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Tuesday 19 May 2009
Letters: MPs' conduct
MPs won't behave unless voters have the right to sack them
The problem of MPs' conduct will not be overcome until we have proper accountability to the people the MPs are supposed to represent. Apart from cleaning up expenses, the single most important reform that ought now to be contemplated is the right of electors in any constituency to recall their MP.
To this end, it ought to be possible for (say) 5 per cent of electors in a constituency to petition for a by-election to be held at any time, after (say) the legal mid-point of a parliament.
If electors in a particular constituency want to get rid of an MP whose conduct has caused very great offence, why should they have to wait until a prime minister deems it expedient to call a general election?
K D Ewing
Professor of Public Law
King's College London
I write on behalf of anyone who has ever been a member or donated money to a mainstream political party; has stuffed an envelope, knocked on doors in the rain or given up time (unpaid) to keep the wheels of democracy turning. What do they think about the cavalier and disrespectful attitude some MPs have to public money and to their activists and constituents?
The best way forward is for all MPs to return to their constituencies, face their public and prepare for re-selection. Let the local activists and supporters decide who is still worthy of the privilege of standing as their candidate at the next general election. Some good may then come out of this mess.
The Black Isle, Ross-shire
The parliamentary system must be made more democractic and accountable. We, the electorate, must start a movement before the politicians kick change into the long grass.
Parliament must implement the following as quickly as possible: proportional representation; the mandatory requirement for electors to vote at each election; inclusion on the ballot of a box indicating that none of the candidates is acceptable; provision on the ballot of a blank for a write-in candidate; and the right of the electors in a constituency to recall an MP while Parliament is sitting.
This Parliament must be dissolved soon and an election called before October. I would hope that all parties would deselect any MP who has behaved unethically or illegally.
Professor James H Grayson
There seems to be a marked reluctance among the media, the public or the major political parties (Nick Clegg being an honourable exception) to pay sufficient attention to what you correctly term the "scam" (leading article, 14 May) of MPs playing the property market at taxpayers' expense.
What is commonly referred to as the "loophole" that allows MPs to keep the profits from selling properties they haven't bought with their own money seems to me to be a glaring failure to administer the expenses system properly and in accordance with its own stated "fundamental principles". How can the practice possibly satisfy the requirement that "members must ensure that claims do not give rise to . . . an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else"?
Is it naive to hope that a legal challenge to this anomaly could pave the way for restitution? If nothing is done, among the greatest beneficiaries will be many of the MPs who will shortly be tumbling out of Parliament, taking their second properties with them, precisely because of their profligate use of public money.
Some years ago, while filming in northern Canada, I was required to pay our Inuit hosts C$10 of BBC licence-payers' money, to purchase a 20ft length of stout nylon cord. It was second-hand and somewhat worn, but still serviceable. This was a genuine production expense justified by the need to film a recently killed caribou being hauled across the ice by a team of huskies. Naturally, I obtained a receipt, written on the side of the cardboard box containing the rifle bullets used to dispatch the caribou.
Back at home base, I submitted my claim, with a brief description of the transaction: "Money for old rope: Ten dollars." The BBC expenses watchdog passed it without question.
Although, for me, this hank of old rope has considerable sentimental value, I am now willing to sell it on to some deserving Member of Parliament, to enhance the ambiance of his or her second home. Or you could attach a bucket to it, for lowering from the battlements to inspect the quality of water in one's moat. Do I hear an opening bid of, say, £1,000?
Weston Longville, Norfolk
In his Opinion piece "We must seize the moment to demand a written constitution" (14 May), Matthew Norman looks to David Cameron to achieve this. Why, when all those "radical" changes he says we need have been part of Liberal Democrat manifestos and philosophy for so long?
We have long argued for a written constitution; electoral reform; an elected upper chamber; a no-fixed term Parliament and so on. So, instead of stating that it is in a Tory's gift, why not suggest the electorate take a hard look at what we stand for?
Ventor, Isle of Wight
Commons Speaker Michael Martin will retire on a taxpayer-funded pension worth £1.4m, having refused to ditch this extravagant perk. He will also get a £100,000-plus resettlement payment at our expense to help him move back into his own house in Glasgow, providing he is not forced out before the next election.
This man, along with Jack Straw, was responsible for preventing us finding out about these corrupt expenses claims. To think we are powerless to prevent this self-awarded "golden goodbye" shows just how undemocratic we have become.
ENNISKILLEN, County Fermanagh
A couple of years ago my blind mother, then aged 90, required support at home after a fall. The social worker said that, as my mother had savings of over £22,000, she must pay for support privately. The social worker suggested that if my mother was dissatisfied with this advice, she should write to her MP. I respectfully suggest that as an example for the rest of us to follow, the allowances of MPs should be means-tested.
