Goodbye Minister Burns

images (24)The news last week that Simon Burns was resigning from his Ministerial position appears to have been part of a bigger strategy to create some space in the Cabinet for an anticipated reshuffle. Late last night Chloe Smith and John Randall also resigned. Chloe Smith to focus on engaging with young people (presumably to return with the assurance that young people don’t want suffrage to be extended!). Simon has spent most of his working life focused on matters of Politics and Public Policy, mostly in Westminster where he has been an MP since 1987 although he had a four year stint at the Institute of Directors and three years as a journalist. He has been a member of the current cabinet since May 2010 with two roles, firstly in Health and until last week in Transport. Unlike Chloe Smith and John Randall Simon Burns has resigned, according to commentators, because he has another target in mind. He is hoping to become the next deputy speaker of the Commons in place of Nigel Evans who is currently fighting a Court case. The disagreements between Simon Burns and John Bercow, the current Speaker have been very open and public as his Wikipedia entry reveals. So too have a number of other colourful episodes during his political career. The Speaker is one of the highest profile and highest ranking roles within Parliament. Whilst the election for deputy speaker is not something that members of the public have any say over, each of our MPs does and so in principle our views or opinions could make a difference. The role is intended to be a neutral one in many respects and I suggest that Simon Burns is not suited to this role for three reasons, each of which is a reflection of his character or attitude towards Parliament itself.

As the Wikipedia entry explains, Simon Burns attempted to gain additional privilege for MPs and Lords whilst an opposition member of the Administration Committee in 2007. Although this was proposal was rejected by other MPs it is nevertheless an indication of Simon’s view about his sense of importance and priority. A similar attitude lies behind his decision in recent months to charge the taxpayer £80,000 a year for the use of a Ministerial Car when he could easily catch the train, something in the context of his role as Transport Minister that is particularly concerning. We need Transport Ministers who prioritise their use of public transport, not who avoid it at our expense!

As mentioned above, Simon Burns does not get on with the current Speaker. Whilst he is not alone in this, the risk of bringing a personal feud into the offices of Speaker is surely counter-productive in a role that is intended to be Independent of the cut and thrust of political disputes. We have lived through a damaging relationship between the Prime Minister and Chancellor when Tony Blair was PM. We need our Parliament to be a place where decisions and actions are carried out  for the good of the country, not to settle feuds.

The final reason why I believe Simon Burns is not the right person to be Deputy Speaker, is that this role is intended to be one which acts as a link between Parliament and the country, particularly in the context of strengthening our bruised democracy. John Bercow has worked hard in this area and whoever replaces Nigel Evans needs to be someone who can also build trust outside of Parliament. Sadly Simon Burns has made his low opinion of the campaigning group 38 Degrees very public. Whilst many people share Simon’s view, the group is clearly committed to engaging electors and UK residents in our democratic processes. I have been on the receiving end of campaigns by 38 degrees when I stood as Police and Crime Commissioner and I have also responded to their activities as an elector. I believe that the Speaker and his deputies need to be people committed to extending the democratic franchise, not people who want to limit it and extend Parliamentary privilege!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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