Tom Richmond: Let’s hear it for politicians who will speak their mind

Dutch Connection ridden by William Buick wins The Tattersalls Acomb Stakes.

Dutch Connection ridden by William Buick wins The Tattersalls Acomb Stakes.

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ZAC GOLDSMITH, the environmentalist and Tory MP, provided a revealing insight into the “bizarre” workings of MPs – and Parliament – this week.

“It is bizarre that you have genuinely accomplished people who have reached the top of whatever they were doing in their former lives, and all of a sudden the height of their excitement is being in a lift with George Osborne. People seem to relapse back to their school days where you have prefects you have to butter up,” he said.

It is an observation that explains the importance of independent-minded people who are prepared to put their constituents before their career and introduce some much-needed pragmatism to Westminster’s proceedings so that Ministers are, at the very least, likely to think twice about their pronouncements.

Two examples on unrelated issues illustrate this. First Goldsmith is prepared to go against the grain and consider military intervention in Iraq. “If you put all the risks on one side and then look at the risk of not doing anything, I still think that on balance the risk of doing nothing is much greater,” says the MP who adds that “our Foreign Office doesn’t know very much about northern Iraq”.

Second, he is now working on a cross-party basis with other like-minded politicians to push through reforms which will empower the electorate to hold their MP to account if they fall foul of expenses rules and so on. “At the moment, I could go on holiday for eight months or join the BNP. I could do almost anything, bar go to prison, and there would be nothing my constituents could do about it,” said Goldsmith.

Of course he is fortunate that he has private income to assist his political activities unlike so many MPs of today. Yet this should not preclude parties – and voters – from recognising the contribution of those politicians who are prepared to speak their mind. They must not become an endangered species.

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THIS is why David Cameron is so exasperating. On the day after the Bishop of Leeds, the Right Rev Nick Baines, wrote to the PM about the Iraq crisis and the lack of clarity surrounding Britain’s foreign policy, the Tory leader responded with a speech stating how future policies will have to pass “a family friendly test”.

Two points. First, the Middle East bloodshed should have taken precedence – especially as Cameron wrote an article last Sunday outlining the possible national security ramifications for Britain if a new generation of young Muslims become radicalised. Second, couldn’t one of the newly-promoted ministers be entrusted with a speech on family policy – or was that stretching their capabilities too far?

Mind, Cameron is not alone in putting style before substance. Last week The Yorkshire Post rejected an opinion piece from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling because it focused on one aspect of Labour’s tax plans rather than penal policy.

How ironic that Grayling should be forced to admit, days later, that HM Prison Service faces serious challenges because of overcrowding and related issues. Perhaps the Minister will now focus on his day job.

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DID you spot Leeds-born Jeremy Paxman’s withering assessment of Tony Blair at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe? The former Newsnight presenter’s words are worth repeating after I suggested last week that Blair had “corrupted” politics.

“He had a barrister’s ability to master a brief. When you have that amazing command of detail and a messianic faith, it makes you slightly dangerous.” A fair point.

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BORIS Johnson disciples should take heed of Sir John Major’s wisdom before they step up their campaign for the Mayor of London to be the next Prime Minister.

Major, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher, regrets that he did not have more experience of the Cabinet before he moved into 10 Downing Street.

He was Chief Secretary to the Treasury for two years before a three-month stint at the Foreign Office – Britain did not go to war in this period, Major recalls proudly – and then 13 months as Chancellor.

I’m afraid the mayoralty of London, a weekly newspaper column and regular radio phone-in do not qualify Johnson to lead the country. First, he needs to win a seat – and then prove himself as a competent Minister if the Tories win the 2015 election. And he won’t be able to achieve the latter until his duties in the capital end in 2016.

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ONE word of advice to Rail Minister Claire Perry after saying that train passengers “should start to realise they are paying fair fares for comfortable commuting” – get out of the ministerial car and experience a Yorkshire rush hour.

Failing that, I suggest a letter of resignation because she clearly has nothing practical to contribute to transport policy.

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THE latest insight from MPs points to a race to the bottom – the Tories believe Labour will win because David Cameron lacks ambition while Labour suggest the Conservatives will prevail because it is too late to replace Ed Miliband.

Yet backbenchers from both parties suggest that this is the most volatile electorate in history, Labour is losing a significant number of voters to Ukip in Yorkshire and the raising of the personal tax allowance to £10,000 has shown working class families the extent to which they were let down by the last Labour government.

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IT will take more than text messages from my mobile phone reminder to persuade me to take advantage of the longer opening hours at Morrisons when the service, and quality of produce, is so superior at Sainsbury’s.

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