50 Days Of ‘Parliament’s Hardest Working MP: Bob Spink’

Bandwagon Bob

Bandwagon Bob

THE HEADLINE’S QUOTE is from a UKIP Blog; but I make no apologies for using it, because Bandwagon Bob, our Castle Point MP, often makes personal claim to it. I was interested in getting behind the statement; but found, to my disappointment, that it is based solely upon one fact: Bob Spink can claim to ask more questions in the House of Commons than any other MP.

Why the number of questions asked should constitute a measure of hard work is best explained by considering the role of MPs. It is to raise Parliamentary issues on behalf of their constituents and to take part in debates. If we assume that MPs contribute to debates in which they, or their constituents, have an interest, and that other questions are reserved to publicise and gather support for constituency matters which only Parliament can resolve: then the measure is a fair one. But if those questions are not directed at eliciting information that can be used to prove a point, or shed light on an important matter, the measure is simply meaningless.

I have been monitoring Bob Spink’s appearances in the House of Commons since 1st June, this year, and am pleased to report that I can now reveal ten questions that he has put, which concern local constituency matters. That is not to say that our Bob has only asked ten questions in all that time. Far from it. ‘Parliament’s hardest working MP’ has, in fact, asked 492 different questions (more than sufficient to support his coveted claim) but none of the remainder contain the keywords: Benfleet, Canvey, Hadleigh or Thundersley — which is what you would expect if a question concerned local constituency matters.

Bob Spink, it seems, asks, on average, some ten questions a day: with a local constituency component, containing one of the above areas, amounting to around one question per week. It is also interesting to see how his incisive questioning is often taken-up by other Parliamentary Members to reveal much needed information to resolve the important issues facing our country.

On Monday, he cornered the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to ask:-

How many oak trees have been removed from Thundersley Common in the last five years; and for what reasons the trees were removed?

You see… this is why we elect MPs — for their intellect. I, as a lowly journalist, and you the reader, as a mere constituent, would probably think that the best place to direct such a question would have been to Castle Point Borough Council. I would have been tempted to pick-up the phone to my local Councillor and ask if he could find out for me, rather than wasting Parliament’s time; but, as an MP, of course, you can save yourself the cost of a local phone call and, instead, get a government secretary to make it for you. After all, that is what secretaries are for.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary) replied:-

Natural England’s records show that five oak trees, and one birch, have been removed from Thundersley Great Common SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest] since 2004. These trees were felled during the 2008-9 winter by Castle Point borough council with the assent and support of Natural England. The work was done as part of a higher level stewardship agreement to restore the special interest features of the SSSI — namely its rare heathland habitats — to favourable condition. Some tree removal is essential as part of this restoration work because many oaks became established on the heathland in the second half of the last century when the site was less actively managed. There are now over 100 trees on the northern half of the SSSI which are rapidly shading out the remaining patches of heathland vegetation. If these are all left to mature a large part of the SSSI will soon be dense woodland and the heathland will be lost.

But what is that I hear you ask? What was the purpose of the question? Why, to obtain an answer, of course. And Bob achieved that, in diamonds. ‘Five oak trees — and one birch!‘ You can always trust Bob to get the whole story.

But Thundersley is not the only town to have benefited from Bob’s questioning over the last 50 days, Hadleigh too has seen our Bob rise to his feet and demand an explanation.

On the 12th June, it was Tessa Jowell who found herself in his firing line.

Bob Spink asked the Minister for the Olympics:-

What her most recent estimate is of the cost to the public purse of  hosting the Olympic mountain biking event at Hadleigh?

It was obvious that Tessa knew she had been outgunned. She replied:-

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has responsibility for delivering the mountain bike event at Hadleigh Farm, working with Essex county council. Direct costs of staging the event come from LOCOG’s revenues which are primarily derived from commercial sponsorship, broadcast rights, ticket sales and merchandising/licensing — not from the public purse.

There will be attributable costs to the public purse, for example in respect of the security and transport functions associated with the venue. However these costs have not yet been identified separately for individual venues, but they will form part of the overall security and transport budgets.

Bob discounted the obvious riposte. He would not have liked to make a grown woman cry. Instead he would give her time to instruct her department to identify individual venue costs (in the same way that he carefully categorised his own Petty Cash expenditure) — lest he return to the subject again.

