Rebecca Replies…

Dear Julian,

Thank you for kicking this off, and thank you to Ted for giving us this platform. 

I agree that the expenses scandal did untold damage to public confidence in politics. I think the solution was making MPs with questionable claims pay them back and then moving to a wholly transparent system of pay and conditions. I don’t see how changes to the voting system will do anything to improve public confidence and it could even make matters worse.

Members of Parliament have two distinct roles. First, implementing national policy and holding the Government to account. The second is as the representative of their constituency at Westminster, a role the public really value. Moving to any system of proportional representation as the Government proposes, damages the links between MPs and their constituents, making the voters less powerful and the Party bosses more so.

The AV system you personally advocate is an odd compromise by keeping some MPs constituency-based and others elected on a “Regional List”.  It’s not actually properly proportional but it creates two different types of MP. 

The real issue is weak government.  PR leads to more small single issue parties each fighting to get their say.  I can’t see how all the resulting horse-trading behind closed doors to get a deal will bring politicians’ into higher esteem. 

Like you, I support a modernised House of Lords with a majority of elected members, but also maintaining some appointed members. I do not think we should lose those peers with the expertise and stature – many of them “Cross-benchers” – of people like ex-M15 Head, Eliza Manningham-Buller or some of our ex military chiefs, just because they were not willing to turn their lives upside down to run for election like us.

Better than either of the plans however are David Cameron’s plans to reduce the cost of Government altogether, by reducing the number of MPs, Ministers and Ministerial salaries.  I’d also like to see the huge number of powers currently exercised by expensive and unaccountable quangos transferred to local communities and MPs.

I know you’ve advocated electoral reform for many years, but I think the public may feel cynical about a party that’s become interested in changing the voting system after 13 years in power, just when they look like they could lose.

Proposing a referendum on the voting system when it’s not a public priority smacks of cynicism – especially when the Government didn’t stick to their promise of a referendum on the important issue of whether or not the UK should sign up to the Lisbon Treaty.

I don’t advocate lowering the voting age to 16. Many 16 year olds are probably quite capable of exercising this right sensibly, but there has to be a starting age at some point and I think 18 is about right. When I was 16 I certainly considered myself old enough to make decisions that affected me, but I am not so sure I was ready to make decisions that affected others, which is what voting is. Currently, too few in the 18 to 24 age group vote and it would be better to try to raise those numbers.

Overall, I think we can agree that it is time to clean up Parliament and make Government more efficient and accountable and this election gives us a chance for a fresh start. As always though, there are ranging views on how best to achieve it. I am grateful that we can have this exchange in the open and welcome further such correspondence.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 18/03/2010) – Julian Says…

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Julian Says…

Dear Rebecca,

The Canvey Beat has kindly allowed us to debate some key issues on their forum, and I have been asked to kick this off. I shall begin with a subject that ought to be non-partisan, and we may even agree.

Last year’s furore over MPs’ expenses raised a number of concerns over the integrity of our democracy. The Government set in motion a number of measures to address the misuse of expenses and allowances, and have committed to some fundamental change and discussions on modernising Parliament.

Ours is the most ancient of Parliaments; a good look at how it works and how the voters engage is long overdue. Some, myself included, have argued that the MPs’ expenses row highlighted the lack of accountability in the vast majority of constituencies. The remedy is a voting system where all votes matter.

I am no Johnny-come-lately on electoral reform – this has been a concern of mine for some thirty-five years. I am a member of the Electoral Reform Society and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform. If elected I will be pushing for change.

I accept that change cannot be rushed, and that change must have the buy-in of the electorate; hence my approval of plans for a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. The result of the referendum will be a voting system that has the approval of the majority of the electorate, in my view a good way of not only achieving change, but also key in re-establishing trust.

Specifically, I favour the following three changes:

  1. A fully elected second chamber (House of Lords)
  2. The introduction of the Alternative Vote to replace the current first past the posts system for electing MPs.
  3. The voting age lowered to 16.

Do you agree that change is needed?..

