Last night my Dad rang me all concerned about my career choices. I stood in the general election of 2005 and am planning to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the next election – whenever it comes.
My Dad’s concern was pretty simple: why would I want to join a club of such scoundrels, hasn’t the career of politician been devalued and he was concerned that people get caught up in the maelstrom of the noise and the club-atmosphere and accept as the norm what in fact is wrong.
I believe politics is a calling – that the opportunity to represent your area and the people in it is an amazing honour. And there is so much I want to do in my community – so many people who want help, assistance and advice and the office of local MP enables that to happen.
But right now it feels like the most stupid option available.
I understand that when you are elected to represent your area and yet the office is in London then you need somewhere to stay. I understand that mortgage payments work out cheaper than hotel payments, that the cost of maintaining two homes is high. Indeed when I currently go out of London to work work pays for the hotel and I get a meal allowance each day. But the distinction is that I don’t own the hotel at the end of it!
In 1997 when several Labour candidates were elected in the tide of change there were a few low level muttered comments about some people having to take career changes unexpectedly and by association pay cuts. But what none of us fully twigged was that in fact whilst salaries for MPs were reasonable for London and indeed high by the national average, the real income was disguised by the practise of allowances and claims.
My Dad has joked in the past that at least if I was elected I would become wealthy. My response has always been that the salary was good but not on the scale of the city, that I wouldn’t be employing relatives to do no work (I won’t employ relatives at all) and that it was huge role with serious responsibilities.
Having become politically active in the Thatcher years I had always assumed that the wealth that appeared to flow to some MPs came from previous business interests and subsequent board-room appointments – it’s clear that was the case. But it’s also clear that the expenses regime has been a cover as well and that reform is long overdue.
So I’m going to be ringing my Dad back. I’ll tell him about the attempts at reform, I’ll talk to him about Sarah Teather MP and Norman Baker MP, I’ll seek to reassure him that if elected I’ll seek to do what they do – what they think what is right rather than what they are allowed to do by the rules. The House of Commons has been a club with the rules established by the two old parties – I’m a liberal, I believe in reform, I believe in the power of people and the rights of man, I believe in fairness.
I hope to win, I’m going work hard for the prize – but the prize is not my becoming an MP, the prize is my chance to help the area I live in and assist the people I would represent. I hope that this spectacle of humiliation and disgrace doesn’t damage the calling – democracy matters – at least in this country we can vote scoundrels out and replace them with our own alternative.
Ed Fordham is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election. You can find him on his blog, website, youtube account, twitter account, flickr account, facebook or Newsnight, later this evening.