Benfleet did not obtain its own question; but if words were the measure of support for that town’s populace; Bob surely gave them value for money when presenting their petition, apparently signed by 220 residents, against plans for a Sure Start facility at Jotman’s Hall School.

In a true spirit of mutual co-operation, and balancing the area’s needs with local views, Bob said:-

On 3 June, I formally objected to the location of a Sure Start centre at Jotmans hall school in Benfleet after residents told me of their anger at a hare-brained scheme being secretly pushed through and their disbelief at the failure of councillors to inform or consult them or to control properly the council’s policies on such important matters, or even to be honest and transparent with them. I was not surprised, therefore, when I received a petition signed by many extremely decent people, each of whom care deeply about their community and environment and the safety of children at that school. The petitioners are local residents who pay the council and councillors to protect them, not harm them.

It is so refreshing to see local democracy in action. Locally elected representatives consulting on local issues, and a patriarchal MP using his political prowess to bring all parties together.

But Canvey, I am afraid, dear Castle Point constituents, is obviously favoured by Bob. In the past 50 days, he has risen to the occasion seven times to pursue important local matters. We islanders know when we are onto a good thing. You mainlanders just do not cut the mustard.

On the 2nd June, Mr Bill Olner took the chair in a debate over Light Dues, a tax on merchant vessels calling at British and Irish ports intended to cover the cost of providing lighthouses and navigational warnings around the coasts of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, one or two minor territories in the Red sea and, of course, Gibraltar.

This is big news for a sea-faring community like Canvey Island, so you would expect our local MP to draw upon his detailed local knowledge and show his support for our fishermen.

And Bob did not let us down. No sooner had the debate begun, than our MP rose to his feet:-

Although it may be a small element for merchant vessels, which deal in very big commercial transactions, it is a significant element for the fishing fleet. Why should vessels of the UK-registered fishing fleet that are just over 10 metres pay when they make no use of the GLA navigation aids and when other EU-registered vessels do not have to pay? It puts our fleet at yet more commercial disadvantage against the European fishers.

Andrew Turner, a Conservative from the Isle of Wight, simply was not listening. In reply he said: ‘As the hon. Gentleman said, the UK fishing fleet has to pay those dues.’

Where on earth had he been sitting? It must have been obvious to all those taking part that, when Bob had said ‘fishing fleet’ he was talking about our fleet, here on Canvey — not some wannabe mainlanders who potter up and down the coastline, sunbathing, over the week-ends.

There was a serious issue here that Bob wanted to address. But he had to wait until he found another suitable opening.

The debate drew on; but Bob found his opportunity when the house nodded-off during a contribution by Alistair Carmichael.

Like a tiger waiting in close cover, Bob sprung into the attack.

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Turner on securing the debate. He presented his case in a balanced and eloquent way, but he is a very assiduous Member, so that does not surprise me. He has brought before the House a matter that is important, even if rather narrow.

We are proud to be a maritime nation, and I hope that we can keep the navigation of our waters safe. The Minister has rightly pointed out that that is the primary objective, and he will no doubt point it out again. The aims of ensuring the safety of our waters and navigation, and of modernising and making more efficient the general lighthouse authorities, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The GLA structure is old, and I do not see why we should not carefully consider amalgamating the three lighthouse boards. That seems a sensible way forward, not just to save costs, although that is important, but to spread best practice and have economies of scale. We should consider that suggestion, and should also resolve the problem of our subsidy of the Irish. Any programme should grasp that matter and deliver that change.

I want to make a brief contribution on behalf of fishermen who have to pay light dues if they have a boat of more than 10 metres. UK-registered fishing vessels pay those dues, but I think we all understand that fishermen are having a particularly tough time at the moment with fuel costs and quotas, which are killing them — especially the small inshore fleets, which are not only boats of under 10 metres; many boats of just over 10 metres never go near the GLA-provided navigation aids, but must still pay a contribution towards them, even though they do not use them. They are at a great competitive disadvantage against vessels that are registered in other EU countries, which do not pay the dues, and there is a perception that those vessels do not adhere to many of the rules or regulations. Our fishermen feel particularly aggrieved about that problem.