Sincerely,

Julian Ware-Lane
Labour, Castle Point

… (Rebecca Harris, 17/03/2010) – Rebecca Replies…

… (15/03/2010) – Soap-box 2010

Gateway FM Wins Five Year Community Licence for Basildon and East Thurrock

IN A PRESS RELEASE issued today, Gateway FM had this to say:-

It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of pride in the achievement of all our members that I am delighted to tell you that Gateway FM has been awarded its five year FM licence to broadcast a community radio service to our area.

Now that the licence issue is clear, we can commit ourselves to preparing for the launch of this important addition to the local media.

As soon as I know a date when we are cleared to start, I shall let you know. In the meantime, please keep an eye on www.gatewayfm.com for further news.

Today’s Ofcom announcement of the award stated, “Gateway FM is a not for profit social enterprise. Its mission is to enhance community cohesion through developing a community radio station to reach, involve and serve the communities of Basildon and East Thurrock. The station proposes to present a mixture of output reflecting the range of interests and backgrounds in the target community.”

For further information, please contact Yvonne Williams on 01268 521299.

Let us hope that the radio station adheres to the terms of its license, transmitting broadcasts aimed at Basildon and Thurrock – and refrains from promoting the dubious statements of Bob Spink MP, whom they undoubtedly think played a large part in obtaining their license in return for their biased presentation of his views.

Confine yourself to your licensed area, Gateway FM, and stay-out of Castle Point politics, which you obviously haven’t taken the time or trouble to research…

… (25/02/2010) – GATEWAY FM may be relieved to find that their ‘sponsor’ seems to be considering other ways of getting his message across to FM listeners during the local election campaign. Perhaps in his first move to gain the airtime he needs, and persuade other local broadcasters that it is in their interests to provide him with a platform, Bob used another of those EDMs to propose an ammendment to EDM842, laid down by Paul Burstow on 09 February.

Paul Burstow’s motion reads: ‘That this House is concerned that the future of local analogue-based radio stations is being jeopardised by the absence of a clear Government strategy and confusion over what happens when digital switchover is complete; believes that popular local radio stations like Radio Jackie in south west London provide a valuable service which would be threatened by larger regional stations which will not provide radio services with a local focus; and calls on the Government to develop an alternative to digital switchover which allows local radio stations to continue broadcasting on the analogue spectrum.’

And Bob’s ammendment, made the following day, reads: ‘after `London’, insert `and Southend Radio in Essex’.’

Now why would the MP for Castle Point do that?..

A Brand New Web Presence For Bob

IT LOOKS AS THOUGH Bob Spink, our local MP, will be supplementing his Website’s campaign messages from a new domain, ElectionBook.co.uk, registered on 7th January 2010 via the auspices of Clifton Flack, a ‘chartered member of the Institute of Marketing’ and trading under the name iDeal-SEO.

Bob apparently has the dubious privilege of being the first, and only, member of the new site which is due to be launched on 1st March – in anticipation of the general election on 6th May.

‘Are you running for election in the 2010 UK General Election?’ the Website asks. ‘If so we urge you to sign up to ElectionBook and make yourself available to the electorate.

‘ElectionBook.co.uk gives you the tools to position yourself in front of the people who’s votes you need.

‘Do not miss the opportunity to socialize your election campaign.’

It appears that Bob has been a member for over a week; but has yet to provide any content.

The disingenuous might think that Bob has somehow been involved in setting-up this site to provide himself with moderating privileges over any user comments; but there is no evidence to support that hypothesis. Nevertheless, it would be an attractive proposition for any candidate to be able to create, modify, edit or delete any public feedback such a presence might generate. And the compelling beauty of such an arrangement is that all content is deniable.

Fortunately, that is not the case with Hansard or attributable Early Day Motions (EDMs).

On the 9th February, Bob phrased an incongruous gem of an EDM, aimed at allowing him to dig-up an old Sunday Telegraph article, which that paper would rather forget.

