Tom Richmond: Disillusion with Westminster stems from poor calibre MPs

David Blunkett
David Blunkett
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DAVID Blunkett does have a point. Political apathy is a neglected issue and turnout at future general elections could be as low as 50 per cent if this trend is not halted.

Yet I believe that the former Home Secretary – and long-standing Sheffield MP – is being slightly naive when he attributes this decline to the cynicism of ‘entertainers’ like Russell Brand and commentators such as Will Self.

Yes, political satire is very different today to Blunkett’s formative years on Sheffield City Council – his upbringing coincided with a more deferential era – but I’m afraid public disillusionment actually stems from the poor calibre of MPs at Westminster.

Take Blunkett himself. He had to resign on two separate occasions from Tony Blair’s government when scandal and personal conflicts of interest undermined his work. He will say that he was the victim of a witch-hunt, but contrast this with the post-war era when Ministers were given no second chances. Their probity was expected to conform to the highest standards at all times.

Next consider his fellow Sheffield MP, Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister has been left in an invidious position this week by the antics of his former party chief executive (Lord) Chris Rennard who refused to accept that his past behaviour amounted to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Yet if a party leader is so weak that he cannot renounce the party membership of such an obnoxious individual who clearly makes women feel uncomfortable in his presence, what message does this send out to the rest of the country?

Then there is the Tory party. Where are the leaders who can inspire the country like Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher? They’re just not there. Its benches are filled with individuals who are effectively voting fodder for the party whips. Conviction politics is in danger of becoming a forgotten trait.

There is also the legacy of the expenses scandal. Despite greater transparency, the public’s perception is that MPs are millionaire individuals who continue to exploit their position – even if this viewpoint contradicts the circumstances of the majority of backbenchers who are not well-off.

And finally there is Blunkett’s inference that politics is “not a spectator sport. It’s about getting people engaged in their own lives, participating in all sorts of ways, but also getting them to vote”. How can he make such a statement when he can often be seen berating his Tory opponents during Prime Minister’s Questions each week?

I’m afraid Russell Brand is not to blame for today’s political malaise – the problem stems from the fact that there are so few politicians in the House of Commons who can connect with the masses and enthuse the public.

This is why Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is this country’s most popular politician – and he’s not even an MP.

AS suggested earlier, this has been a week to forget for Nick Clegg as the Lib Dems fail to contain the fallout from the inquiry into the sexual harassment of Chris Rennard, the party’s former chief executive. Yet I couldn’t help but spot the rank hypocrisy of Mrs Jack Dromey when she waded into the affair and said women would be less likely to pursue political careers as a result of this affair.

Mrs Dromey is of course better known to Westminster observers as Harriet Harman. As for Jack Dromey, he is the Labour MP who secured his Birmingham seat in spite of an all-female shortlist having been put in place. As such, both Mr and Mrs Dromey are the last people who should be lecturing Clegg and co on sexual equality.

DAVID Cameron’s reluctance to discuss government proposals to build two new garden cities – according to Nick Clegg the plans do exist – when Britain’s housing shortage is already so well-documented does him no favours.

Rather than allowing developers to buy up even more chunks of land on the edge of existing communities (Menston, near Leeds, comes to mind) and then pressurise local councils into granting consent without paying sufficient heed to the impact on local services, why not authorise some new towns where homes – and services – can be built in a co-ordinated manner? I assume Cameron’s silence is to do with the fact that the identified sites, according to the Lib Dems, are Buckinghamshire and Kent  – two Tory heartlands.

Unless, of course, Kris Hopkins – the Keighley MP and Housing Minister – can suggest otherwise.

TALKING of Tory self-interest, I see that Energy Minister Michael Fallon – the man responsible for fracking and other policies designed to keep the lights on – has also been made Minister for Portsmouth. His remit is to help the Hampshire city recovery from the loss of hundreds of shipbuilding jobs. Having abolished the roles of regional ministers, I wonder if the Conservatives will be this proactive when a northern town or city loses a major employer.

Or is this appointment a tacit admission that the Tories are frighened of losing the Portsmouth North seat at the next election?

PUB chain JD Wetherspoon has been rightly vilified for opening a bar at a motorway service station – another depressing first for this country.

They’re not alone. I was appalled when I filled up petrol the other day at a Morrisons garage in Leeds to find that it now sells bottles of wine and cans of beer.

What kind of message is sent out when it is clear, judging by reports this week, that North Yorkshire Police is losing the war against drink-driving?

It is easy enough for motorists to succumb to temptation without the major pub chains and supermarkets now trying to target drivers with alcohol and, presumably, special offers.

I wonder if the individuals who sanctioned these sales will be able to live with their consciences if a customer of the Wetherspoon motorway pub then causes a fatal roa accident.

I wouldn’t.

CONCERNS about planning and jobs bring me onto the Commons intervention made by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman who believes that ‘big business’ has too much influence.

“Companies such as Tesco can use bribery – I use the term advisedly – on local communities to get planning permission by giving a little bit of money to a local school,” he noted.

The response of Nick Boles, the Planning Minister? “Contributions to create community benefit are exactly what we should be trying to get more of, so that it is not just the owners of new developments who benefit but the entire community... We should be supporting this, not describing it as bribery,” he said.

Boles does have a point – but the disquiet stems from the fact that his Government continues to play ‘lip service’ to its once cherished notion of ‘localism’ and is only prepared to listen to the residents concerned when it suits the agenda of Ministers.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk