From Notbornyesterday's excellent Political blog, a story which is very very interesting to me personally.
Something a bit Fishy going on in Staffordshire, No 1
Last-remaining Labour Old Etonian and all-round bandwagon-jumper Mark Fisher has been MP for Stoke (Central) for 26 years.
Unquestionably a chap with a high opinion of himself, Mr Fisher stated at the time of the MPs' expenses row:
"I was one of the people at the forefront of Freedom of Information and I believe the public has a right to know what their money is spent on."
Mark Fisher is overstating that just a tad: and while he has voted consistently for transparency, he clearly (as a chap with a background of silver spoons) has ideas a bit out of kilter with the rest of us about what 'reasonable expenses' might be. For instance, in fiscal 2007/8, according to figures published by Parliament, the Stoke Central MP spent a whopping £95,941 employing people to help run his office. That rendered him the sixteenth most expensive employer in the House of Commons.
Overall in fact, based on the evidence available people could argue that he's a one for being in the forefront after most of the shooting is over - a believer, perhaps, in the adage 'I think you're right - and if you are, I'll be right behind you'. Following the death on his patch of delinquent 11 year-old Gareth Myatt in 2004 (a casualty he did little to predict or protect) Mr F declared the subsequent report into the tragedy 'brilliant'. In fact, he thought it so brilliant, locals allege he was in the forefront of the move to reduce it to a one-page summary.
In case you think this mere tittle-tattle, get an eyeful of this Hansard entry relating to the debate on Myatt's entirely avoidable death. To explain, there are first some obsequiously florid words from Fisher, which the Deputy Speaker then irritably condemns, and Baroness Keeble somewhat sarcastically contradicts:
Mr Mark Fisher: I knew Gareth Myatt; he often came to my advice surgery. He was an extremely difficult child, but he was tiny. My hon. Friend has given some statistics, but he was a shrimp of a young man. He was so small that he hardly existed, and he was frenetic. He was like an eel—
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Even in an Adjournment debate, there is a distinction between a speech and an intervention. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is turning into a speech in the middle of a speech, and that is out of order. Perhaps he has made his point. He might make another intervention later, but the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) should be allowed to complete her speech.
Ms Keeble: I ask four things of my right hon. Friend the Minister. First, there should be a public inquiry into the use of restraint in secure training centres. I say “public” because there was a review in 2004, at the time of Gareth’s death. A 113-page report was produced, which I have with me. It was rewritten several times and was finally reduced to a one-page summary, which was posted on the Youth Justice Board website. That is completely inadequate. Internal reviews have not dealt with the issues, which only emerged into the public domain as a result of Gareth’s death and inquest. They would not have emerged if it had not been for the work done by an organisation called Inquest.'
Or - as some might rephrase and summarise that extract, 'We'll have none of your headline carpet-bagging, Fisher....and while we're at it, this has all the hallmarks of an Establishment cover-up'
Not that Marky-Mark sees himself as an Establishment figure: au contraire, he is a man for the Arts, and those who would decry Blairite art-bites as nothing more than empty piffle. Mind you, Mr Fisher only developed this viewpoint after he was summarily fired.....just one year after being appointed Minister for the Arts by, um, Tony Blair. Ah, the taste of sour grapes on the brisk wind of a Stoke morning.
Says fighting MP Mark Fisher on his website: 'Over the past 26 years I have campaigned continuously on local issues'. Well, we can't find any evidence of him campaigning on behalf of the unfortunates condemned to incarceration and separation from their children as a result of the chaotic Family Courts system in Staffordshire. But he is working very hard on two topics as I write: 'Axe the Beer Tax' and 'Campaign to save the Coachmakers' Arms'. Hmm. Mr Fisher may have a background in the peerage, but his foreground seems to be rather more to do with the beerage.
Before and after....the virtues of a good English pint
Defending the general idea of MPs charging for every last fart and broken window as part of their job ('£327 for new window and door locks at my flat after a burglary') Fisher wrote on his site, 'MPs are required to spend Mondays to Thursdays in London attending Parliament with business finishing at 10.30pm on Monday and Tuesday and 7pm on other days, clearly we can't get back to Stoke so have to have somewhere to stay in London: that's what the Second Home Allowance is for'.
Fisherman might have a case had his focus been forever on his constituency during that 25 years of dedication to the survival of local pubs serving cheap ale. But it was not always so: once hired (and after being fired) as Arts Minister, the word in Stoke-on-Trent (Central) was that their MP spent much of the time available among his literati friends in Oxford. A prominent former member of the Stoke Labour Party told nby this week, "While Mark Fisher was off swanning about in Oxford, real Labour Party activists took his surgeries for him year in year out".
One such was the late and much-loved local lawyer Richard Wise. A whirlwind in the cause of justice, The Independent wrote at length (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/if-he-cant-spring-you-nobody-can-1347699.html) several times in the 1990s on the subject of Richard's efforts on behalf of those left out and behind in Cool Stokenia.
At the 2001 General Election, Richard Wise felt so strongly about Fisher remaining as the sitting MP, he stood against him as an Independent - thus potentially splitting the vote for the Party he loved. Another colleague from those days has told us, "There wasn't a nasty bone in Richard's body anywhere. To do what he did, you have to feel he thought Fisher wasn't doing his job". And a victim of Staffordshire's appalling record on care-system abuse, Barbara Richards, gave this statement to nby:
'Richard Wise, my own solicitor, died suddenly in 2002. He stood against Mark Fisher in the 2001 election in Stoke on Trent. Richard Wise was a really good man.... He was Human Rights Solicitor of the Year. I suspect Mark Fisher lied to me about Pindown. He said he knew nothing about it - I have his email - but he was on a TV documentary with Virginia Bottomley discussing the evils of the Pindown scandal....'
In such cases, how can we know who is vamping the veritas, and who promoting porkies? Well, a good way is to look at the record and then make one's own mind up.
More on this matter anon.