India, a vast country of 714 million voters, elects a parliament of 543 seats. This country, with a voting population of 44 million, elects 646 MPs. The Indians manage to run their country well enough. Why can't we run a proportionately smaller Parliament of around 40 seats? That way we would be able to pay MPs a decent salary and keep a closer eye on their expenses.
Cowlng, North Yorkshire
I think we should stop getting at these poor MPs. If we lay on a gravy train and hand out free tickets, it's going to take a special sort of person to resist the offer – the sort who wouldn't want to be an MP in the first place.
Betty Harris (letter, 18 May) has things the wrong way round. If one's home has a moat (alas, mine does not) then cleaning it is a necessity, on the grounds of health and odour, not a luxury. A trouser press on the other hand is a pointless luxury. It is not necessary to press or iron any item of clothing as I and others of the happily crumpled persuasion delight in proving daily.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
If MPs made incorrect claims for things like pot plants through human fallibility and stress then why have they not also said that they have, for the same reasons, failed to claim for things to which they were entitled?
The EU's vital role in fighting crime
Timothy Kirkhope MEP is typical of the Conservative approach to fighting crime (Letters, 5 May) – full of tough words but unwilling to take action. The Conservatives claim to support European co-operation to fight crime, but have opposed almost every measure to make that possible. They are more interested in their outdated isolationist dogma than in the safety of the British people. Why else would Mr Kirkhope oppose the UK's membership of Eurojust, which recently helped to crack a horrific paedophile ring and led to more than 50 arrests in Britain alone?
The Liberal Democrats are are pro-European, but we are open-minded enough to criticise our friends. That is why I defended the odious Frederick Toben when a European arrest warrant was used against him for the speech crime of Holocaust denial. The warrant was not intended for this purpose, and the application was rightly dropped by Germany. Graham Watson MEP should be proud of his role in establishing the European arrest warrant. In less than four years, 335 people have been brought back after fleeing to Europe to face justice in the UK.
Today's cross-border criminal is not intimidated by 20 miles of English Channel: paedophiles share material on the internet and criminal gangs exploit trade routes to traffic people, drugs and guns. That is why the European Arrest Warrant and organisations like Europol and Eurojust are so important. It is staggering that the Tories oppose them. Blinkered anti-European ideology should never trump pragmatic co-operation in the fight against crime.
Chris Huhne MP
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, House of Commons
Test cricket must adapt or die
The sad picture of a lonely cricket fan (15 May) at the Riverside ground surrounded by an acre of empty seats sums up the state of Test cricket today. Even the faithful dog had left. Unfortunately this situation is being replicated in other Test grounds of the world.
The recent remarks by the West Indies captain are a timely reminder that unless the game of Test cricket is re-invented, it will go the way of the dinosaurs.
I suggest the second innings of all first class and Test matches should be replaced by a fixed-over innings of say 80 overs. This would make the ending really exciting by producing a result and dispensing with draws.
A U Khan
It has been suggested that Liverpool or Glasgow would be good places to introduce ID cards (letters, 9 May). Maybe John Eoin Douglas has been prejudiced by stereotypes against these former capitals of culture. Surely the ideal place would be the City of London or the City of Westminster.
How to spot dictators
Margot Wallstrom claims (Opinion, 8 May) that Europe's dictators have gone. It is true that in the past we could recognise a dictator quite easily via their characteristic tics, their moustaches, marching styles and proclivities of speech. Today's dictator is much more slippery; faceless and unelected, he sits in the EU Commission from whence diktats are issued entwining everything that breathes in the EU in a bird's nest of suffocating law. The EU is not just boring; it has destroyed democracy through boredom.
East Molesey, Surrey
I would be interested to know what those who object to "media" with a singular verb have to say about "news" with a singular verb. It's obviously plural in form, and until about the middle of the 19th century was usually used with a plural verb, "Are the news good?" Modern usage favours a singular verb, "Is the news good?" Does this diminish the language or inhibit our ability to communicate? Surely not. Language changes, and even the most dedicated pedant cannot stop it.
Of course it is wrong for a schoolful of children, of many faith backgrounds, and none, to be forced to participate in a daily act of Christian worship (Johann Hari, 8 May). But is it wrong for these same children to meet together every morning, to listen to stories, to discuss morality, to sing together and to spend a short time in quiet contemplation? This is what happens in many schools – and long may it continue.
I don't know if it is just me moving into the grumpy old man stage of life or whether I do have a legitimate gripe about the large number of inconsiderate beings who drag their wheelie-cases behind them through crowded places like railway stations creating a lethal trip hazard. Most are dragging around small cases that could easily be carried by most able-bodied folk. Picking these small cases up would not only avoid these nasty clashes, but also contribute in the battle against obesity.
If John Lichfield ("Paris Notebook", 18 May) stays in volcanic central Wales he may well encounter "oatmeal lava bread", but if he ventures to the coast it is more likely to be laver bread.
Thames Ditton, Surrey
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