come out and vote in favour of it. But did she even bother vote herself? No. Is it possible to have hypocrisy within hypocrisy?

It seems to me that at a time when this country is facing ever more of its sovereignty being signed away to Brussels – the Prime Minister will be signing a new treaty over there on June 22 – that we look to our elected representatives to protect us and our interests. Fat chance. They are more pre-occupied with their own political careers. In fact, it is rumoured that Mr. Blair is eyeing the post of “President of the EU Council” – a post suspected to be part of the Treaty he will sign next Friday. But as the disgraceful attempt of MPs to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act dies a rightful death, we must contemplate a few things: How is it that the much-derided House of Lords is once again rescuing the nation from itself, even if it has been stuffed with cronies from the ruling administration? Does this not suggest the power of centuries-old tradition overcoming the lure of personal vanity? And what of MPs? Is this not a clearer case of their not representing their constituents’ interests via their party but that of pushing their parties’ interests via those they claim to serve?