Politicians must do more to re-earn respect of voters

Friday, 9 November, 2012

The British people’s trust in politicians has eroded over recent years to the point where many view politics with either scepticism or apathy. The House of Commons must do more to re-earn the respect of the people it represents.

And that is why the rebellion against Mr Cameron’s acceptance of a rise in the EU Budget was so significant. Members of Parliament should vote with our conscience and in accordance with the national interest as we see it. We should not just vote with our Party whip in the hope of getting some Ministerial job.

I therefore have no regrets about voting against the Government line last week. 

Should our Government increase the budget for the European Union at a time when public spending in the UK is being cut? Is the European Union heading in the right direction for the British people? The answer to both questions is an emphatic ‘NO’, in my judgement.

I voted in favour of a rebel amendment recommending that the Prime Minister in the impending EU budget negotiations seek a CUT to EU spending. The European Union has got to grasp that it is living in a time of austerity. Our contribution to the EU budget has increased every year since 2005. I think it is unacceptable to create new taxes and burden the British people in order to fund the Franco-German European project.

Even if our contribution to the budget increased by 2 per cent inflation, it will cost us an extra £310 million in 2014. That is equivalent to a large number of extra nurses and police officers. That is £310 million that could be better spent in the UK.

When we joined the European Common Market in 1973 we did so to boost trade with nations that are geographically and culturally on our doorstep. We did not join the Common Market with the desire to become part of a European federal super-state. We never voted to give away economic autonomy.

Today, the spectre of a closer European fiscal union, with Germany at its heart, looms on the horizon. The EU juggernaut will not stop its onwards trajectory unless we take steps to stall its progress. The historic vote last week was the first step. I do not doubt that there will be many more such steps in the future. This country must regain for itself powers that have been ceded by stealth to foreign bureaucrats. Bureaucrats we did not elect – and cannot remove.

But for me the vote was not just about the nature of the European Union, crucial as that is. For me, the vote was about democracy itself. I am one of those politicians who believes that if you make a promise to the electorate in your constituency that you will vote in a certain way then you should uphold that promise.

When the Conservatives were in Opposition my Party said, Mr Cameron included, that if we took office we would cut the EU budget. We made a promise to the people of Britain. I made a promise to the people of Bury St. Edmunds. The vote on the EU budget increase was the first time that this promise could be honoured. I kept that promise.

The Labour Party may have cynically decided to act out of character and vote for a reduction in the EU Budget that they never sought when in Government before 2010. But that is beside the point. I voted alongside the Labour Party out of principle, not because I support their views.

The EU consumes too much of our money. It spends billions on pointless regulation and bureaucracy.

The European Union is a place where the pay of bureaucrats increases every year, despite widespread pay freezes in the UK. One in six of the European Commission’s employees earn over €100,000 per year. Over 5,000 EU workers earn more than our Prime Minister. Why should the UK foot an enormous European wage bill when millions of British workers face lower take-home pay as a result of this country tightening its belt?

Brussels was asked to model cuts of €5 billion, €10 billion and €15 billion to their administration. What did a Eurocrat and a spokesman say in reply?

“We declined as it’s a lot of work and a waste of time for our staff who are busy with more urgent matters... we are better educated than national civil servants. We’re high fliers, not burger flippers.”

Brussels may have a high estimation of its own worth but that does not mean that we should indulge their profligacy. The EU could easily save money by abolishing outdated practices such as the relocation of the EU Parliament to Strasbourg for a week every month at the cost of €200 million each year. Or by cutting other vanity projects like the House of European History museum, which cost a reported £137 million.

When the UK news is dominated by stories of cuts to our nation’s public services how can we justify giving more to the EU budget? Why should we pay the price to subsidise countries like Greece that have been reckless with their own budgets?

I would have been embarrassed to explain to my constituents that the Government is having to make cuts at home but that it could afford to increase its contribution to Europe.

The House of Commons vote last week was an opportunity to draw a line in the sand to signal to the rest of Europe that the British public wants an end to excessive spending on the EU.

We, the rebel Tory MPs, took a stand to stop a policy that successive governments of all political colours over the years have failed to confront.

So, of course, I stand by my decision to defy my Party’s three line whip and vote on principle. Even if that makes life a bit more complicated for the current Prime Minister.