HAZEL MUST GO! PUBLIC MEETING, 16th September 2009, Salford Link, Eccles
Around 150 people turned up to the Hazel Must Go! public meeting on Wednesday to hear Martin Bell lay down the blueprint for defeating Salford MP Hazel Blears. The former news reader, who successfully defeated Neil Hamilton to become independent MP for Tatton in 1997 said "What I saw there was that an insurrection is possible and the only the reason I'm here today, apart from general support, is maybe that an insurrection is possible here…"
Talking about the public outrage he hears all over the country related to the MPs expenses scandal, Martin Bell explained that Hazel "is about to be challenged in her constituency as she has never been before"…and added that she should welcome the challenge as a test of her credentials to represent Salford.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for independents to retrieve our democratic politics for ourselves" he explained "because at the end it isn't their Parliament it's our Parliament."
Following the speech the meeting was opened up to the floor and people spoke of wanting an MP who was born and bred in Salford and knew how its people felt about living here.
A motion was voted for calling for Hazel Blears to stand down as the Labour Party candidate by Halloween (31st October) or the Hazel Must Go! campaign will look to stand a candidate at the General Election next year.
Another motion was passed adopting an 11 point Charter for the campaign…
1. No cuts in Public Services! No Privatisation!
2. Defend the NHS! Restore the Maternity Ward to Hope Hospital!
3. Public investment in environmentally friendly council houses for Salford!
4. No to School Closures!
5. No to corruption in politics! MPs to receive no more than the average wage + reasonable expenses!
6. Massive investment in public transport!
7. Defend jobs! We won't pay for the Recession!
8. Greater Government Investment in Salford!
9. No to Racism! No to Divisive Politics!
10. Reduce Pollution! Protect our Green Spaces!
11. Decent services and facilities for Young People!
Steven North, Secretary of the Hazel Must Go! campaign said: "The Charter's based on the things people who have come along to the meetings or spoken to us on the streets have told us they believe in. We think it's important that as well as being "against" Hazel Blears, we are "for" some things as well. We want this to be a positive campaign, so by a vote the meeting decided to adopt the Charter. It can be added to over time, but we believe it is a good starting point.
"At the moment our reason for being is still to ask Hazel to step down" he added "and until the 31st October we will give her the benefit of the doubt and hope she does the honourable thing."
The meeting also voted to produce a newspaper for circulation throughout Salford and everyone in the city who agrees with the campaign is invited to send in their views or experiences by 25th September to firstname.lastname@example.org
"We want the newspaper to be an opportunity for those who agree with this campaign to have their voice heard even louder" says Steven North "It doesn't have to be about Hazel either. We are inviting people to submit anything they choose - articles, quotes, stories, whatever."
Meanwhile, a further meeting for those who want to get actively involved will be held at Pendleton Bowling Club (next to Laithwaites on Eccles Old Road) at 7pm on Monday 21st September.
Martin Bell Speaking At The Hazel Must Go! Meeting In Salford 16th September 2009
"I don't think any MP can begrudge the active involvement of constituents and ordinary people in politics, it's very important…"
I have no intention whatever of standing as an independent candidate for Salford - but I do care about honesty in public life. I was elected in May 1997 on the issue of public trust in public life and see where we are now…you could say that I've failed but I don't give up. We did a bit of good in Tatton.
Hazel and I have something in common – we both stood in Tatton against Neil Hamilton. She did it in 1987 and I did it in 1997 and I was a little bit luckier than she was. She went onto a more mainstream career – she went on to be Party chairman, I didn't have a party to be chairman of. What I saw there was that an insurrection is possible and the only the reason I'm here today, apart from general support, is maybe that an insurrection is possible here – and if it is you want to know what the possibilities are and you want to know what the pitfalls are and I've been there.
I've been in front lines from Viet Nam to Bosnia to Biafra and it's nothing like as scary as being ambushed by Christine [Hamilton] on Knutsford Heath – I've got my scars, I've been there.