His EDM839 says this:-

That this House welcomes the Sunday Telegraph’s initiative of publishing a listing of hon. Members’ value for taxpayers’ money; believes that it is just as important for the public to know what work hon. and right hon. Members are doing as it is for them to know what they are paid and what expenses they claim; and therefore calls on the Sunday Telegraph, in the interest of democracy and informing the public, to publish an updated value for money listing for all hon. Members prior to the election.

The article to which Bob is referring was published on 4th April 2009, and related to a flawed analysis of MPs’ ‘value for money’ as determined by their expenses versus the number of debates participated in and the number of written questions they made during the 07/08 year.

The flaw was that, overall, there was very little difference in MP’s total expenses, and the formula used to arrive at an MP’s ‘value’ was heavily weighted to attendance in the house.

What the formula did was to credit MPs with their attendance, then credit them again for taking part in a debate for which they were present. Then it credited them again for creating written questions on the perverse hypothesis that this would reflect parliamentary ‘work’ undertaken by an MP when absent on constituency business.

The article was heavily criticised by TheyWorkForYou, whose site had been used to source the raw data.

For some time, TheyWorkForYou had noticed various MP’s had been influencing that website’s own attempts at grading MPs by raising spurious EDMs and written questions to boost their ratings. As a consequence, the organisation ceased their analyses and now provide a ‘health warning’ on their site.

To be fair to Bob, the Telegraph’s ‘analysis’ did show that, out of 608 MPs examined, he achieved 6th position in their ‘Value For Money’ table. But only because he spent 82% of his time in the salubrious halls of the chamber (rather than his constituency); interjected on 148 debates; and, when he was not in the chamber, sat in his parliamentary office raising 727 written questions that he had apparently not been able to ask verbally.

To get a better idea of Bob’s ranking, it is best to sort the Telegraph’s data individually to arrive at his positions overall:-

  • Spink came in 219th when it came to total expenses (but don’t forget he ‘lives’ in Westminster – and spends 82% of his time in the house).
  • He was joint 16th when it came to time spent in the house; second in the number of debates ‘spoken’ in; and 12th in the number of written questions he raised.

Bob is a qualified accountant. He knows all about statistics and how to achieve the best results.

The problem with measuring ‘debates spoken in’ is that any interjection an MP can make (so the MP’s name is listed in Hansard) scores a hit.

Here is Bob trying to make the most of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill coming before the house on 9th Feb.

Mr. Grieve: I agree that voters have a choice. Frankly, I am singularly unconcerned about the Liberal Democrats’ preferences or tendencies, or about where they will go for a second vote. I am by no means persuaded that the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) is right.
9 Feb 2010 : Column 809
The evidence from my constituency is that it is most improbable that Liberal Democrat voters would exercise a second preference vote in favour of a Labour candidate, but things might be different in other places.

Bob Spink: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Grieve: In a moment.

And then:-

Bob Spink Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grieve: No.

And then:-

Bob Spink: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grieve: No, I really must make progress.

And then:-

Bob Spink: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grieve: No.

And then:-

Bob Spink: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: No, I am going to make a small amount of progress, because you, Sir Alan, were kind enough to say that I could mention, at least in passing, the amendments that I have tabled.

And then, finally:-

Mr. Field: As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has been jumping up a lot, I will give way to him and then to my hon. Friend.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he presses his amendment with the three alternatives to the vote, I will vote with him. On the AV system, does he accept that voters will not easily switch their allegiance between the main political parties, so the real political advantage will go to independents? Does he think that that might be a good thing, and that people might want to have more independents in this House in order to break the grip of the Whips from the main political parties?

Mr. Field: It is always good to have a disinterested contribution made here.

Bob can relax now. He has ‘contributed to the debate;’ he has scored his statistical ‘hit;’ and the time is fast approaching 9.00pm.

While other members continue to participate in what is one of the most important constitutional debates to come before parliament since its inception: Bob Spink has nothing further to say.