You can see just what he is getting at. Those damned Light Dues are just like a high-seas’ Road Tax. Why must someone never wishing to visit Wales be forced to contribute towards the upkeep of the Severn Bridge (or the M4 for that matter)?

Bob is like a bull-mastif when it comes to issues like this. When he is onto something, he simply will not let it go. And this time, Bob finally found someone prepared to put himself at risk and offer an answer to his question.

Jim Fitzpatrick (another Parliamentary Under-Secretary) wavered at the sight of Bob’s guns.

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that fishing vessels do not use the services provided by the GLAs. It is clear from my information that they do. Notwithstanding that, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it will reimburse lighthouse dues to fishermen in England and Wales this year. Is he aware of that?

What a magnificent chess player! See how Bob sacrifices a pawn to capture the opponent’s queen. Thanks to his intervention, our fleet will be reimbursed its Lighthouse charges this year. We could not have wished for a better result.

And Bob leaves the House in no doubt that he will continue to pursue our interests should it be necessary again. He rounds off by saying:-

No, I was not aware of that. I am grateful to the Minister for that briefing, and to the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who probably made that announcement.

There are many larger fishing vessels that go out to sea and use the navigation aids, but I am talking about the sort of small inshore fleets that operate from Leigh-on-Sea and Canvey Island in Essex, and from the small Kent ports. They tell me that they have to pay light dues on boats of over 10 metres, and they are aggrieved because they do not make use of the systems provided by the GLA, so they are at a competitive disadvantage. I would like the Minister to pass a message to his colleague in DEFRA, who has set up the sustainable access to inshore fisheries project under the chairmanship of Alan Riddell. Will he ask him to take account of light dues when he considers matters of economic viability, sustainability, the environment and societal consequences in relation to the small inshore industry and the SAIF project? Will he ask him to extend further an exemption from light dues for all small inshore fishing boats, including those just over 10 metres? I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make those points.

And he speaks not only for Canvey. Even Leigh-on-Sea constituents and those on the Kent coast seek his ear on these important matters. See how he says so, himself.

Of course, some mainlanders may interpret his final reponse as some type of climbdown; but they do not know how our Bob works. Take the debate on the 8th June, regarding North-West Sport, for example.

This is where Bob is at his best. On the face of it, a debate on the North-West of England would seem to provide very little leeway for our Castle Point MP to raise local issues. But there you would be wrong. When he wants to be: Bob is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. See how he leads the house into a false sense of security, thinking they are debating North-West issues, only to be out-manouevred, out-foxed and expertly admonished by our elected representative:-

We heard earlier how receptive councils will be to the Minister’s advice and views on developing and enabling sport. Will he give advice to local education authorities in the north-west and elsewhere, such as Essex county council, that they should not sell off school playing fields, such as the field at Castle View school in Canvey Island, for development, but should retain those school fields for sport?

What a master! And, again, it is Canvey island that comes-up trumps. And you mainlanders think there is no favouritism? What about our bridalways then? You may think this is another local problem that could be addressed by local councillors, and our Parish Council. But we know that Bob is always willing to present a petition to the house; no matter how few signatures it bears. And we could not wish for more impassioned support:-

Horse riders in Castle Point and on Canvey Island are deeply disappointed by the failure of councillors to help them maintain existing bridleways and get new ones for safe riding. Horse riding is a traditional activity that is supported by local residents, but seems to be punished by councillors. There are many problems. Riders suffer from obstructions put in their way by the council and from dangers on the roads. I urge councillors actively to support our local horse riders. I thank and congratulate each and every petitioner. They are good people who just want us politicians to listen to them and to enable them to ride their horses.

You see, we islanders do not have to get involved in local politics. Whenever we have an issue that our Bob can jump on: we just have him publicise it. It does not mean that all our issues are resolved, of course; but it does allow us to ignore them and get on with our lives.

Bob ambushed MPs again on the 23rd June, when they debated the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. It was a long and often boring debate, and it took some time before Bob obtained a chance to speak; but he did not waste the opportunity:-

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the avocets on Two Tree Island on Canvey Island in my constituency. Does he agree that we need to be very careful about how we deal with the salt marshes and mud flats that people might want to go to?

