It’s as if Charlie Bucket has handed back the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Not that long ago Boston MP Mark Simmonds told us that – instead of moaning about how little time he has spent in the constituency of late – we should be proud that he was the first MP for the borough to have been given a ministerial job.
He also left us in no apparent doubt that he would seek re-election next year.
Then – lo and behold – he announced this week that not only is he quitting as a minister, but standing down as our representative at next May’s general election.
Sadly, it’s again the familiar case of an MP saying one thing, and then doing another – as the problems that he cites about barely seeing his wife and children could surely not have become so acute, so quickly.
In fact, Mr Simmonds himself said he had agreed his departure as a minister at the time of last month's government reshuffle, saying that David Cameron only wanted people who were standing at the next election in ministerial posts.
Mr Simmonds has said that he has to "put family life first" and blames a lack of financial support for MPs with families outside London.
Mr Simmonds was paid £89,435 a year as a minister and MP. Now he will get an MP’s basic pay of £67,060
His wife is also paid up to £25,000 a year to act as his office manager, and the MP is entitled to £27,875 a year to rent and pay for a flat for him and his family.
That of course, excludes expenses, which have been reported as the highest among Lincolnshire MPs at £173,000-plus last year.
However he said none of this “stretched” far enough and so he stayed in hotels during the week when he was in London.
Mr Simmonds has received little sympathy from commentators.
The Daily Telegraph – normally a newspaper which gives the Conservatives an easy ride – quoted the MP as saying: “I have to stay in a different hotel room every week and any parent would hate that – and I do.
“The accommodation allowance needs to provide for families – and it doesn’t. When my children are on holiday they can’t come and stay with me in London - I can’t see them.”
Mr Simmonds said he was not willing to live in the “outer reaches of London” where rents were more affordable.
But, pause for a moment to wipe away the tears, and read on …
Mr Simmonds’s claims that the allowances were not enough to support a family life were denied by the Parliamentary expenses watchdog, which last December recommended an 11% pay rise for MPs after May's general election.
A spokesman for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority said: “We are awake to the impact on family life for MPs who have to live in two locations – in London and the constituency. That is why we provide more support to MPs with family or caring responsibilities.”
An MP with three children would be able to claim £27,875 a year – made up of £20,600 a year to rent a flat with an extra £2,425 for each of his three children. This, said the spokesman, would “allow them to rent a flat big enough to accommodate their children.”
And the Daily Telegraph disclosed that Mr Simmonds received more than £500,000 from the expenses system after selling a house on which the mortgage interest was paid by the taxpayer for almost all the time he owned it.
“Six months after he became the MP for Boston and Skegness in 2001, Mr Simmonds bought a large house in Putney, south London, for £650,000.
“From 2001 to 2009, the mortgage interest was paid by the taxpayer, with the Tory MP claiming more than £2,000 a month to cover the cost.
“His wife, Lizbeth, became his part-time office manager, receiving £20,000 to £25,000 a year. However, after the expenses scandal of 2009, several new rules were introduced.
Instead of claiming for the mortgage interest on the Putney house, Mr Simmonds could now claim only for renting in London.
Because his constituency house was designated as his main home, he could claim rental costs in London.
“Soon after these changes, Mr Simmonds sold the Putney house for £1,187,500 in the autumn of 2010 – an increase of £537,500 on what he originally paid.
“Under the new rules, MPs were allowed to continue claiming mortgage interest costs for an interim period, but in those cases they also had to share some of the profits with the taxpayer.
“Mr Simmonds decided not to do this and since 2010, has claimed for hotel rooms in London.”
Despite being a full-time MP, Mr Simmonds – whose constituency home is the £900,000 Swineshead Abbey, a 15-acre estate with three reception rooms, a walled garden and “leisure room” – has also held various jobs, including a controversial role as a strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare, an independent medical care provider for which he was paid £50,000 a year from June 2011.
