We have been learning much about the right way an elected official should behave. Sir Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough since 1983, seems to be teaching by bad example; the polar opposite of what his constituents expect and deserve.
Not only is Bell’s presence largely absent in the Houses of Parliament – his figures for debates and votes well below other MPs in the area – he hasn’t held a public constituency surgery since 1997, citing an incident where he was physically threatened during one as the reason why. Instead he says he meets with constituents by appointment.
Despite this, Middlesbrough residents have complained that he often fails to reply to calls, letters or emails. He is said to be difficult to contact for local events, such as last year’s pre-election hustings.
Earning more than £65,000 himself, there is the arguable conflict of interest from paying his wife £35,000 out of the £83,000 staffing budget to work as his ‘office manager’. For that much you’d expect there to be people answering the phone and responding to questions.
But Middlesbrough is a Labour heartland and safe seat; people here would never vote Conservative so Bell is the de facto choice despite the concerns over his conduct.
During the recent expenses scandal, Bell rallied against the public finding out exactly what MPs were squandering our money on – a damning thing when you consider he’s only mentioned Middlesbrough itself a handful of times in Parliament since the election.
He voted moderately for tuition fees and very strongly for the Iraq war; wouldn’t our money be better spent on educating the public than feathering the nests of the corrupt officials outed during the expenses scandal and fighting an illegal conflict?
You have to wonder if he really has his finger on the pulse when his website describes unemployment as ‘remaining low’ despite current figures putting Middlesbrough third highest in the country.
In an industrial town that has lost all its industry and where the state is the major employer, the recent cuts will continue to affect Bell’s constituents. He is in a prime position to be the voice of those that do not have a voice, to speak out against bail-outs for the rotten thieves in the banking industry that remain wholly unaffected in these austere times.
With an ageing coroner under investigation for his performance – grieving relatives waiting years, often fruitlessly, for closure – and with nuclear waste being dumped on our doorstep, where is Sir Stuart Bell, MP?
He should be standing side by side with the people of this town, showing that he is ‘in it’ with us – and proving that he is not an unreachable, unaccountable phantom, absent from the dealings that shape our lives.
Many thanks to Neil Macfarlane of the Evening Gazette and lecturer at the University for the legal corrections to this rant that should keep my libellous arse out of court. For now.