Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Bob Russell in a verbal tussle

I was reading the Daily Mail whilst eating my din-dins today. (Dad brought home a stack of newspapers from work to use as kindling on the fire: the Daily Telegraph is too tall and impractical to read, the Financial Times is too dull, the Sun is full of non-news and boobies, so I was left with the DM, which, actually, I quite like reading.) Page 3 has a story which, in typical DM reader style, caused me to be angry. Not the usual business over immigrants or benefits scroungers, but the reply of Lib Dem MP Bob Russell - who represents the constituency of Colchester - to a constituent who sent him an email.

Before you dismiss the article as Daily Mail exaggeration, it's also on the First Post, mentioned on the Telegraph website, and a few local newspaper websites. Here is the letter the MP sent to his constituent in reply to their email:

Right, I'll first declare that I am a former republican; I previously favoured the abolition of the monarchy and its replacement with an elected head of state. I did, however, change my mind. I believe the monarchy should remain in place as a traditional institution which represents British history and culture, and provides some stability in even the most tumultuous of times. However, I do not believe it is right that taxpayers have to fund the monarchy, since they are unelected and possess considerable personal wealth tied up in land and other assets.

There are - to some extent - humorous overtones overtones to his response, but that does not excuse the rude and simplistic dismissal of the legitimate concerns which the constituent raised.

Firstly, I'll point out an odd contradiction: Russell highlights his belief that the current student protests have a damaging effect on the economy, yet then goes on to suggest that it's great that the nation has an extra day off work, without seeming to note the irony in these statements. If he's going down the route of condemning things which he feels are damaging to the economy, he ought also to condemn the bank holiday as unproductive. (I was going to say that Will Self thinks the impact on the economy will be £6bn, but then I remembered that no-one should bother listening to that oaf.)

Conversely, he's at least consistent with his statist views. He was one of the rebels who voted against the new tuition fees plans (despite complaining in the above letter about the cost of the damage from the violent protesters), and by doing so made it clear that he supports the concept of expecting taxpayers to fund students who chose to go to Uni, in the same way he expects taxpayers to fund the royal wedding, feeling that getting a day off work should be enough to distract us from the cost.

Russell told the Daily Mail "I have helped paid-up Labour and Tory constituents but when I read this email questioning the cost of security and the royal wedding, I thought 'No mate'. I knew this clown came from the republican, socialist wing of the Labour Party, so I let him have it with both barrels."

Firstly, I'd suggest that an MP responding to someone using "both barrels", ought to be an eloquent, polite response which attacks their argument and provides a strong counter-argument. I previously wrote to my MP Mark Prisk asking him to support an Early Day Motion which would ensure greater transparency in the monarchy. Whilst he didn't commit to supporting the EDM, he gave me an eloquent response which explained why he wasn't willing to do this, and gave me some food for thought. All of his response was polite and respectful. Russell, on the other hand, seems to have launched into cheap, petty, personal attacks. I haven't seen the email from the constituent, but even if it was obnoxious and rude, I still feel it is the job of an MP to explain reasonably why they disagree with the views of their constituent, not to tell them to "get a life" and dismiss them as "a spoilsport". This is the kind of aloof, arrogant correspondence which leads people to feel that all politicians are self-serving prats. Even if the constituent is a Labour party member, and/or a republican or socialist, it does not mean their views should be dismissed and ignored by the MP and responded to with insults.

The reasoning that he must be a Labour member from the socialist wing of the party because he doesn't want to help fund the wedding (which I understand the Middleton family are paying only part of)  is completely false and simplistic. Especially in a time when VAT is rising; cut-backs are being made in funding for most Government departments; and local councils are also making cuts, I think it it perfectly reasonable for people all across the political spectrum to feel it's a tad hypocritical for a lavish wedding, funded mostly by taxpayers, to be taking place. Russell is also wrong if he think it is only socialists who oppose this. Many libertarians (that's proper libertarians, not modern Liberal Democrats) oppose the monarchy because - in the same way they feel opposed towards most Government spending and taxation - think it is wrong to expect them to fund the monarchy, and especially a wedding. I've seen commenters on both the Telegraph and Daily Mail website feeling that having their tax money fund the wedding is unfair; it's certainly not just socialists.

So what have we learned today? If you're an MP, be polite and reasonable in letters, or you'll end up in the papers for all the wrong reasons, leading to busybodies like me writing about you on their blogs.

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