I would hope that a few supporters of Hazel are here…Good…I think she should welcome this and seriously, because she is about to be challenged in her constituency as she has never been before…not only on her record as a constituency MP – and many of the MPs who have been brought to grief by the expenses scandal had exceptional records as constituency MPs…this goes for Nick Winterton, Sir Peter Viggers the guy with the duck house in Gloucester. But the records that all these MPs are standing on are not just their records as constituency MPs but also their expenses. And when I go around the country people are pretty much outraged.
I honestly had no idea – I served as an MP for four years and I had very close links with the Labour Party in Tatton because for once they were on the winning side and they loved it. It was a bit lonely to start with – I was my own Social Security spokesman, I was my own Defence spokesman I was my own Chief Whip – I think most of those would have been proud of me. And I was invited to sign two cheques to myself once a month, one was for accommodation and one was for my wage and there was no verification of how I did it. But I was astonished at what had happened. Something like half our elected representatives have now paid money back which suggests that it's money they shouldn't have taken in the first place.
I believe a lot of good is going to come out of this, as long as we don't just shrug our shoulders and say our politicians are all a rotten lot. There are many, many good MPs there, there are many good candidates in the established parties but this is a wonderful opportunity for independents to retrieve our democratic politics for ourselves because at the end it isn't their Parliament it's our Parliament.
Let me tell you something…John Bright, from Rochdale, got up in Parliament in 1855 and said "There is a growing - and no-one regrets this more than I do - feeling of bitterness and anger against that class that has long conducted the affairs of this country."
That was in 1855, and the political class then was the manufacturers and the landed interests, now it is increasingly people who have no experience of life other than in politics. This is on both sides of the House – they go to both the same two universities, get a job as a photocopier operator, special advisor to a minister, run for MP and in no time at all they are themselves MPs and they will making our laws, and the laws for our children and grandchildren, for another eight to ten Parliaments.
So they've had no proper experience of life from one closeted set at Oxford to another set in Parliament. And I think that the increasing corruption, and I use the word advisedly, has risen in line with the rise of the political class. Because if you've never had a proper job and you lose your seat you are literally unemployed, and that makes them more likely to follow the bidding of the whips. My own feeling is, and I've been around war zones a lot, that for instance, the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was the worst decision made by a government in my lifetime. But different issues are going to be more important to different people – I couldn't imagine as an independent voting for someone who would endorse that.
But the discontent with the political class is much greater now because of the expenses scandal. Suddenly for the first time in my adult lifetime everybody is talking about politics or anti-politics – I think one of the things you need to start with is that politics is too important to be left to the politicians.
It seems to me that you've got an option of do nothing – say this is just politics. Another option, which is what we're going to discuss in here, is that you have an independent candidate to stand against Hazel and if she wins then she's really been tested and can say `I have the support of the people'. So this is why this meeting is rather good for Hazel, she might not see it quite like that but it really is – I don't think any MP can begrudge the active involvement of constituents and ordinary people in politics, it's very important.
Now if you choose to go down this road there are some wonderful opportunities. People are disaffected, but you do not have if you are independent what I would call the tribal or inherited vote. If you stand as a Flat Earth Party candidate maybe your father or grandfather voted for the Flat Earth Party…it doesn't happen if you are an independent. Every vote has to be won the hard way. So that's one thing. You don't get party political broadcasts, and up until election time the debate becomes polarised between Labour and Conservatives and the smaller parties tend to get left out. Independents more so, yet independents can win.
My good friend Dr Richard Taylor, the independent MP for Kidderminster, came to see me in 2000 when I was an MP and he wasn't. He was running a pressure group trying to save a hospital and he asked me `Do you think we could turn the pressure group into a voteable party?' And I heard the case and I said `I think you could'. And he won with a 17,000 vote majority and he was re-elected four years later. It was some kind of a political miracle but it can be done but certain elements have to be in place.