He fee was paid at £12,500 a quarter for 10 hours work a month and in February 2012, Mr Simmonds was forced to apologise for failing to make clear the interest when speaking in favour of the NHS shake-up.
He had to give up the job when he became a minister.
He is also chairman of retail specialists Mortlock Simmonds, to which he contributes about 10 hours’ “work” a month, at £80 an hour – a handy £10,000 a year additional drop in the financial bucket.
The sheer desperation of Simmonds’s financial plight was neatly summed up by the Political blogger Guido Fawkes.
None of all the above is likely to play well with the constituents of an area where the average annual salary is the lowest in the county at around £21,000 – a wage which has barely increased over the past seven years.
And let us not forget that famous quote when Mark Simmonds was asked about the lack of jobs for local people in a radio interview.
He responded: “I can meet some young people in Boston who say ‘Mark, when are you going to get all these migrants out of our town, and I say to them, ‘Well, when you’re prepared to go into the fields or the packhouses.”
So, whither Boston?
Which makes a change from saying wither, Boston.
In an ideal world, we could do with an MP who believes that the salary and perks is enough to make his or her priorities Boston, Boston, Boston.
But that’s not going to happen, we are sure.
At the start, we mentioned the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – and that’s what a seat like Boston represents for any aspiring Tory politician.
For almost a century, the seat has been unshakeably Conservative, and anyone winning it is guaranteed a job for life.
Before Mark Simmonds came Sir Richard Body, who was MP between 1966 and 2001. Before him, we had Sir Herbert Butcher, from 1937, preceded by Sir James Blindell who sat from 1929.
His predecessor was Arthur Wellesley Dean, who won the seat in 1924 and we have to go back 1918 to find a Labour MP – William Stapleton Royce (born 13th December 1858.)
The problem with such a lengthy period of ownership and such regularly high Tory majorities, is that the seat is important to Conservative Central Office – for the sole reason that it can parachute in a favoured candidate in the certainty that they will win.
This sort of political patronage has become increasingly common with the Tories in recent years, so don’t hold your breath and hope that an MP who is really perfect for Boston will get the job.
Head office draws up the list of “approved” candidates, and although theoretically, the local Conservatives have the vote – when Central Office pays the piper, our local boys and girls in blue will dance to the tune with whichever partner they are told to select.
Sadly, this is especially true of the current Tory hierarchy in Boston – though let’s not forget that Skegness has a say as well.
Should we take UKIP into account?
Mention has already been made of Neil Hamilton, the party’s deputy chairman – a former barrister, teacher, and Conservative MP for the Tatton constituency until his defeat after becoming involved in a political scandal known as the cash-for-questions affair,
In Who's Who, Hamilton is described as a writer, actor, broadcaster and entertainer – well, he certainly makes us laugh.
The last time UKIP fought Boston was in 2010 when the party took less than 5,000 votes.
Since then, it has enjoyed a renaissance – particularly in the local government elections for both the county and a couple of local by-elections.
However, it appears in Lincolnshire that UKIP is more divided locally than the Labour party is nationally, and has now fragmented into variously named groups, whilst the surviving main UKIP group has made scarcely any impact locally … and in Boston, has done even less.
The Liberal Democrats may stand again.
And a veteran of recent local elections – Boston Borough Councillor Paul Kenny has not yet said whether he will stand again for Labour in 2015, but his record at national level is scarcely a good one.
The closest Labour came to capturing Boston was in Mark Simmonds’s first contest which was notable for the second Labour landslide of 2001 when he squeaked home with 17,298 votes – or 42.9%.
His rival for Labour, Elaine Bird, polled 16,783 votes, representing 41.6% and giving Simmonds a majority of just 515.
In 2005, when Paul Kenny entered the fray for Labour, Simmonds won with 19,329 votes – 46.2% of the ballot – with Paul Kenny trailing on 13,422, or 32.1%, giving a Tory majority of 5,907 and a swing to the party of 6.4%
In 2010 things got even worse for Labour with Mark Simmonds polling 21,325 votes or 49.4% and Paul Kenny winning 8,899 votes - 20.6% of the total, and a falloff 11.1% on the previous election.
