In the last few days themes have emerged that are critical factors for Governments, Councils and indeed local elected representatives. Sadly, comments and actions have been carried out by people who know very well that this is not the way to behave. I have met a number of people in a range of settings who know that while they are able to remain in contact with people, that there is a clear border between their personal and professional responsibilities. It has become very clear that some MPs and Ministers are choosing to ignore that principle. Thankfully one local MP has recently made a statement based on a principle. Huw Merriman is the Conservative MP for Battle and Bexhill and his comment occurred during a debate on the 14th April. The Labour Party were calling for a Lobbying Committee to be set up within Parliament to address issues that have occurred between David Cameron and the current Government. Since that debate took place, even more information has emerged relating to the Cameron lobbying that makes the need much more evident. However far more concerning in many senses is the latest news that our Prime Minister is willing to enable a friend or contact to influence his professional judgements. No doubt Boris Johnson is angry that it was his previous personal adviser who released that into the public, but the fact that he does not hold a border approach is the most disturbing. Whether we treat the call from Dyson to Johnson as a lobbying factor or attach some other word to it, there is clearly a need for some form of external review of this activity. The same is true with regard to the action that has taken place between Cameron and the Government. It is clear that such responses need to go beyond the political setting as this is what is acting as a challenge for these decisions to be made.
When Huw Merriman spoke, he made comments that sadly have since been ignored by his own political party. We clearly need to thank him for stating the comments and perhaps we can encourage others to respond accordingly. His words were
“With the local elections coming up in May, I am concerned that we are in danger of playing party politics in this Chamber” and then a few seconds later he said “here we are today talking about election leaflets and playing party politics”.
To his credit when I commented about that last week, he pointed out on twitter that he was reflecting a comment that had been made by a Labour MP. Rachel Reeves stated that if members of political parties have met privately with people who are lobbying, that they should “put that on its leaflets in the elections”. Clearly such a call is something that would be a challenge for all political groups, but we now need to call for openness in a clear and appropriate way. However back to the theme of the need to avoid playing party politics in the Chamber that Huw Merriman is concerned about. Last Wednesday when a number of MPs raised questions with the Prime Minister there were several issues that arose that are no doubt very concerning for Huw Merriman along with many of us. Andrew Griffith is the MP for Arundel and South Downs. He raised a theme that was initially very positive.
“Recycling is one way in which we can all individually tackle the climate crisis. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating West Sussex County Council on recycling 53% of its household waste”
This statement was clearly something that we can all be very positive about. Sadly, one or both of the speakers then focused on party politics rather than the environment. The last words were
“almost double the level of neighbouring Brighton and Hove City Council?”
The response from Johnson was
“My hon. Friend draws attention to a very valuable and important point, which is that across the country, it is Conservative councils that keep council tax low, overwhelmingly, and deliver better services, such as recycling. He is absolutely right to laud the efforts of the Conservative-led council in West Sussex.”
The next question came from a Labour MP who pointed out that
“The Home Secretary claimed that only Conservative police and crime commissioners are responsible for increasing police officer numbers”
and he then pointed out that the largest number of new Police Officers had come in a setting with a Labour PCC. The Prime Minister then sought to claim it was the Conservative Government that achieved that outcome, not a local representative. It is clearly vital for all political settings to be held to account for their words and actions and to listen to MPs like Huw Merriman and adopt his clear call.