Bell may return in response to expenses

ANTI-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell has refused to rule out a sensational return to politics in response to the MPs' expenses saga.

Jonathan Barnes

ANTI-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell has refused to rule out a sensational return to politics in response to the MPs' expenses saga.

The former BBC war reporter and independent MP - who was famed for his white suit - said the recent revelations were “utterly scandalous” and he would “never say never” to standing for Parliament again.

Mr Bell, who was born and raised in north Suffolk, called for prosecutions against the worst abusers of the expenses system and said it was “a good time” for non-party candidates to come forward.

“Would I stand for Parliament again? I wouldn't know where to start, and I'm getting on a bit now, but I'll never say never - I'm as outraged as anybody,” said the 70-year-old.

There was speculation last year that Mr Bell, who famously unseated Conservative MP Neil Hamilton on an anti-sleaze ticket in Tatton, Cheshire, in 1997, was considering standing against Tory Sir Nick Winterton in Macclesfield at the next General Election.

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“I think it's a good time for non-party candidates,” he said.

“It would take extreme circumstances for me to stand again, but I made a mistake in saying I would only serve the people of Tatton for one term, and I regret that every day.

“One or two people have said to me I should stand again, and I wouldn't rule it out.”

Mr Bell, who received 93,000 votes when he unsuccessfully stood as an independent MEP five years ago, said he was amazed by the expense claims of some MPs - and compared them to Somali pirates.

“They are treating their expenses as if they are entitlements - if these people worked for private companies they would be out on their ear immediately,” he said.

“I'm looking for prosecutions for the most extreme cases and I hope there will be bi-elections, as I don't think MPs realise quote how strongly people feel about this - I expect they will do when they go back to their constituencies this weekend.”

Mr Bell, who grew up on his family's farm in Redisham, near Beccles, joined the BBC as a reporter in Norwich in 1962 after graduating from Cambridge and serving in the Suffolk Regiment and had a long and distinguished career as a foreign correspondent and war reporter.

He left the BBC in 1997 to contest the Tatton parliamentary seat on an anti-sleaze ticket. He took on Tory MP Hamilton, who had been embroiled in a cash-for-questions row, and won with a majority of more than 11,000 votes, standing down after one term. The Channel 4 documentary Mr White goes to Westminster was loosely based on his political career.

Mr Bell stood again for the European elections in 2004 and is a campaigner for non-party politicians, founding the Independent Network. He also acts as an ambassador for UNICEF.