MP backed by constituency officials

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer says he has received the “strong” support of his constituency activists following revelations about his claim for gardening expenses - amid two calls for him to step down.

Graham Dines

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer says he has received the “strong” support of his constituency activists following revelations about his claim for gardening expenses - amid two calls for him to step down.

Mr Gummer addressed two meetings of party members over the weekend, at Southwold and Felixstowe, to explain the details of his claims and to listen to any concerns following publication of second home expenses by The Sunday Telegraph.

The newspaper said Mr Gummer, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, had claimed more than �9,000 a year for gardening at his country home near Debenham. He is said to have claimed for removing jackdaw nests, tackling insect infestations, and �100 a year to control moles.

But the MP has the support of all his constituency officers, including chairman Jimmy Butler, who is a pig farmer at Blythburgh, and president Trevor Hawkins, a retired nuclear power engineer from Leiston.

“Don't worry about John - he'll be our candidate at the election,” said Mr Hawkins, while Mr Butler - who chaired both meetings - described Mr Gummer as a man “of deep integrity who is devoted to Suffolk Coastal and has served the constituency with distinction.”

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However, at the Southwold meeting he was challenged by Richard Smith, a Saxmundham bookshop owner, who said that after 30 years representing the constituency, it was time for the MP to stand down.

“Mr Gummer has not been involved in the outrageous expenses fiddling that many others have, but nevertheless I feel very strongly about his second home claims,” said Mr Smith.

“He has had a good run for the past 30 years and now is the time when he should pass the mantle on to a younger person.

“I'm not impressed by with what MPs have been doing. We need a fresh start.”

Mr Smith has been supported by Bob Jordan, the chairman of the Tories' Halesworth branch.

“I think John Gummer should stand down,” said Mr Jordan, who echoed the concerns about second home expenses claims.

“He will be 70 at the election. At the very least, he should submit himself for re-selection so that we can look at what alternative candidates have to offer.”

But Felixstowe county councillor Graham Newman said it was perfectly reasonable that MPs should be able to claim for gardening. “I would rather our MP devoted himself to constituents' problems at weekends without having to worry about mowing the lawn.”

Mr Gummer, who has yet to say whether he intends to pay back the �9,000 claim and has not published his expenses because the Commons authorities have lost some of the receipts, said: “I had really wonderful and strong support at both meetings.”