Carswell seen as the enemy at the gates

THERE is something refreshingly innocent about Harwich MP Douglas Carswell's twin campaigns to reform the expenses nightmare at Westminster and to oust Michael Martin from the Speakership of the Commons.

Graham Dines

THERE is something refreshingly innocent about Harwich MP Douglas Carswell's twin campaigns to reform the expenses nightmare at Westminster and to oust Michael Martin from the Speakership of the Commons.

I use the word innocent advisedly, to denote someone who is unafraid of the fallout which he brings upon himself. Others might call it foolhardy or na�ve - his enemies, who are legion, have more choice adjectives at their disposal for his other controversial views of calling for a local sales tax to replace council tax, and supporting the “better out” movement over membership of the European Union.

Tory Mr Carswell has taken it upon himself to try to engineer Speaker Martin out of the chair. He has openly called for him to be replaced, believing that he stands in the way of progress and the reform necessary to restore public confidence in the political process.


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His latest outburst against the Speaker came as details were released of Mr Martin's Easter recess visit, accompanied by his wife Mary and two officials, to the United Arab Emirates and a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai.

Mr Carswell said: “Westminster stinks, and part of the rot is MPs and their expenses. “If you had a Speaker who was up to the job of being Speaker, he would have called time on this nonsense.

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“I think he should have spent the recess trying to clean up Westminster, not racking up an ever-higher bill for the taxpayer.”

In March, the Carswell case against the Speaker was banned from the pages of The House Magazine because it was personal. “Divert from the approved script about Speaker Martin, or express the unspoken view that he is not up to the job, and you are censored.

“The pettiness of this small act of censorship speaks volumes about what Westminster has become,” said Mr Carswell, who has just become a father for the first time, wife Clementine giving birth to Kitty Alice Clementine.

A growing minority of MPs accept that a new Speaker is needed to guide the House through the fundamental changes which the voters are demanding about expenses and allowances. However it is highly unlikely that Glaswegian Martin will face a vote of no confidence because Labour MPs will see it as a class-ridden attack on the first Speaker genuinely to come from humble origins.

It's more probable that he will not be re-elected should he survive to the first session of the new parliament. If the Conservatives win the election, they'll seek a Tory Speaker.

The principal deputy is Sir Alan Haselhurst, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden. A safe pair of hands to the left of the Tory Party, his age may count against him - he'll be 73 next year, although he looks 10 years younger. Age would also rule out the other Tory deputy, Sir Michael Lord (Suffolk Central and Ipswich North), who will be 72 in 2010.

A Speaker needs parliamentary experience, so any thoughts of Douglas Carswell himself being catapulted into the chair are merely that. And Liberal Democrat Sir Menzies Campbell would not command majority support.

Which makes Sir George Young firm favourite, although his election would infuriate Labour MPs who will never forgive “the bicycling baronet” for the way he presided over the privatisation of British Rail when he was Transport Secretary.

As reported in the EADT yesterday, Mr Carswell is one of just a few MPs to publish details of his expenses ahead of the official report coming out in the summer. The vast majority of members are resigned to another public tongue-lashing when their second-home living allowances emerge from the recesses of “stinking” Westminster

By openly declaring his expenses, he is jumping out of the cosy box which has shielded the secret perks of MPs for far too long, and that's no bad thing.

CHEAP PUBLIC TRANSPORT FARES THE SOLUTION

ROAD pricing is one of those policies which sound good on paper but which never get off the drawing board because of voter resistance.

Part of Boris Johnson's victory last year in the London mayoral contest came about because he promised to abandon the western extension of the London congestion charging zone. Although the scheme introduced by his predecessor Ken Livingstone is acknowledged as having cut West End traffic jams and helped Londoners and visitors reclaim the streets, it's unlikely to be ever enlarged.

The Government has all but given up the fight of replacing the vehicle excise licence with a charging system which penalises motorists for daring to drive during the rush hour and or the UK's motorways.

The only way to entice the public to leave their cars at home and take to the buses and trains is by increasing public subsidies to provide modern, clean, reliable and above all cheap public transport.

The nonsense of the exorbitantly high rail fares in the UK as compared with most of western Europe is why most people use cars for long journeys. Even if you can find cheap fares - a big if given my attempt to book an advance fare on a train on a June Sunday from London to Ipswich for less than �31 each is anything to go by - it still works out more expensive than the car if more than one person is travelling

Until we get a proper public transport infrastructure which is reasonably priced, people will still prefer the convenience of their cars.

There will never be a satisfactory alternative to the car for commuters from rural areas where buses are few and far between. Park-and-ride schemes which shut up shop at 7pm point to the half-hearted efforts of local councils.

A regular date with the ballot box is enough to put councillors off following London's lead of congestion charging. A report published today by the Centre for Cities says the Government should abandon its local road pricing push if no cities opt for congestion charging this year and inject the �1bn set aside into badly needed public transport projects - like new commuter rail links, better city buses and tram extensions.

The centre points out that public transport in big cities has been such a low priority on the Government's to-do list that over 70% of commuters in England's six largest urban areas outside London still travel to work by car.

Dermot Finch, Director of the Centre for Cities, said: “Cities like Manchester and Edinburgh have found congestion charging a tough sell. Other cities considering a charge - Cambridge, Reading and Bristol - are undecided. If there are no takers by the end of the year, the Government should call it a day on its current road user charging push.

“A tough post-recession fiscal climate means central government transport grants are likely to dwindle post 2011. The next government should use the congestion charging pot to start up a new fund for transport projects, together with councils and the private sector. This fund would keep UK cities' moving and help shift the national economy towards recovery.”

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