The Conservative majority was 12,426 representing a swing of 7%.
Whichever way you cut it, the writing on the wall is for another Conservative MP representing Boston at Westminster – and the battle now to be fought by our local “politicians” should be to ensure that we get the best representative for the area, and not some plant foisted off by Central Office who has big plans for them in ten years’ time.
The last word will never be spoken on the Quadrant development in Wyberton, and the fallout from the decision by Boston Borough Council’s planning committee is only just beginning.
Fallout is the toxic detritus that follows a major explosion such as a nuclear detonation or a major volcanic eruption – and for most of the people who live in Wyberton, something akin to such an event happened when the committee all but nodded the scheme through.
Given the strength of feeling you might have hoped that the council leadership could have been graceful and generous in victory.
But you would be wrong.
As was to be expected, the opportunity to rub the losers’ noses in it was too appealing to resist, and a “three page special” edition of Boston Pravda was fired off to the handful of people who subscribe to it on the Thursday following the meeting.
In it, borough council “leader” Pete Bedford – although he seems to have led from behind for much of the debate – was quick to say I told you so.
“Boston Borough Council’s planning committee has made a brave but correct decision to indicate its approval of one of the biggest developments ever to be put before them,” he squawked, telling anyone who would listen that “I make no apologies for my support for the project” – which is the first that we heard of it.
In fact, Councillor Bedford appeared to go to some lengths to distance himself from things – resigning as a planning committee substitute at the end of June and being replaced by Councillor Stephen Woodliffe, who was actually called upon to cover one of the absences at the meeting which voted for the Quadrant scheme.
Narrow squeak there, then, Pete.
(Don’t call the leader a narrow squeak – editor.)
It was said at the time that Councillor Bedford was an “attending supporter” of Boston United, but this didn’t bother two members of the planning committee who declared that they had an interest as season ticket holders – and really didn’t seem to think that this mattered.
Councillor Bedford also claimed that “support for the scheme has already been indicated with granting of £4.75 million secured by Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership from the government’s Growth Deal.
“The successful bid is a major indication of support for the project from Government, reinforcing the planning committee’s decision.”
How something that received a grant before a decision was taken to approve it can reinforce that decision is an interesting use of the language – but one that we have come to expect from our leadership.
After stressing the upside of the plan, Councillor Bedford went on to say that: “The only losers will be those who have complained that they will lose a view – but the right to a view is not a material planning consideration.”
No other complaints were mentioned, although our recollection was of concerns being expressed regarding health, traffic dangers, and problems with local NHS and education services to name but a few.
However, as another famous Tory, Winston Churchill, told us: “History is written by the victors.”
Councillor Bedford’s verbal gymnastics after the event reminded us of some others during the debate – most notably from Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond, who was somehow omitted from our awards last week.
He quite often uses a strange reverse logic to make his points.
Remember his insistence to charge disabled blue badge holders to park their cars? The logic behind this was that the disabled really wanted to pay to park in order to achieve a much yearned for equality with able bodied people.
Then there was the contortive argument in support of a 20p charge to use the council owned toilets, which involved declaring that the value of a pre-decimal penny seventy years ago was 86 new pence in today’s money which proved that a 20p charge to use the loos represented a 65 pence discount for users.
At last week’s planning meeting he regaled us with the argument that because 19 per cent of the residents of Wyberton turned out to vote in the Quadrant referendum, this meant that the 81 per cent who didn’t were not opposed to the development or were not bothered.
Somehow this conveniently overlooked the fact that more than 86 per cent of those who did vote were against the development – but, of course, any attempt to extrapolate this figure would have not gone the way he liked.
One thing is for certain … we wouldn’t want him calculating our weekly wages!
Despite the best efforts of Boston Borough Council’s leaders the Quadrant objectors remain bloody but unbowed, and we understand that they are planning a detailed response to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, who will review the application because of its size and impact.