First – you need a well known preferably local candidate. Richard was a physician to 12,000 constituents, as he pointed out, Those were the ones who survived to vote for me'.
Second – you need a good cause and I think you have one here.
Third –you need a vulnerable incumbent and it's for you to decide whether you have one or not. But to make this work you need foot soldiers – you don't just do it by headlines. I stood for the European Parliament in 2004 and I tried to do it the cheap way. I spent £640 and 40p of my own money, we had a website with lots of press but no leaflets and I got 93,000 votes. I needed 120,000 to win. A wonderful lady wrote to me afterwards and she said that she didn't know I was standing until she saw my name on the ballot paper and then supposing I was an imposter she voted for someone else.
So you need foot soldiers, you need money, you need to match the eight, nine, ten thousand pounds that the party machines will spend. And I think you will be able to raise that both from inside and outside. You need the attention of the press, you need to be seen as an electable alternative and having been a journalist I know that the press is much more flexible about this than they used to be.
Hazel is well known. She's a former Party Chairman and I think an electable candidate will get a lot of attention. You need the right candidate.
The other thing I think you also need is what I call steadiness under fire because if you do this then the searchlights are on you - they'll blaze away with their metaphorical machine guns and you mustn't fall apart. One of my best campaigners in Wilmslow in '97 broke down in tears because she thought we were losing Wilmslow, and we nearly did but you've got to stick with it throughout the whole campaign. And you won't know if you've won or lost until the last 48 hours. Your campaign actually catches fire or it doesn't and it's up to you.
It can either be a romantic thing to do or deeply depressing but I think we have reached a point where we have to re-claim our democracy not just here but elsewhere. Everything's changing now. The new House of Commons is going to lose roughly half the present MPs and at the moment there are some really disreputable characters. I've written a book about this whole thing – I'm not going to tell you the name of it because I'm not promoting it, but I'll tell you what I wanted to call it – I wanted to call it Swindlers List.
And you will be challenged on your manifesto – let me also advise you that you can stand as a single issue candidate but if that candidate is elected that then is a multi issue MP and therefore people are entitled to know really what you stand for, apart from the assisted retirement of the incumbent. I did that, in fact I produced probably the most boring manifesto in the history of English party politics. They need to know what kind of person you are. It's not easy. I'm neither from the left or the right – I have been described as a fully paid up member of the awkward squad.
It did occur to me, while I was writing the book that I won't mention, about the politics of the three senses – the first is a sense of right and wrong so that you don't claim, for instance, £400 a month for food when everybody else is paying their grocery bills through tax earned income, you don't expect them to pay your cleaning bills and you don't flip your homes. I worked out that I could have made an extra £52,000 in those four years so maybe the reason I'm here is sour grapes, I'm sorry I didn't make the money I could have made.
So politics of the three senses. First of all the sense of right and wrong. common sense and when everything goes wrong, a sense of humour. Never lose that.
I want to read out something which I think might appeal to the people of Salford - on the front of the book I'm not promoting is a little poem which I dedicate to the people of Salford. It's written from an MP…
I was a self philanthropist
A master of the John Lewis list
I had a profitable innings
And duly pocketed the winnings
The subsidies, the perks the pay
The petty cash, the ACA
The Tudor beams, the chandeliers
The bills for swimming pool repairs
The hanging plants, the trouser press
Nothing succeeded like excess
The whirlpool bath, the horse manure
Whiter than white
Purer than pure
And so it was until, alas
The MP scandals came to pass
I was your honourable friend
A pity really it had to end
And then to avoid the sneers of Mr Paxman
I wrote a cheque and sent it to the taxman…
We're not looking for a New Jerusalem, we're looking for an MP with a measure of integrity and a measure of competence, all over the country. It's a work in progress. I think I'm suited to your kind of politics but you're going to find one of your own…