Open Letter

A letter to Southend MP James Duddridge, regarding his expenses


The below letter was sent to Mr Duddridge on Monday 22nd September 2014, via Royal Mail first class postage. For the background to the sending of this letter, see the original article in the Southend Echo here, and my response to the issues raised here.

Dear Mr Duddridge,

I am writing to you, as your constituent, to express my concern over the recent local news reports around your claims for parliamentary expenses. In particular, I refer to the front-page report carried by the Southend Echo on Monday 15th September 2014, entitled “MP IN ROW OVER HOTEL EXPENSES”.

In the intervening week since this report was published, I have attempted to contact you on Twitter in order to ask your response to the allegations made, that:

  • You claimed in excess of £11,000 of expenses for accommodation in London for the 2013/2014 year.

  • You did this despite:

    • Owning two properties in London, and;

    • Living less than an hour’s train journey from London.

I am concerned that, if this is indeed true, it demonstrates that you have learnt none of the pertinent lessons of the 2009 expenses scandal.

We are fortunate to live in a town in which a commute to London is not only possible but convenient, and like many others living in Southend it is a commute which I make daily to work in central London. I frequently work late, but have not yet encountered a situation where I have needed to stay overnight in a hotel in place of the return journey.

Your claims may be within the letter of the rules, but I cannot see that they are within the spirit. The last train from Fenchurch Street departs at 11.50 p.m., and with the legislative agenda being particularly light at this stage of the present Parliament it would surely be a rarity that even the last train would be required.

I am, as I have been throughout the past week, eager to hear your response to this. As you are no doubt aware, there is a growing sense of apathy and of disconnect between voters and politics, and it is stories like these which are the cause. I am particularly concerned that despite approach by myself and others – including a letter printed on the letters page of the Echo – you have not yet seen fit to make a response or answer questions.

I hope that this letter will evoke exactly such a response. In the interest of transparency and openness, I will be displaying this letter on my website, and will do likewise with any response you choose to send.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew S. Dent

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student