Last Word: MP Barbara Follett commits political suicide
ADVISORS for Barbara Follett, MP for Stevenage, should have dissuaded her from sending a letter to all households in her constituency, in which she attempts to justify her expenses claims. It has unnecessarily stirred up an issue which had died down some
ADVISORS for Barbara Follett, MP for Stevenage, should have dissuaded her from sending a letter to all households in her constituency, in which she attempts to justify her expenses claims.
It has unnecessarily stirred up an issue which had died down some time ago.
What she has done is tantamount to political suicide, with angry residents contacting The Comet and one constituent even calling for her to stand down.
While she begins her letter with an apology for causing distress, she is quick to qualify this by writing that she is entitled to claim for some of the costs of running her constituency and parliamentary offices, as well as for some of the costs of running a second home.
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It is clear she has not grasped the reason residents are so incensed with her expenditure, and that of other MPs. It is not about what can be claimed under the rules, but about what is morally justifiable to claim.
With a husband said to be worth �13 million, it is little wonder constituents are enraged with some of Mrs Follett's claims, not least the �6,244 a year between 2004 and 2008 for security at her second home in London.
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Also, two reasons she gives for having the security are that her constituency office has been invaded and that a brick has been thrown through its window. Her constituency office is in Stevenage, so how does this warrant security at her London pad? That's a long way to throw a brick!
She also says she felt entitled to claim the money for security because the threats she has received over the years have all been to do with her political activities. But why has she claimed for things that had nothing to do with her job? For instance, �528.75 for a Chinese needlepoint rug to be cleaned and repaired, and �937 for an annual insurance premium for art on display at her 18th century London town house. She fails to mention these items in her letter.
Mrs Follett does herself no favours by distancing herself from the expenses scandal and laying blame at the feet of others. Regarding second homes, she writes: "Sadly, some of my colleagues have not used this allowance in the way it was intended." She continues: "I am sorry that politics and politicians have let you down so badly...I will continue to do all I can to help the people of Stevenage..."
Personal ownership of blame would go some way to repairing the damage done to her public image as a result of her expenses claims.
Mrs Follett acknowledges the system is bad and writes: "I welcome the long overdue efforts to put things right." If a reform is so long overdue, why had she not been lobbying for it?
At the end of her letter, Mrs Follett makes it clear the cost of the printing and postage of the letter was met by her personally. But, if she had instead donated the money to a good cause in the town, at least she would have put back into the community some of the taxpayers' money she has claimed.