The group says that it is only fair that he is made very aware of their suspicions and concerns regarding this particular application.
The group tells us that they are always open to “new or influential” information, and willing supporters to champion their cause, not just in Wyberton but right across the borough.
We have a couple of lengthy e-mail contributions concerning last week’s debate, and because this week has turned out to be so busy, will be holding them over to next week’s Boston Eye.
The leadership’s patronising “we told you so” approach provoked an angry response from some of our readers, who felt that the borough three page “special” report on the planning meeting was only special because of the partiality it displayed.
One reader told us: “I have never witnessed such blatant bias!
“All those who were in favour have had something quoted by them recorded.
“Where are the comments from Councillor Smith and Councillor Snell?
“Whatever you may think about these two councillors, they were brave enough to speak out and yet were not mentioned!”
A number of other readers felt the same way, - so for their benefit, we have come up with our own take on the bulletin …
At long last work is underway to paint the side of Boston Assembly Rooms which races the river – and as expected, a team of abseilers, whose last job was repairing a North Sea oil rig are to carry out the work.
Earlier ideas such as using scaffolding were rejected on cost grounds, whilst working from a barge was no good because the tide would have restricted work to a couple of hours a day.
Owner Matt Clark says that the work will include reglazing the windows and renovating the woodwork.
He reminded us that he took over the property about two years ago – which means that the paint job is now well outside the timescale agreed for completion when the deal was signed.
There are also plans for further renovation work on the ground floor.
Whilst it’s great that at long, long last the building will look as is should have done for the past year or more, we still think it a pity that no better use for it could have been found than a nightclub.
However, the latest issue of the free magazine Simply Boston has cleverly anticipated how much better the Assembly Rooms may look after the paint job has finished – aside from the colour, that is.
We couldn’t believe it when we saw the picture below on the front page of the August issue.
It’s one thing to use an archive picture if you tell the readers that’s what it is – but quite another to apparently pass it off as current … and there is no mention that this picture is donkey’s years old.
Let’s hope no visitors were lured to see our sights by such misleading information.
Still with Simply Boston, we note that council leader Pete Bedford is still fobbing the editors off with a load of out out-dated tat passed off as his “notes” which purportedly discuss “the important topics in and around Boston.”
His latest offering is mainly about the borough council’s annual report – which is an historic review of the year rather than a live topic.
Amid a deluge of statistics he tells us “there have been a number of successes which will be highlighted in our annual report when it comes out shortly.”
This is from the August issue of the magazine.
The annual report was published on 18th July.
Last week we heard that health service officials had promised not to axe the Accident and Emergency department at Pilgrim Hospital.
The pledge was made after concerns that cuts could mean its eventual closure were voiced by East Lindsey district councillors.
A motion copied to local MPs, the Care Quality Commission, Lincolnshire County Council and local parish and town councils, says :”East Lindsey District Council is extremely concerned at recent moves by United Lincolnshire Health Trust which would severely impact upon the district's residents and visitors should they be implemented.
“Grave concern is expressed regarding the possible move of the accident and emergency department at Pilgrim Hospital, to Lincoln County Hospital.
“This would leave a large area within East Lindsey without adequate emergency treatment and mean that access to emergency treatment would be over an hour away in a number of areas. This is unacceptable. By the very nature of emergency medicine, and the "golden hour" rule in many cases needing to be observed, this could be very dangerous.”
East Lindsey’s well-timed intervention is to be applauded – but the big question that remains unanswered is … why didn’t Boston Borough Council co-sign the protest?
The council is always boasting of its shared relationship with East Lindsey, and someone in Worst Street must surely have the job of keeping an eye on the council’s agendas to watch for conflicts of interest or items of shared importance.
But no-one apparently spotted it.
Had Boston added its support to the motion it would have added some weight, and demanded that bit more attention.
But as usual, our so-called leadership sat on its hands and did nothing.
