Tag Archives: martin bell

Martin Bell to be Lib Dem candidate in North Shropshire? Don’t hold your breath

The Sunday Times (£) reports today that veteran journalist and anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell has been approached by the Lib Dems to be our candidate in the North Shropshire by-election.

The article by Caroline Wheeler and Gabriel Pogrund says:

One thing that may fill older MPs with dread is the symbolic spectre of Martin Bell, who ran against Neil Hamilton on an anti-sleaze ticket in 1997. On Friday, the 83-year-old was called by the Liberal Democrats, who offered him the chance to be their candidate.

This report prompted me to look out my copy of Purple Homicide, the account of his first foray into politics, in Tatton, in 1997, written by then Observer political correspondent John Sweeney. Disgraced Conservative MP Neil Hamilton was allowed to continue as the Conservative candidate after being implicated in the cash for questions affair. The title comes from his description of trousers worn by Neil Hamilton’s wife Christine to an encounter on Knutsford Heath as “a homicidal purple.” The Lib Dems and Labour stood aside to give him a better chance of unseating Hamilton.  The book is well worth reading if you can get hold of a copy.

Martin Bell’s victory over Neil Hamilton was one of many bright spots in the 1997 election. Often dressed in a white suit, he used his time in Parliament to argue for higher standards in public life. Bell stood against Eric Pickles in 2001 over concern about the influence of a local pentecostal church on the Brentwood and Ongar Conservative party but lost heavily. He had promised the voters of Tatton that he would serve for one term only and honoured that promise despite calls for him to stay. His departure paved the way for the election of George Osborne.

I don’t know if the Sunday Times report that we have approached Bell to be our candidate is true. But let’s look at what might happen if it was. I certainly wouldn’t mind him representing us, but I would not hold my breath. I like Martin Bell. His distinctive voice is one of the first I can remember as he reported on the Watergate scandal in the early 70s when I was a small child. I can’t see him entering a contest when Labour are not standing down. I also can’t see him agreeing to enter a contest that could end in him taking a party whip. I suspect he is probably unwhippable, even though our views are probably in alignment on many issues. That, by the way, is not in my view a flaw on his part.

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How MPs in safe seats pile up outside earnings

I’ve commented before on the huge number of seats that are safe for life (murdering your local party chair or buying a duck house excepted) – in fact nearly half the seats in Parliament have never changed hands between political parties even once in the last forty years.

That leads to all sorts of problems – complacent MPs who get out of touch and don’t have to work hard. It also means, as the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign has highlighted, more scope to spending your time earning money from other jobs:

“First Past the Post is a moonlighter’s charter. An MP in a safe seat, enjoying its benefits, can leave constituency cares behind and seek employment elsewhere. An MP who faces the threat of unemployment at the next election will be less tempted to graze in the pastures of lucrative consultancy.”

That’s the conclusion of former MP for Tatton and anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell after the publication of research from the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign which shows that MPs in safe seats earn twice as much in outside earnings than MPs in marginal constituencies.

The Alternative Vote reduces the number of safe seats, making all MPs work harder to reach out to 50% of voters. The Yes campaign is launching a national advertising campaign and published names of the ‘hard working’ second jobbers in parliament who stand opposed to reform.

There is a clear link between safer seats (those where one party can be confident of victory) and higher earnings for MPs in those seats:

  • the average MP in a ‘safe’ seat earned an extra £11,000 last year
  • the average MP in a ‘marginal’ seat earned an extra £6,500 last year.

Outside earnings totalled £5.6 million last year, with the highest individual earner taking £785,000. Research defined 382 seats as ‘safe’ at the 2010 General Election, factoring in boundary changes. The figure was presented as a highly conservative estimate.

Meanwhile the Yes2AV campaign has released its latest campaign video, fronted by Eddie Izzard:

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 8 Comments

Iain Dale’s EXCLUSIVE Norwich North story: less than meets the eye

Tory blogger Iain Dale got very over-excited last night with his EXCLUSIVE article, Clegg Approached Martin Bell & EDP Editor to Stand in Norwich North. Sorry to say it, Iain, but I’m a little underwhelmed. Here’s why…

First of all, Iain has hardly covered himself in glory in his coverage to date of the Lib Dem by-election campaign in Norwich North. He made a bit of a prat of himself last week, when accusing the party’s candidate April Pond of “whoring” herself around Norfolk, as she was already selected for the new parliamentary seat of Broadland. (And yes, that’s …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections | Also tagged , , and | 24 Comments

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