MPs bow out: Honourable members? There were some...
While almost no one was spotless, not all of our MPs deserve to be remembered just for the expenses scandal. Nina Lakhani salutes the hard-workers who won't be standing for re-election
Sunday 04 April 2010
Expense claims for duck ponds, tree surgery and DVD players, boasts about owning a "very, very large house, like Balmoral Castle" and widespread "flipping" between first and second homes to maximise mortgage payments at the taxpayer's expense have all left a bitter taste in the nation's collective mouth, and the reputation of our elected parliamentarians in tatters. But, would you believe, many of these Right Honourable ladies and gentlemen have been working incredibly hard on important, sometimes unpopular, issues for their constituents and the country, even refusing to toe the party line on controversial, politically divisive issues. With a record-breaking 130 MPs standing down at next month's election, here we pay tribute to 10 unsung heroes who, in our opinion, should leave Westminster with their heads held high.
Lynne Jones, 1992
Birmingham Selly Oak (Labour)
More than any other MP, Lynne Jones, a seasoned backbench rebel, has worked to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and improve equal participation, especially in employment, for people with mental health problems. Motivated by her father's experience of mental illness, she has co-chaired the all-party group on mental health which managed to bring together about 70 disparate voluntary and professional organisations to form the Mental Health Alliance. The coalition campaigned successfully against some of the most draconian and controversial aspects of the Mental Health Act of 2007.
Brian Iddon, 1997
Bolton South East (Labour)
Brian Iddon has spoken without restraint about the ineffectiveness of the ABC drug classification, which he believes should be abolished in favour of a scale showing levels of harm from various drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Mr Iddon, a former chemist, has been an outspoken critic of the "war on drugs" which he believes has criminalised young people while displacing the problem to alternative illegal and legal drugs. The all-party group on drug misuse produced a seminal report into the abuse of legal medications in 2009 under his chairmanship, which led to a new Department of Health unit to investigate the problem. His work on drug misuse is to be archived at the Wellcome Trust.
Peter Ainsworth, 1992
East Surrey (Conservative)
A genuine Green Tory hiding among one or two sceptics, Peter Ainsworth recently steered his own Green Energy Bill, which makes it easier for people to install wind turbines and solar panels, on to the statute book. His sustainable livestock Private Member's Bill would, if implemented, help to reduce the environmental impact of meat and dairy consumption. He recently started the Conservative Environment Network to promote green thinking and offer solutions to issues such as climate change that are consistent with Conservative principles. He was the only member of the Shadow Cabinet to vote against the Iraq war.
Michael Clapham, 1992
Barnsley West and Penistone (Labour)
A republican, former miner and trade unionist, Michael Clapham helped to secure better compensation for former miners and their families affected by industrial conditions such as emphysema, and for people with asbestos-related diseases. This has included helping miners to claim back thousands of pounds of unjust solicitors' fees. He has a well-deserved reputation for rebelling and has voted against many of Labour's controversial policies, including the Iraq war, student top-up fees and ID cards. He resigned as parliamentary private secretary to the then health secretary Alan Milburn after a few months because of a decision to cut benefits for lone parents.
Ann Cryer, 1997
Ann Cryer's outspoken criticism of violence against women and forced marriage in her constituency led to accusations of racism from some Asian MPs and community leaders, and into a political battle with the BNP leader, Nick Griffin. She has continued to speak out for women's rights and developed a well-earned reputation for being a troublemaker. She can take some credit for the Forced Marriage Act 2008 which has already led to more than 100 civil protection orders. She has repeated politically incorrect calls for an end to marriages between cousins – prevalent in Muslim communities – because of the high number of disabled babies being born in her constituency.
Chris Mullin, 1987
Sunderland South (Labour)
As a journalist, he campaigned successfully for the release of the Birmingham Six. Since election to Parliament, Chris Mullin has continued to campaign for victims of injustice and against the curtailment of civil liberties in the UK and abroad. He was one of the first to speak out against the Government's support of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and rebelled against its attempt to institute detention without trial for terrorist suspects for 90 days. His diaries, published last year, offered an entertaining insight into his colleagues as well as the tedious workings of Westminster.
Chris McCafferty, 1997
Calder Valley (Labour)
Chris McCafferty has won a great deal of respect among human rights groups and other NGOs for her work on international development, sexual health and women's rights. Her political commitment to improve protection for victims of gender violence was integral in the passing of legislation that outlawed taking girls abroad for female genital mutilation and in the Forced Marriage Act 2008. She has been an active MP in the Council of Europe, contributing to committees that worked to improve equal opportunities and eradicate gender discrimination.
Helen Southworth, 1997
Warrington South (Labour)
Helen Southworth won MP of the Year in 2008 at the Women in Public Life Awards for her work on missing and runaway children, a cause never given high priority by government before. She established and became chair of the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children in 2006 and has proposed Early Day Motions to improve child protection. Her campaigning led to the government Young Runaways Action Plan in 2008 and in March 2010 she presented Gordon Brown with recommendations from the taskforce for missing people.
Adam Price, 2001
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Plaid Cymru)
A vocal critic of the Iraq war, Adam Price tried to impeach Prime Minister Tony Blair, something not seen in Parliament for 150 years. In 2006 he opened a debate on the Iraq war. Both actions eventually led to the Chilcot inquiry. In 2002 he exposed the links between Blair and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal after obtaining a copy of a letter from Blair to the Romanian government which suggested the privatisation of its state steel and sale to Mittal might help Romania enter the EU. In 2003 Price helped thousands of workers from Allied Steel and Wire to recover 90 per cent of their lost pensions.
Tony Wright, 1992
Cannock Chase (Labour)
As co-chair of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Tony Wright was instrumental in the passing of the FOI Act in 2000, without which we would still be none the wiser about MPs' expenses or the conflicting legal advice given to the Government in the run-up to the Iraq war. He has campaigned for constitutional reform and to increase the transparency and accountability of all public bodies, especially within government and the Civil Service. He has chaired the Public Administration Select Committee for more than 10 years and led inquiries into ethics and standards in public life.
Roll of dishonour: But good riddance to...
* Gosport MP and garden-proud Peter Viggers whose expense claims included £1,645 for a floating duck house for his pond, more than £3,000 for gardening over three years and £500 for manure. His failure to make representations for the families seeking answers about the deaths of elderly patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital has impeded their long fight for justice.
* Derek Conway, who was way ahead of the field in 2008 when his improper use of parliamentary allowances to pay his son, a full-time student, £1,000 a month for office work of which there was "no record" came to light. Mr Conway, who has one of the worst voting records in Parliament, had the whip withdrawn as a result.
* Former transport secretary Stephen Byers, aka Mr "Cab for Hire", whose reputation was well and truly shattered after he was caught on camera offering his services to a fake lobbying company.
* Former armed forces minister Adam Ingram who was another "victim" of the recent lobbying sting operation. He had plenty of non-political skills to offer as he already earns £170,000 a year from consultancy work and non-executive directorships. Nice work if you can get it.
* Margaret Moran, a serial big-claimer, who was banned from standing for the Labour Party again after it was revealed she claimed £22,500 to treat dry rot in a second home 100 miles from her Luton South constituency. Moran claimed 10 times more than the MP for the neighbouring constituency, even though they live on the same street. Goodbye and, dare we say, good riddance.
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