MPs' Expenses

Labour's man Stuart King writes to Putney

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The tsunami of public disgust released by the revelations about MPs’ expenses – about which the Daily Telegraph acted rightly in the public interest – is entirely justified. This is a scandal that has infected and infested Westminster politics to its core. So let me start by stating publicly something that I never imagined would become especially relevant, but that now – in the light of this ongoing expenses scandal – I feel it is important you should know:

The work I do as the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Putney is unsalaried and undertaken in an entirely voluntary capacity. I have a full time job separate from politics (dare I say, in the "real world") and all the activity I undertake as a candidate for Parliament I do so in my own time at weekends or in the evenings.

Likewise, my campaign team comprises local members who volunteer their time to deliver leaflets and knock on doors alongside me. Although I am a trade unionist I do not receive any money from them. Every item of publicity we distribute is paid for through membership subscriptions, fundraising and donations from local members. Nothing is paid for from public funds. And that’s exactly how it should be.

These claims I make about the probity of my campaign finances can be independently verified because all political parties are required by law to submit reports on the donations they receive to the Electoral Commission, which are then published.

This scandal crosses party boundaries. But Labour is taking the biggest hit and I appreciate why. We are not only the party of government but we are also the party that has always been on the side of ordinary working people. With Labour we expect – no, demand – better. And several Labour MPs have fallen well short of that mark. So I understand why Labour is this week recording its lowest levels of support since records began. I understand it and as Labour’s representative in Putney I apologise to everyone let down by those in my party who have acted so disgracefully.

I joined Labour when I was 17 and I have spent nearly all my time since here in this borough. In those 20 years plus, I have delivered leaflets, knocked on doors, sold raffle tickets, donated my own money and served as a councillor for eight years. It was a huge privilege when local members here in Putney chose me to be the party's candidate at the next general election.

As someone born and brought up in the borough, I care passionately about politics – not as a career, but as a means to improve the life and life chances of everyone who was born here or who has made it their home. I know the same is true of most Conservative and Liberal Democrat activists, too; and I believe that before they entered the " Westminster bubble" this is what motivated most MPs, as well.

I'm not sure trust in this current batch of politicians can ever be restored, but confidence in parliament and politics perhaps can. A root-and-branch overhaul of how parliament works and a massive slimming down of MPs’ perks and privileges must be at the heart of the much needed reform we need to bring to Westminster. Being a Member of Parliament is an honour, not a ticket on a gravy-train.

At some point – and we may not yet be there – we do need to begin looking at where we go from here. From amidst the rubble of this scandal there is a tremendous opportunity to build a political system where parties are weak and voters are strong; where MPs don’t slavishly obey their party’s whip but have an independence of thought; Who aren’t in it for a cosy life – but for a challenging, difficult one. And who will speak up when they believe something other than the cosy consensus.

I passionately want to be part of that change. I am optimistic for the future as well as despondent about the recent past. If as a country we are to tackle the big issues facing this nation then trust and confidence in politics, Government and politicians needs to be restored.


Stuart King

May 22, 2009