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Time to talk tough on issues, not expenses
THE focus on MPs’ expenses has overshadowed the issues that really matter to the people of Basingstoke, the town’s MP claims.
Last week, Maria Miller told The Gazette that she would stop claiming her second home allowance and would cut other expenditure, and yesterday she tried to shift the focus on to the Government’s handling of the economy and the needs of Basingstoke.
But her decision to stop claiming that allowance has also prompted a large and lively debate on The Gazette website – basingstokegazette.co.uk – with some comments calling for her to go and oth ers backing the MP who has represented Basingstoke since 2005.
Mrs Miller told The Gazette: “The lack of focus nationally on what is the worst recession this country has faced must leave people questioning whether people have got their priorities right.”
The Conservative MP said she had received only 29 letters about expenses in her postbag, which was dominated by concerns about travellers, benefits and the child support agency.
She believes the issues that matter to her constituents are the town’s doubling of unemployment and high house-building targets imposed on the borough.
“We need a general election as soon as possible,” she said. “I think this Government has lost all authority and we need a change of Government so we can get the solutions people want, particularly when it comes to supporting Basingstoke residents – getting the sort of sup port they need to get through the reces sion and return action on house-building and planning to our local representatives.”
Asked whether she thought the expenses scandal engulfing the House of Commons meant her seat could be threatened if there was an early election, Mrs Miller said: “I think people at a General Election are voting for a change and are fed up with a Labour Government that’s let them down for a decade.”
Meanwhile, two other North Hampshire MPs have declined to say whether they will follow the example of Basingstoke’s MP and stop claiming the controversial second home allowance.
North West Hampshire MP Sir George Young said he would wait until the results of a review being conducted into MPs’ expenses before making a decision.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life, led by Sir Christopher Kelly, launched the review in April and it is due to report later this year.
Sir George, whose constituency includes Tadley, Whitchurch, Overton and Andover, told The Gazette: “I would like to wait until Sir Christopher Kelly has reported and make a judgement in the light of his actions.”
The Conservative MP said his allowance claims, which he has published on his website for two years, were among some of the lowest in Parliament.
He said: “My costs for the last year were 542 out of 646 MPs. My costs are already in the bottom quartile of costs.”
North East Hampshire MP James Arbuthnot, whose constituency covers Hook, Odiham and Hartley Wintney, did not respond to The Gazette’s calls as he was canvassing for today’s county and European elections. Mr Arbuthnot’s claims for 2007/08 placed him 333 out of 646 MPs, while Mrs Miller’s was the 222nd highest claimant, according to website theyworkforyou.com.
Mrs Miller, who rents a home in Old Basing and owns a London home that she classifies as her second home, said last week that she would make “big changes” to allow her to meet the cost of her London home from her salary.
She added she would save £10,000 by cutting costs at her constituency office.
Mrs Miller also promised to place all her claims online and to hold an annual review of her constituency costs.