Let’s face it, Bob. There is very little chance of the Sunday Telegraph repeating their mistake for you – no matter how many signatures you achieve on that 65th EDM you have personally raised this session…

… (22/02/2010): With just five days to go before ElectionBook is launched, members of the site appear thin on the ground. The only other candidate to sign-up so far is Lord Toby Jug who, like Spink, has yet to set-up his pages.

Bob Reminds The Echo That They Have Not Published Details Of His ‘Listening Panel’ Event On Friday 5th March

BOB SPINK, our local MP, has, it seems, decided upon adopting a strong local business position for this year’s general election campaign.

His latest press release ‘calls on local people to support local businesses’ and provides a considered analysis of the benefits from doing so.

Bob outlines some of the practical areas residents can help achieve this:-

  • Shopping for food at local grocers and convenience stores
  • Using local tradesmen, plumbers, electricians, heating engineers and gardeners
  • Purchasing shoes and clothes from independent and second hand retailers
  • Buying cars and white goods locally

(Bob does not say if he actually buys from ‘second-hand retailers;’ but the evidence suggests he does not.)

And there are wider benefits as well, Bob says:-

  • Exercise and keep fit by walking to the shops
  • Meet neighbours and friends and have a chat
  • Costs you less, given the price of petrol
  • Saves the environment
  • Builds a stronger community for vulnerable and elderly people

(Is it the word ‘patronise’ you are searching for, Bob?).

And Bob’s press release goes on to claim that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, supports his ideas.

Bob quotes the LibDem Leader as saying:-

‘Thriving high streets are at the heart of local communities.

‘But it has been our high streets that have borne the brunt of this recession, with boarded up shops scarring towns and villages across Britain…’

Strong support indeed. (And it is just like the LibDems to take their leader’s comments regarding Bob’s ideas completely out of context and claim they were made at the launch of their Party’s plans to revitalise British High Streets, on Friday. Shame on them!).

But Bob is determined to get his message across (and fish for more campaign ideas) by reiterating the contents of his previous press release concerning a local ‘Listening Panel.’

Apparently annoyed at the lack of any mention in the Echo, Bob takes the trouble to copy and paste all its details to them again:-

Independent MP Bob Spink’s ‘Listening Panel’ will be held on

Friday 5th March at 7.30pm

At his Constituency Office Meeting Room

At 75 Downer Road Benfleet SS7 1BQ

On the junction of Bowers and Downer Road in the unmade section of Downer Road

Bob wants to hear the views of businesses, residents and councillors

Bob says:

“I’ve had small businesses; I understand their difficulties and am fighting for them. They get a poor deal from local and national government.

Independent retailers are particularly hard hit by changes to the high street, planning rules and the recession.

I want to hear what I can do to help and what message I can take back to the Government of whatever colour.

As an Independent MP, I’m free to do what is right for you rather than the party whip.

Most local retail spending takes place outside our borough. This is bad for our local economy and bad for our environment. I want more friendly policies from the Government and local councils to change this.

I have been campaigning for years for:

  • Lower rates
  • Fairer small business rate relief system
  • Removal of some car parking charges (Tories, in part accepted my demand on this one)
  • Careful planning to stop unfair high street competition
  • Rejection of new out of town supermarkets, higher rates for existing ones
  • A secure post office network
  • More attractive and regeneration of local shopping areas
  • Better public toilets and other facilities
  • Improvements to trading/industrial estates like Manor, Rayleigh Weir and Charfleets

We must fight for our communities and that means supporting our local businesses.”

Let us hope that Bob’s extra efforts, to ensure that all local ‘businesses, residents and councillors’ attend his ‘Listening Panel,’ are suitably rewarded…

Spink Claimed £1,053.98 For ‘General Media Advice’

General Media AdviceAMONG THE FIVE SEPARATE CLAIMS he made for legal expenses from his Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP), Bob Spink claimed £1,053.98 of taxpayers’ money to pay a bill from David Price, Solicitors and Advocates, which they raised on 9th February, 2005.

The services provided were for ‘General Media Advice.’

