The current row about MPs expenses has led to a huge amount of sanctimonious claptrap from our sitting MPs. I won't comment on rumours doing the rounds on other web sites, but it's a shame Mick Spreader isn't around anymore. I'm not sure what he would have made of this!
In April 2007, Martin Salter spoke up in the House of Commons in support of a bill that would exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. It passed in the House, but fell in the Lords because no-one was prepared to back it. The irony of an unelected House upholding the rights of the electorate was not lost on me.
At the time my colleague Gareth Epps told the Evening Post: "This squalid bill is designed to reduce the amount to which MPs are open to public scrutiny. It will damage freedom of information and give politicians a bad name. It is sadly no surprise to see Martin Salter enthusiastically in support of it for those precise reasons."
At that point Mr. Salter accused Gareth of jumping on the media bandwagon, in one of the more bizarre attacks from the ambulance chasing MP from Reading West.... or East depending on which way the wind is blowing.
When I highlighted Martin Salter's attempts at suppression of information about MPs he failed to address the substantive parts of my complaint and instead resorted to personal abuse, telling the Evening Post that I was a "tragic individual who should get out more" (although you may also say that was fair comment!)
In support of his attempt to exempt MPs from scrutiny, Martin Salter sent out a press release saying that: "I am today registering a formal complaint against Reading Borough Council for releasing my correspondence on behalf of my constituents." A Freedom of Information request to the Information Commissioner showed that he had done nothing of the sort. A slight case of being economical with the truth methinks.
But this should all come as no surprise to anyone. Martin Salter has a track record of voting against allowing more Freedom of Information for the public. In April 2000 he voted against another extension to the act which would have allowed disclosure of facts behind policy decisions. In Salter's case it seems that the mantra he is happy to take up in defense of curtailing civil liberties, that of "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear", is not applicable in his view to MPs.
At about this time Mark Thomas was running a competition to hold a protest outside the Houses of Parliament to highlight the Serious and Organised Crime Act which forbade protests without authority. This was a bill that Martin Salter supported.
My entry for the competition was:
The Martin Salter MPs’ Expenses Protection Demo. "Save Our Expenses From Scrutiny"
This won, selected by Mark Thomas himself. At the demo, I had a chat with Mark about Mr. Salter. Enough said!
His latest attempts to appear holier than thou ignores completely his recent brush with the Standards and Privileges Committee. The Committee found him guilty of using pre-paid House of Commons’ envelopes to distribute unsolicited material and a failure to say it had been paid from his parliamentary allowance.
In a damning comment, the director of the Department of Finance and Administration said of him: "I consider some of his comments about his approach to the House rules regrettable. It is possible to draw the inference that Mr Salter has on occasions knowingly broken the rules for which this Department and others have a responsibility."
Which brings us onto Rob Wilson, our whiter than white MP for Reading East. I'm sure his expenses are all above board, but what have we here? The same committee that found against Salter, found him guilty of distributing party political material along with a Parliamentary "Report" which itself broke the rules for use of the Parliamentary allowance. Nice use of taxpayers money whilst we still can get it, eh Rob?
His creative use of the Parliamentary allowance shows no signs of stopping as he used it on a web site funded by the allowance to launch a political attack on Gordon Brown, hardly in keeping with the correct use of the allowance which is keeping his constituents informed about his Parliamentary activities, not party politicking at the tax payers expense.
This is what his own leader had to say about the communications allowance:
"Let me turn to another issue: reducing the cost of politics more generally. If we are frank, many of us know that the next issue we have to tackle is the communications allowance that was introduced only two years ago. It is worth £10,000 to every MP. Let us be honest: taxpayers are effectively paying out thousands of pounds so we can all tell our constituents what a wonderful job we are all doing. We have all done it; we all know the facts. Is not this a gigantic waste of money? Will the Prime Minister" now get on with something I have suggested many times? Let us save some money—scrap the communications allowance now"
Cameron must be sure that Lord Ashcroft is about to cough up more foreign cash if he now thinks his party can cope without the allowance to supplement their political campaigning.
In January 2008 I wrote a letter to the Evening Post accusing both our MPs of "Snouts in the trough from both Labour and Tories, where the only crime seems to be getting caught."
We have moved on 16 months and nothing that has happened since then that has changed my mind.