There’s a surprise.
Every Friday until the end of the month we are told by Boston Borough Council that we can look forward to a day’s free entertainment in the Market Place – courtesy of the Transported organisation.
This involves everything from watching people walking around dressed up as a camel, and the usual face painting, to trying your hand at plumage-inspired knitting.
The objective of Transported is to develop “inventive” ways of getting people involved in the arts where they live, meet and work, providing “inspirational experiences” and “empowering local people to take the lead in shaping their own arts provision.”
Quite how that relates to what’s going on in the Market Place is anyone’s guess.
And yet again, Boston Borough Council is redefining words to suit its own convenience when used about the event – presumably in the hope of riding piggy back on some activities that it has had nothing to do with or pay for.
The dictionary defines “free” as meaning without cost or payment
Transported has been given the unusually specific sum of £2,592,183 to blow over three years for a bunch of luvvies to have a good time at our expense.
And it seems that there is so much dosh washing around that they laid on a series of treats in Pescod Square earlier this week on market day.
They included a man with rouged cheeks and a balloon on a string tied to his wrist chalking on the pavement, a group of young women mincing about waving their arms in the air in some sort of dance routine, another band of women striding around whilst wearing outsized headphones, and another man holding a pose for a while and then moving … some sort of mime perhaps, but definitely not a “human statue.”
How sad, how very, very sad.
Amid all the commemorative events marking the outbreak of the First World War a century ago last week, one thing was conspicuous by its absence – news of Boston Borough Council’s appeal for a memorial in the town.
It was early in July that the council trumpeted that the appeal was “almost” there – but the silence is now deafening.
As near as we can tell, the appeal passed the halfway mark at the end of June, and around £1,000 was handed in early in July.
The appeal total is said to be £4,200, so the halfway mark would be £2,100, and the added £1,000 would take it to £3,100 – which is still a thousand pounds shy.
The appeal – to raise money “purely from public subscription,” has not gone well.
Initially the plan was for two wrought iron benches to be placed in the Memorial Park in Wide Bargate on the very day that war broke out in 1914.
But the veterans pooh-poohed this idea and demanded a granite obelisk instead.
Then because of problems with timing, the date to unveil this lump of rock was put back, until Armistice Day – when it will somewhat pointlessly mark the 96th anniversary of the ending of the war.
As insurance, Boston Borough Council’s B-Tacky committee agreed to make up any shortfall – although any such contribution should really have been approved and paid for by the full council budget rather than a committee.
This means that council taxpayers will foot any outstanding sum … which is an interesting definition of a voluntary public appeal.
Yet again, Worst Street defines the language to its own ends.
We look forward to a progress report on the memorial sometime soon.
In days before the word was even thought of, economic necessity ensured that the Victorians recycled everything.
That is why dustmen were so named – because the only thing left to dispose of after everything else had been reused was – the dust.
Now the job is dignified by titles such as sanitation engineers, refuse disposal operatives, environmental engineers and suchlike.
But things have moved on in more ways than one since the days of the Old Queen.
Not only do dustmen now have posh names, but the dustcarts they used to drive are – in Boston at any rate – now styled as “refuse freighters.”
Not only that – they have been fitted with on-board computer systems “to improve efficiency” … which apparently means giving an electronic finger to anyone who complains that their bin has been missed when in fact they failed to put it out.
Yet another caring message from Worst Street sums it up under the headline: “Bins not put out: No collection.”
It goes on to explain that these hi-tech “freighters” can record bins that are not presented in time on the day of collection.
“In future there will not be return visits to empty bins recorded on the system as not being presented,” wags the council’s finger sternly.
It’s good to discover that our council tax is being so wisely spent, isn’t it?
And just to rub salt into the wound, the council has announced – inevitably in the peak of the growing and gardening season – that it is unable to take any brown bin payments until September 8th “due to insufficient availability of stock.” The announcement was posted on the borough's website at the beginning of August.
The words booze-up and brewery come to mind.
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