Readers will remember that Dr Spink declined to answer questions on the £23,076.45 of public funds he claimed in respect of legal fees in his published expenses; but the fact that this bill is raised so close on the heels of a Mail On Sunday article (alleging that Spink had had an affair with a former councillor, Gail Boland, which had led to the break-up of Spink’s marriage) strongly suggests that this, and another claim for a further £8,512.50, relate to his successful libel action against the Conservative Party and five newspapers concerning the story.

The Mail On Sunday article appeared on 30 January, 2005, and the David Price invoice was raised just ten days later (on the 9th February, that year).

In the case that was heard on 17th October, 2008, in London’s High Court, Spink was reportedly awarded ‘substantial damages’ — in addition to his legal costs. Gail Boland also received compensation from the Conservative Party.

The David Price invoice appears to be the marker between Spink’s libel action and another set of legal costs, claimed the previous year. These amount to £13,509.97, and research shows that this corresponds to the time of his continuing dispute with Castle Point Councillor Bill Sharp.

However, in speaking to this blog, Mr Sharp thought it unlikely that their dispute could be interpreted as having anything to do with Dr Spink’s position as an MP, and therefore refused to think that it could form part of the latter’s IEP expenses claim.

Mr Sharp told this blog: ‘At no time did I ever imply or state that I intended to prevent Spink from performing his duties as an elected MP.’

But Mr Sharp did confirm that David Price was the firm employed by Dr Spink throughout their dispute.

‘He [Bob Spink] used David Price himself for all the legal matters he pursued: starting from the day in August 2003, when I found my ex in his home, and they both ran away,’ recalled Mr Sharp.

‘That evening she arrived home late and issued me with a document from Price stating I was to say nothing about any possible relationship between Spink and her — on threat of legal action.’

‘I have all the papers of all the cases between Spink and myself,’ Mr Sharp continued. ‘Stupidly I thought the law and justice were the same animal, and attempted to act for myself in these cases.

‘I found myself in a small court in Southend facing David Price QC and his QC assistant.

‘I lost.’

Bob Spink, MPIt should be pointed-out that, throughout that sorry affair, Bob Spink made no mention of any use of public funds. Indeed, in his press release regarding the matter, Mr Spink makes clear his sensitivity on the subject of using taxpayers’ cash. He states: ‘I asked for a further final police warning to be administered, rather than the alternative that was offered to me of having Mr Sharp prosecuted in the criminal courts.

‘I did this to save public time and money.’

Mr Spink goes on to say: ‘I work hard for my constituents and I am totally straight.

‘Frankly, that is very much needed in politics, both locally and nationally.’

… (30/06/2009) – I Was ‘Off The Record,’ Sarah. You Were Not.

… (03/07/2009) – Lord Hanningfield Questioned Over Expenses Claims

… (12/02/2010) – ‘If we are to publish anything, it needs to be a balanced, legally-sound news story’

Spink: I have not ‘over-claimed £ 2,425.86’

Bob Spink's expenses record

YOU DID, Bob. Any reasonable person would agree…

In your IEP claim, for 31/12/2004, you claimed £118.44 in respect of the firm Banner.

In your next month’s IEP claim, for 31/01/2005, you claim another amount, of £20.41, for the same firm.

In your following month’s IEP claim, 28/02/2005, you provide the Banner statement, detailing the outstanding invoice amounts of £20.41 and £118.44, for which you had provided claims in the previous two months. You then go on to claim the statement’s total of £138.85.

Your over-claim: £138.85.

In your IEP claim for, 31/07/2005, you claim £93.99 in respect of the firm Neat Ideas, and supply the invoice.

In your IEP claim two months later, 30/09/2005, you provide the Neat Ideas‘ statement, detailing the outstanding £93.99 invoice amount, and go on to claim it again.

Your over-claim: £93.99.

The month following your previous over-claim, you detail further Neat Ideas expenditure, for £123.33, in your IEP claim for 31/10/2005 — and provide the invoice.

