I was disappointed to read that the Tory minister Mark Simmonds is quitting the Commons because the expenses system is “too meagre” for him to afford London rents.
Simmonds is able to claim £20,000 a year for rent, plus an additional £2,425 for each child (he has three). This works out at a rental budget of £524 per week, not counting his £120,000 ministerial salary, the £25,000 he pays his wife to be his part-time secretary or his second jobs such as the chairmanship of chartered surveyors Mortlock Simmonds.
As a solution, I wondered if Simmonds had considered the delights of moving to Brent? We’re far from the cheapest borough, but a three-bedroom flat can still just about be found for £400-£500 a week in areas like Kensal Green – a hugely diverse community where he could enjoy delicious cuisine from the four corners of the world (perhaps that’s why his government sent UKBA guards to check passports at the Tube station and drove “Go Home” vans through the streets).
As a local councillor I’ve written to Mr Simmonds offering to show him around the area. Of course he would have to embark on a 45-minute commute to Westminster every day, but I wonder if sharing the experiences of those who pay his wages might help him become less out of touch.
Cllr Matt Kelcher
(Labour, Kensal Green Ward)
London Borough of Brent
Mark Simmonds resigns. Can’t “afford” to live in London with his family.
I wonder if MPs who think they are having such a hard financial time ever wonder how the waiters, bar attendants, cleaners, handymen, secretaries and other staff who keep the Palace of Westminster going manage to have a life, on far less pay then the average MP with all their extra directorships.
If Mark Simmonds thinks his life, as an MP, is intolerable he obviously has no idea what so many others have to put up with. He sounds like a spoilt brat.
Red-hunter of old Fleet Street
Your celebration of the late Chapman Pincher in both a column and on the Obituary page (7 August) should not be allowed to slip by unchallenged.
He certainly broke some stories that Labour governments in particular found embarrassing, but he was far from a courageous “lone wolf”.
The late E P Thompson was much closer to the truth when, in Writing by Candlelight, he described Pincher’s columns as “a kind of official urinal” in which various security establishment figures “stand patiently leaking in the public interest”.
That “public interest” was a particular, nastily partisan, right-wing, often institutionally self-interested view which saw “Reds” everywhere and never met a weapon it didn’t like.
It also, as your obituarist admits, led him to suppress stories when he saw fit, and print others he knew to be false. He did not deserve to be honoured by those who believe in honest journalism.
The obituaries of Chapman Pincher have tended, without endorsing all his charges of Communist subversion in the Civil Service and Labour Party, to give him a high reputation. There should be more regard for the irresponsibility with which he suggested wider guilt.
His stress on Communist fellow travellers being reliable voters for Harold Wilson, made clear intimations of worse. On one strange occasion, I got full-blast his undeclared and raging view of Wilson. In 1977, I had just joined the Daily Express when, in a corridor, an angry Harry Pincher stopped me, unknown to him and unprovoking, to proclaim of the Prime Minister: “I will get that little man if it is the last thing I do.”
Yet he was to be heard recently saying what a splendid, delightful good thing dear old Harold had been. Doubtless both positions were sincerely, if severally, taken. However they mark the man readily holding both as a febrile personality not to be taken as seriously as he has been.
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
Keep the UK family together
Your editorial of 7 August calls on people across the UK to make their voices heard before Scots vote in their referendum next month. Unless those who support the Union outside Scotland speak up, we could face a situation in which fewer than 2 million Scots voting Yes cause the dismemberment of the UK, with a population of 63 million.
In fact, grassroots campaigns are now emerging to give a say to those who want to keep the Union. Independent, non-political projects such as To Scotland With Love, Let’s Stay Together, and Hands Across the Border are providing those without votes the chance to show that they care about the UK family staying together.
Ed Miliband has made a “pledge” that there will be no formal currency union with Scotland in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum. Mr Miliband and his Unionist colleagues should have the decency to explain the outcome of this to the up to 120,000 employees in the rest of the UK who would be set to lose their jobs as a result of transaction costs between the remaining UK and an independent Scotland.
In addition, the loss of oil and gas and whisky revenues on the UK’s balance of payments would have a major impact on the pound.
A formal currency union is the only logical solution benefiting both Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Not all Londoners love Boris
J Stanley from Dunfermline (letter, 9 August) made many good points about London’s mayor, but highlighted again some readers’ misunderstanding of our democratic process.
Not all Londoners voted for Boris Johnson, nor do we all think he has done much for London. Quite the opposite, in fact: so the suggestion that Boris has “the full acquiescence of ... the people of London” is not something that I, as a Londoner, recognise. I too am bewildered by his apparent popularity and puzzled by his positive press coverage.
(Perhaps The Independent could be less indulgent towards him, particularly given his lack of any obvious policies or achievements other than self-advancement?)
Similarly, as many readers have pointed out in the context of Scottish independence, not all of us in England voted for the current government, but hope for a better outcome next time.
How often does the outcome of our current democratic process have to be explained or justified?
Holding the police to account
You say that the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision that the evidence provided by the Independent Police Complaints Commission was insufficient to bring any prosecutions of police for their part in the death of Habib Ullah “raises serious questions about the willingness of the watchdog to confront officers” (report, 9 August).
Those questions have been asked by families and campaign groups such as Inquest for many years now. The independence of the IPCC has been more a matter of assertion than reality.
But its not just the IPCC. When the CPS opened its local office in Stoke Newington police station in north London, the local paper carried the headline “Singing from the same hymn sheet”.
These compromised and threadbare agencies should be replaced by a truly independent, properly empowered and staffed system to hold properly to account those who are allowed to use violence.
Cut down the noise on trains
I empathise with your correspondents about noise on trains (letters, 8 August). I also seek the seclusion that the quiet coach grants (sometimes).
A while ago, I had found a table seat, by a window, bliss. Next, a youth sat opposite and plugged head phones into his ears, which leaked the trish-trash noise. I gestured to turn it down, he replied with a two-finger gesture.
I had a delve in my briefcase and pulled out a pair of pliers and gestured to cut his wires. He got up and moved on. Nothing like the threat of direct action! Moral: always carry wire cutters with you.
A dozen first-class Attlees, please
The Post Office will issue in October a set of stamps with the heads of British Prime Ministers. One trusts that they can be purchased individually according to one’s political allegiance. Heaven forbid that in order to distinguish one’s correspondence with the face of Attlee one has to buy as many Thatchers.