Bell launches Euro MP bid

MARTIN Bell launched his bid to become a Euro MP for the East of England, assisted by what he called “the League of Decent People” and said he was determined to clean up the Brussels gravy train of unchecked expenses and abuses of parliamentary perks.

By Graham Dines

MARTIN Bell launched his bid to become a Euro MP for the East of England, assisted by what he called “the League of Decent People” and said he was determined to clean up the Brussels gravy train of unchecked expenses and abuses of parliamentary perks.

The former BBC foreign correspondent, turned “sleaze buster” when he defeated disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton in Tatton at the 1997 General Election, said he would be campaigning for greater clarity and transparency in the running the European Parliament and to clean up the reputation of European institutions.

Speaking in an 18th Century barn owned by his cousin Adrian Thorpe in the Suffolk village of Preston St Mary, he was supported by BBC journalist Kate Adie, Suffolk hereditary peer the Earl of Iveagh, and Elizabeth Filkin, the former Commons standards watchdog.


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“We don't have a party, but are putting together a loose network which can be called the League of Decent People,” said Suffolk-born Mr Bell.

“I am going to try to win an election in a way that has never been done before – very cheaply but with the enthusiasm of a lot of people.”

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Mr Bell said he also wanted to see an end to the “iniquity” of the closed list system and change the way Britain votes for European Parliamentary members.

“It is framed for the benefit of the party and not the benefit of the people, so you are unable to choose between candidates on a party's list.

“It is not just an academic issue because the problems the Conservatives are faced with now over their number three candidate shows very clearly the difficulties of the undemocratic nature of this system that has been imposed on us.”

This was a reference to the controversy over Tory MEP Bashir Khanbhai, who has repaid more than £6,500 in over-claimed expenses from a post restante address in Norfolk.

“He is entitled to a presumption of innocence and I am not calling for his deselection. But we do need clarity about one or two things.

“If indeed his conduct was `below the standard expected of an MEP' which is the Conservatives' own description of him, we need more clarity about why he is on the list. We need clarity of the `inadvertent error' – if a man puts in an expense claim to and from an address that doesn't exist, you have go to ask yourself: how can this be?”

Mr Bell claimed that had it not been for his decision to stand, which prompted the media to investigate the local links of Euro MPs, “this matter would never have come out.” He believed Tories unhappy about Mr Khanbhai would be persuaded to vote Mr Bell.

He added: “I think we can make this campaign a statement of a belief in honest politics. I pledge if elected, I will have an address somewhere in Norfolk or Suffolk and that my expense accounts will be open at all times to all reasonable inquiries. I hope all candidates can pledge that.”

Referring to the row that has embroiled several Euro MPs, including Labour East of England representative Eryl McNally, Mr Bell said: “They should also pledge not to sign on for parliamentary sessions they do not attend.It may be within the spirit of the law, but it is wrong and I shan't do that.”

Mr Khanbhai was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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