Tom Richmond: Still many questions to answer over Miller case

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HOW can MPs ever be trusted again to regulate the conduct of their Parliamentary colleagues following Maria Miller’s downfall?

Not only has this scandal reflected poorly on David Cameron’s judgement, but also the Labour front bench which was strangely silent on this issue prior to the Culture Secretary’s resignation.

Apart from this complacency, and the unforgivable arrogance of Miller and her ill-advised cohorts who tried to blame a media witch-hunt for her downfall, this case still leaves many questions unanswered.

Should MPs living within commuting distance of London be entitled to expenses to fund a second home? No.

Should MPs keep any profits that are accrued from property deals that have been funded, in part, by Parliamentary expenses? No.

What level of expenses is acceptable, and how should this system be regulated? Transparency is key, and there should be even greater scope for public involvement.

Will Miller be entitled to the pay-off that is normally made to Ministers who have lost their job? I hope not.

What does it say about the lack of women on David Cameron’s front bench? Gender is no defence whatsoever and an insult to all aspiring female politicians.

Yet what is so frustrating is that this week’s events were so predictable. It has been clear for a month, prior to the findings of Parliament’s independent Standards Commissioner, that Miller’s position was untenable, not least because of the scale of her obfuscation and the bullying tactics deployed by her staff against the media.

This frustration is compounded 
by the scale of the divide which still exists between ordinary taxpayers 
and the Westminster elite. This gap is even wider, and even more profound, after Cameron and co failed to acknowledge the concerns of Joe 
Public.

This is why I am supporting Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to introduce a system of ‘recall’.

If constituents of a scandal-hit MP or Minister register their concerns in sufficient numbers, the politician concerned will have to submit themselves – and their reputation – to a by-election.

I do not believe this would be a “kangaroo court”, the objection of Nick Clegg. I think voters are likely to take their responsibilities far more seriously, and far more objectively, than any committee of MPs.

After all, Ministers and backbenchers will have nothing to fear from such public scrutiny if they maintain the standards of conduct that are expected of elected representatives.

I’M sure it is just a coincidence that Sajid Javid became Culture Secretary just 12 hours after Channel Four News revealed the extent to which the Tories were out of touch with ethnic minority communities. By all accounts, he has been a very able Treasury Minister.

However I do hope that he finds time to note the comments of Lord Coe that today’s children are “the least active generation in history” – a damning verdict on the legacy of the 2012 Olympics.

I like Coe’s suggestion that schools should open “breakfast fitness clubs” so pupils exercise before lessons. The benefits could be immense if it gives children a greater focus to the start of the school day, far more so than the plan to extend the scope of early years education to two-year-olds.

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IF the Government wishes to endear itself to voters after the Maria Miller episode, it can begin by reversing Speaker John Bercow’s nonsensical decision to block the request by Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams for an urgent debate into the closure of Kellingley Colliery with the loss of 700 jobs.

A failure to do so will further perpetuate the belief that the Tories are not sufficiently exercised about the social and economic challenges still facing the North.

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NEVER one to pass up a photo opportunity, David Cameron visited an Asda store this week to be pictured with a gurgling baby as the Leeds-based firm announced expansion plans that could yield 12,000 jobs over the next five years.

The PM said the move would “give people financial security for the future”, and the opportunities will be welcomed by many, but he needs to be careful that Britain – and this Government in particular – does not become over-reliant on the retail industry for jobs.

I would have been far more impressed if Cameron had set out a plan to create 12,000 engineers by 2020. They’re the people that Yorkshire – and Britain – need to build their futures around.

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IF “authenticity” is one of Ed Miliband’s virtues, the assertion made by the ultra-loyal Don Valley MP Caroline Flint in a round of interviews to shore up support for the Labour leader, why have so many voters from across the political spectrum written him off?

I ask because the remarks of Flint, the Shadow Energy Secretary, coincided with reports – not denied – that Pontefract 
and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper is already being lined up as Miliband’s successor.

Even though Labour will describe this as “media froth’” John Prescott’s stock answer to reports about the power struggle between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that were proved to be totally accurate, the fact that senior figures within the Opposition are already talking about the post-Miliband period does not bode well for his future.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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