Dear Mr Hammond,
I do of course understand that as a recently-elected MP you cannot possibly be in any way personally responsible for long-established abuses of the parliamentary allowance system. On the other hand you are my elected representative at Westminster and it is as such that I address this letter to you.
I have just heard one of your colleagues defending fellow MPs on the BBC ‘Today’ programme; this MP was clearly still unaware of just how far removed she was from the mindset of the population in general. She was still protesting that at £60,000 MPs were ‘underpaid’ for example, and compared her own salary unfavourably with that of the Radio 4 presenter. It did not occur to her that this highly respected radio presenter had risen to the top of a very competitive tree by persistence and ability, while there are 600-plus MPs representing their constituents at Westminster with minimal qualifications for the job beyond the ability to jump through selection committee hoops.
Why does this ‘entitle’ them to a salary many times that of most of the rest of us, we ask? Money undoubtedly confers status, but this is another matter altogether. People do not ‘need’ an income of £60,000 a year and for the majority of us the concept is ridiculous. The exposure of a minority of MPs has served to focus on life at Westminster in terms which lay people can understand, and this is why it is so important. It is no good offering to pay the money back. The sight of an MP waving a £13,000 cheque at the cameras merely re-emphasises the reality that such a gesture would be an impossibility for most people.
And what are MPs actually doing for their money? For me this is far and away the most important question, and it is one that is in danger of being lost amidst the whole expenses scandal.
We are constantly being told how ‘hard’ MPs work, but the rôle of the modern MP at Westminster has changed over the last few decades from that of an active participant in collective decision-taking to what can crudely be termed as ‘lobby fodder’, with a hugely inflated ‘payroll’ of minor ministerial and sub-ministerial posts debarred from any public display of independent thought. In place of what one might term an active political rôle, the modern job description has mutated into little more than that of referral point for a multiplicity of constituency work.
Those of us who have tried to maintain faith in the democratic process throughout this inexorable change carried on believing in the essential decency of the individuals and the system long beyond the period when most of our compatriots had given up on it, voting with their feet at elections (or, rather, not voting) and telling us on the street that ‘they’ (politicians) are ‘all the same’.
I now feel that we were extremely gullible. Taking part in Tony Blair’s ‘Big Conversation’ or Gordon Brown’s ‘consultation’ on nuclear power when decisions have already been taken is a complete waste of time. You could claim that MPs were as much the victims of a rotten system as the rest of us, but MPs had a degree of knowledge which they chose not to share and it suited MPs to maintain a façade of self-importance which is now seen to have been patently unjustified.
The brilliant satirical film “In the Loop”, released a few weeks ago, is a merciless exposé of political culture on both sides of the Atlantic, made with a degree of insider knowledge about the workings of Westminster and Washington that can only be based on fact. Researchers straight out of college vie for junior jobs, hoping to climb the ladder to political status as an elected representative. They have none of them experienced ‘real life’ in the form of a proper job as understood by those they aim to ‘represent’. The whole process has become incestuous — and, we now know, venal as well.
What right have such people to make decisions on our long-term future both domestically and globally? These are the people whom we have entrusted to make decisions of life and death in war, police surveillance or months of detention without trial, climate change, the third runway at Heathrow, a new generation of nuclear power plants and the (not unrelated) future of UK nuclear weaponry. Such arrogance and the power of vested interests is breathtaking.
You may not realise it, but as part of the relatively untainted 2005 intake of MPs you are in a powerful position to influence the future of politics in this country. In the short term voters are going to desert the mainstream political parties in favour of fringe candidates both of the left and (regrettably in my opinion) of the extreme right. It is up to politicians such as yourself to give them a reason to change their minds.
Publicise our public meeting as widely as possible! The new Mansel Road Centre lies behind the United Reformed Church in Mansel Road SW19 at the foot of Wimbledon Hill and is equipped with all the modern facilities (such as disabled access, hearing loop and sound system) which are so regrettably lacking at our usual venue at the Community Centre.
Our Press release says it all really: WDC/CND welcomes to Wimbledon two high-profile and influential anti-nuclear campaigners to lead what is anticipated to be a lively and interesting discussion on the subject “Nuclear weapons — time to get rid of the lot?” Bruce and Kate are both brilliant. BE THERE.