See? Canvey Island again. There is no stopping Bob once he gets going. And once again, he obtained the answer he was looking for. John Randall replied:-

Of course, but the salt marshes are not part of the marine environment; they are already catered for. I remember seeing a cream-coloured courser on Two Tree Island quite a few years ago. That was the last time that I was in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Just notice the way he elicited that information about the cream-coloured coarser. I bet you mainlanders have never seen one!

Bob is equally as good with written questions and answers. In the last 50 days, since June 1st, he has written three questions on behalf of islanders. On the 25th June, on the subject of Canvey Island Floods, he wrote:-

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent estimate he has made of the number and proportion of buildings on Canvey Island which (a) are not flood-resistant and (b) are flood resilient.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary) replied:-

No estimate has been made of the number of properties on Canvey Island that are flood resistant or resilient. However, the Environment Agency spent over £4 million in 2006 to improve the drainage of the island and address fluvial flooding issues.

Can you believe that? ‘No estimate.’

Bob did not let him off the hook though. Oh no. On the 16th July he went in with all guns blazing:-

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer of 25 June 2009, Official Report, column 1087W, on floods: Canvey Island, if he will make it his policy to estimate the number and proportion of buildings in flood risk areas which (a) are not flood-resistant and (b) are flood-resistant.

And, this time, Huw Irranca-Davies replied:-

We have no plans to require assessments of whether properties have flood resistant products. These will typically only be made by householders for their own purposes or where it is relevant to the development of a flood management scheme.

Aha! So, it is householders who are responsible for all those clandestine assessments we heard about. Gotcha!

We can always count on Bob to get to the heart of the matter. Just like that Calor Gas Report which islanders have awaited so long. Bob jumped on the case on 9th July:-

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when she expects to publish the report on the escape of liquefied petroleum gas on the Canvey Island Calor Gas site in October 2008.

Jonathan R Shaw replied:-

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will not be publishing a report into its investigation into the release of liquefied petroleum gas at Calor Gas Ltd.’s Canvey Island site in October 2008. This investigation is still ongoing. HSE does not routinely publish incident investigation reports but, as previously undertaken, will arrange to brief the hon. Member as soon as this is appropriate.

Well… Bob was just checking there — hoping to be able to put a date in his private diary (whilst making the point to lesser MPs that secret meetings with government officials are just one of the ways in which he gathers vital information for islanders).

It is comforting to discover irrefutable evidence of just how hard our Castle Point MP works on his consituents’ behalf. You would, after all, be hard-pressed to find any other MP putting so many questions, of such unerring quality.

That is why we islanders hold a special place in our hearts for Dr Robert Spink, MP — and it is the reason why so many voted for him in the last election. A person of such stature does not need to stoop to gagging the local newspaper, or spend thousands of pounds of  taxpayers’ money promoting his image.

Oh dear! June is such a long time to wait for another opportunity to show our deep affection for Bandwagon Bob.

Perhaps you Castle Point mainlanders feel that way too?..

Note: 115 of the 492 questions contained the term Castle Point; but all those examined simply requested statistics (many of which could have been Googled). For those readers with a detailed interest in the data, the feed used was: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/rss/mp/11245.rdf. There will not be any activity now that Parliament is in recess; but make sure you have sufficient disk space for when Bob returns to the House…

… (30/07/2009) – You Are There To Represent Our Interests, Bob – It Is Not For Us To Represent Yours

… (06/01/2010) – Bob Needs All The Help He Can Get

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3 Responses

  1. […] … (22/07/2009) – 50 Days Of ‘Parliament’s Hardest Working MP: Bob Spink’ […]

  2. I did not know Hansard could be so entertaining :)

    Seriously though, this is nothing to laugh about. his questions show he has no grasp of the surrounding facts and none of them, in my opinion, could be said to be appropriate for the House of Commons. They are all Borough Council issues that could be dealt with locally.

    What do we pay this man for? Attacking locally elected councillors whenever he finds an opportunity?

    I thought politics was the art of compromise and persuasion. Not venting ones’ personal animosity.

    The sooner we have a general election the better.

    Then we can rid ourselves of this odius man.

  3. […] will remember that I was somewhat bemused by his question regarding this topic in the House Of Commons; but now matters are becoming clear. Bandwagon Bob was […]

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