In Southend, it seems, history repeats itself.
Back in October, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Rochford & Southend East, James Duddridge — my MP — decided that he didn’t want to answer my questions about the amount of public money he had claimed in order to stay in hotels. As a commuter myself, I thought these questions were pertinent, and deserved an answer, and I sent tweets to him to try and get one.
Since he didn’t agree, Mr Duddridge blocked me.
I don’t feel I deserved this, but I suppose I am an opposition activist. Maybe that trumps being a constituent. I happen to believe that an MP should work for all of their constituents, but in a constituency he plainly thinks is “safe”, maybe James Duddridge doesn’t see the need.
Thing is, I’m not the only constituent who has been blocked by Mr Duddridge for the heinous crime of asking questions. In fact, it seems to be his stock response to any that he doesn’t want to answer. Like his bizarre ideas on the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
Last night the Southend Echo hosted the first in a series of general election hustings for the area, this one for my own constituency of Rochford & Southend East.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it there myself, but my impression from watching the online coverage — and the Echo’s rolling liveblog of the evening is still online should anyone wish to read it — was of a good, if uneventful, evening attended by all five candidates.
One point did catch my interest, tweeted by local radio journalist Tim Gillett, was Tory incumbent James Duddridge’s position on EU membership:
James Duddridge con ppc Rochford&southendeast says he would take Uk out of EU and renegotiate entry
— Tim Gillett (@TGtheradioman) April 7, 2015
After an illness-enforced absence last weekend, this morning saw me back out on the campaign trail, knocking on doors in Milton ward, Southend. Refreshed by the extra hour in bed, and helped by the surprisingly dry and mild weather, I managed to make surprisingly quick work of the streets I had set myself to do.
Mostly this was because people weren’t in — or had better things to do on a Sunday morning than answer the door to a nutter talking politics — but I still managed a few good chats with residents.
One which stands out for me, is the gentleman who told me he would probably vote for UKIP, whilst at the same time that he didn’t much rate UKIP as a party, or Nigel Farage. His support boiled down to a single issue: the European Union.
Whenever I have conversations in which I am defending Britain’s membership of the EU, I am always put in mind of the “What have the Romans done ever done for us?” scene from Life of Brian.
“All right, but apart from access to the world’s largest common market, mechanisms to prevent governments breaching citizen’s rights, environmental protections to defend against the effects of climate change, and the longest period of uninterrupted peace in European history, what has the European Union ever done for us?”
It is, granted, a lot easier to be against the EU than for it, and it is an organisation that still needs considerable reform to make it fit for the 21st century — and I’d start with the European Parliament, the very body in which UKIP have set up their money-grubbing shop. But I maintain that a) the advantages of being in the club still outweigh the disadvantages, and b) such reform is better pursued from inside.
But in looking at what the EU does do for us, it is perhaps worth looking locally. What has the EU done for Southend?
Imagine I had a job (which I do), and that job required me to work five days a week (which it does). Imagine, then, that I only attended two days a week of that work. Or two. Or even one day. Imagine I did not show up for the majority or working days without a single good reason. You would expect me to be fired, surely?
I don’t, of course. I am, rain or shine, at my desk 45 hours a week, Monday through Friday. I also earn below the average wage, and pay my own train fares.
I am pointing this out not as some sort of “poor me” sob story — I enjoy my job, and consider myself very lucky to do so. No, I am saying this because I want to make a contrast with another job. This job is paid three times the average wage, alongside a plethora of expenses to cover travel and living costs.
This job is, of course, Member of the European Parliament, of whom, UKIP have nine. It is therefore striking that UKIP MEP’s record of turning up for work is so — frankly — abysmal.
Say what you like about Nick Robinson, but he’s rather good at nailing down a slippery character. From the horse’s mouth:
Nick Robinson: So why isn’t [your wife] taking a British person’s job?
Nigel Farage: Because nobody else could do that job.
NR: No British person could work for you as your secretary?
NF: Not unless they married me.
NR: You don’t think anybody’s capable of doing that job?
NF: What, marrying me?
NR: No, of doing the job as your secretary.
NF: I don’t know anyone who would work those hours, no.
Do as I say, not as I do; isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?
David Cameron in September 2007:
“Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from [the Lisbon Treaty] negotiations.”
David Cameron this morning (23rd January 2013):
“…when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum.”
I’m saying nothing…
The European Union seems to be the flavour de jour at the moment. It’s probably partly due to the fact that the eurozone (contrary to popular belief, not the same thing) is in meltdown. It’s probably also partly due to the fact that euroscepticism has become one of the principle markers of “right wing” now that openly hating poor people is considered uncivilised.
But whatever the reason, next week will see a House of Commons debate on whether there should be a referendum on our continued membership of the EU. It’s a backbench motion, so not binding on the government, but anyone who knows their political history will know quite how destructive Europe can be as an issue for the Conservative Party. It brought down Thatcher, proved a continual thorn in the side of Major, and left the public with a decidedly unsavoury impression of the Tories for years.
So I’m sure Cameron will welcome this motion like a hole in the head. They’ve even moved it forward, from Thursday to Monday, so he can attend. How generous of them!
Now, I should declare an interest: I’m (broadly) pro-EU. It’s far from perfect, but in a basic in/out referendum I would vote in. Because I genuinely believe that it’s in the best interests of the country. In a three-pronged referendum, offering choices of in/out/renegotiation-and-reform, or as I like to call it “shake it all about”, I’d probably lump for the hokey cokey option.
The fun thing about this motion is that it seems to be causing huge headaches for everyone who isn’t me. Allow me to explain the various parties’ objections.
Our (somewhat) eurosceptic Prime Minister and his government feels trapped between a hard place and a rock. It’s easy to be slaveringly eurosceptic and ally your party with “nutters, anti-semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes” when you’re in opposition, but when you’re in government you actually have to work with the EU. So he can whip his party to vote against a referendum, which a) risks pissing off an already pissed off Conservative right wing, and b) would make a referendum-winning rebellion. Or he could give his party a free vote, which would run the very real risk of passing the motion.
Rampant eurosceptics, too, seem to be hesitant about it. The thinking ones, at least. Alex Singleton, writing on the Daily Mail website, says that in just such a three-option referendum the “better off out crowd” would lose to the much more reasonable third choice. He’s right, in my opinion. Which is all the more reason to do it.
You see, I’d quite like a referendum I think. The eurosceptics, with UKIP at the head, have been screaming for one for ages. I say we give it to them. They would object to a three-choice referendum, naturally, but if they argued against it then the clear comeback is that they’re trying to use the question to influence the result. Also, when the majority chose to renegotiate/reform the EU, then we can actually move on and make a positive improvement to it. That, surely, is both in the best interest of democracy and the country.
The fact that it would split the Conservative Party, drive Cameron to the brink of nervous breakdown and put an end to UKIP’s bleating and raison d’être is just a bonus.