The next month, in your IEP claim for 30/11/2005, you furnish the Neat Ideas statement for the previous invoice’s outstanding amount of £123.33, and go on to claim it again.

Your over-claim: £123.33.

In your IEP claim for 31/01/2006, you claim for, and provide, a statement from the firm CellHire, in the amount of £332.87. The amount is made up of two outstanding invoices: £276.13 for services provided in December, and £56.74 arising in January. You claim the full amount of £332.87.

Two months later, in your IEP claim for 31/03/2006, you provide the CellHire invoice for January, in the amount of £56.74, and already claimed for two months earlier. You go on to claim the full £56.74.

Your over-claim: £56.74.

In the same month, in your IEP claim for 31/03/2006, you provide, and claim for, a CellHire statement for outstanding invoices due in February and March. The amounts are for £14.78 (Feb) and £111.47 (Mar). The total of the statement, and the amount for which you claimed, is: £126.25.

Two months later, in your IEP claim for 31/05/2006, you furnish a running statement on your CellHire account, which restates the outstanding balance for £111.47 due on the March invoice, and two further sums, for April and May, in the amount of £82.86 and £41.34 respectively. You cross-through the £111.47 correctly (because it had been claimed for in March of the previous fiscal year) and you go on to claim for the remaining amounts, for April and May, in the amount of £124.20.

In your IEP claim for 31/07/2006, you furnish the previous month’s statement from CellHire, indicating that they still await payment for the services they had provided, and their invoiced amounts, for the period February to June. Those amounts are (Feb to Jun): £14.78, £111.47, £82.86, £41.34 and £29.36. The statement’s total is for £279.81 — and you claimed all of it.

Your over-claim: £250.45.

In your CA claim for 31/12/2007, you claim for £1,762.50 in regards to ‘Newsletter printing’ and provide a statement from London and Essex Newspapers detailing an invoice, for that same amount, raised in that month. You claim the full amount.

Two months later, in your CA claim for 29/02/2008, you label an item ‘Consituency Report,’ and back it up with another statement from London and Essex Newspapers, detailing that their December invoice, in the amount of £1,762.50, is now two months overdue.

You claim the statement’s total: £1,762.50.

Your over-claim: £1,762.50.

That brings your total over-claim, which can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt, to a total of: £2,425.86.

All supporting documents are contained in your published expenses. For the record, I provide my working papers, which also contain an analysis of your IEP and CA expenditure, quoted in my Saturday’s email to you, here: Bob Spink.PDF

I conclude by bringing your attention to the following facts:-

Each Communication Allowance members’ reimbursement form that you sign states:-

Use this form to ask us TO REIMBURSE you for costs you have incurred on your Parliamentary duties.

The BLOCK CAPITALS are my own; but they are only there because you (or someone else) have circled that very phrase on your first CA claim form for 31/05/07.

I also point-out that each Incidental Expenses Provision members’ reimbursement form, which you also sign, clearly states:-

You can only claim for costs you have actually paid.

It saddens me that the tone of your email response was such that I decided to publish the full text of our communication. This has never been about you Bob: it is about the Public’s Right To Know.

I personally regret that you did not take the sixty-hour window, which I purposely provided you with, to launch an internal investigation and put these matters right.

It need not have come to this…

… (24/06/2009) – The Page That Will Not Go Away

… (27/06/2009) – Spink Claimed £1,053.98 For ‘General Media Advice’

… (24/08/2009) – Spink’s letter to Sir Christopher Kelly, whinging about his expenses and revealing, ‘in total confidence,’ that he does not actually live at his Downer Road address; but ‘at another house’ in his constituency.

… (Ted Pugh, 24/09/2009) – The Fat Lady Still Hasn’t Sung

… (12/12/2009) – Bob And Other MPs Exploit Loophole To Claim Thousands Without Receipts

… (Ted Pugh, 24/12/2009) – Let’s Not Spoil Dinner This Year…

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 01/04/2010) – Bob promises to break spending limit

… (10/04/2010) – Spink Launches Leaflet Campaign