Edwin Cluer will be representing WDC/CND at the CND national demonstration ‘No to Missile Defence’ at the Fylingdales Radar Base near Whitby, North Yorkshire, on June 13th. President Obama has scaled back US Missile Defence commitments made by George W. Bush and the Czech government has been forced to withdraw Missile Defence agreements with the US due to popular opposition. This demonstration marks the anniversary of Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to enable the US to pursue the system. With significant opposition across Europe, the proposed bases in Poland and the Czech Republic may never be built. But there are already two bases in Britain.
The London Region coach will leave from outside the CND office, 162 Holloway Road, London N7, at 6am and return to London by about 11pm. All expenses will be paid by WDC/CND, so please get in touch as soon as possible if you would like a ticket. (Advance booking essential.)
We shall have a stall at Mitcham carnival again this year after a gap of several years, selling goods left over from the Fête and raising our profile locally. The day runs from 12·00–5·30pm with time for setting up beforehand. We shall need a transport team plus a few other helpers: any volunteers please get in touch (020 8543 0362).
This was financially our most successful Fête ever, we think, thanks to a magnificent team effort and several brilliant new initiatives. Aden’s food deserves special mention but as so many people were involved, not least the transport team, it is perhaps invidious to single out individual names. So thank you to one and all. The figures below represent moneys taken by the Treasurer on May 9th itself but many kind donations have been received (to cover most of the cost of hall hire) and yet more plants were sold during the following week, so we can be confident of having raised more than £1500: well done us!
Perhaps more importantly the Fête provides like-minded people in Merton with a much-valued social and networking opportunity where outcomes and values are not all measured in money.
Good working order (just over one year old). Light-weight lawnmower very suitable for small lawn. Offers to 020 8543 0362
To take part in the camp costs only £15–£50 (depending on income). Cheques should be made out to ‘Peace News’ and sent with name and address to 5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DY.
For more information see http://www.peacenewscamp.info or 020 7278 3344.
A youth hostel has been booked exclusively for the group: a basic joining fee will cover accommodation, meals and other costs.
Register with the PSC office now and start raising funds: 020 7700 6192 or email@example.com. And let WDC/CND know so we can link you up with others.
We celebrate the launch of a new coalition of South London CND groups at a lively meeting on May 24th and all credit goes to Croydon CND for taking the initiative.
Many of us have been becoming increasingly aware of the importance of networking to our campaign, whether locally, nationally or internationally. We share common aims and values with other peace and environmental groups and networking is an obvious aid to the efficiency and practicality of our campaigning: we are stronger and more effective if we act together, as we tap into each other’s strengths and expertise while continuing to operate within our own particular fields or geographical areas.
A loose coalition was the chosen model rather than a formally constituted extra layer of bureaucracy, providing the opportunity for the exchange of information, mutual support and joint action. WDC/CND is thus for the first time now aware of the level of ‘green’ activity in Croydon for example which provides us (with our ready access via Tramlink) with obvious support and stimulus. (“If Croydon Council can do these things, why can’t Merton Council?” we shall be asking from now on.)
All were agreed that the all-important focus must be to raise the profile and visibility of CND south of the Thames, to show that CND is very much a relevant and current campaign and not a relic of a bygone era. We are tired of the frequent response to the CND badge: “Oh, I remember that” or “I was a member in the old days” with the implication that CND was a phase long grown out of... rather than a live issue with decisions on Trident and the UK future as a nuclear power for the next 50 years to be made — by a largely ignorant parliament on behalf of a largely ignorant public — very imminently indeed.
With this in mind, the name chosen is the deliberately quirky “South London CND Umbrella Group” (the Umbrella Group for short) with the intention of being memorable and perhaps raising a laugh and easily lending itself to visual impact at fêtes, fairs, demos and street theatre.
WDC/CND will be one of the founder members and will be contributing financially to modest set-up expenses (a supply of appropriately decorated umbrellas is already in hand...) and further discussion will take place at the next WDC/CND Steering Group meeting on June 9th (34 Meadow Close SW20 8pm) to which all are welcome.
The first opportunity for joint action will be on August 1st/2nd at the Mela World Party in Lloyd Park, South Croydon, adjacent to the Lloyd Park tram stop. This is a cultural event with an environmental theme with music, fresh food stalls and dance. A good family day out. If enough of us can go along we can aim for more than just a ‘presence’ with placards, banners, umbrellas, T-shirts and tabards, and plan for joint leafleting and street theatre.
Get in touch with the Umbrella Group coordinator if you can help; meet your new colleagues and get a spring into your campaigning step! Jim Clugston: firstname.lastname@example.org