Here’s Ben’s latest Ipswich
Morning Star column
Losing a friend
Even near the end, he was cracking jokes, teasing me and engaging in some good political gossip. It is why I shall miss Russell Harsant so much. He was one of those great life-givers: intellectually engaging and always full of mirth. I always knew that I could brighten a boring meeting by catching his eye, which would glint with naughtiness and glee. Too often I had to avoid looking at him for exactly the same reason – I knew he would make me laugh just at the point when I should bite my cheek.
Whilst he poked fun at pomposity and stupidity, Russell took important things seriously. He was passionate about his constituents, about Ipswich and about those who had no voice of their own. Politically, he was my favourite kind of Conservative: he cared about what we could achieve for those in our communities who had few opportunities or had been left behind. I shall always be grateful for knowing him, for his extraordinary loyalty, for his unfailing support but above all for his company, which gave me a lift and made me happy at times when things were tough and my spirits were low. Rest in peace, Russell.
Getting the truth about our tax
I introduced my first Ten Minute Rule motion after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – on tax. Now this is not always the most exciting of topics. But that is exactly the point of my idea – to make tax interesting, and relevant.
Every month we give a massive lump of our hard-earned cash to the government – and yet we are not told where it all goes. We would never hand so much money over to anyone else without knowing what for. When we spend money on a phone bill, in the pub or in the supermarket we get a receipt. Why should the government be any different? We are forced to pay tax. The government should be forced to tell us how it spends it.
For too long the public has been the victim of a collective fraud by politicians. Instead of being open with people, governments have taken people’s money and obscured what they spent it on. This must change. It is taxpayers who pay the government’s bills – for the NHS, for schools and for benefits. We have a right to know what our money is getting.
These are the points I made to my colleagues and the government in my ten minute speech on Wednesday. I proposed that the government should send an annual statement to every taxpayer showing them how much they have paid in tax and how it has been spent. This would not be expensive. At most it would cost 24p per taxpayer to send them a statement – 24p to allow every one of us to hold politicians to account for the way they spend our money. The costs could even be offset completely by allowing someone to advertise on the envelopes.
I am confident that the government will take up my idea. It will enable voters to see for themselves whether governments have kept their promises to spend more money on the NHS or to cut money from the benefits bill. We will be able to judge if too much is going on welfare, or too little to prisons and the courts. And at election time we would be able to analyse political parties’ high flown promises with a little more accuracy than they may like – seeing for ourselves how their manifestos would translate into our pounds and pence.
These little pieces of paper could well be very powerful indeed. They will make sure voters can hold their MPs and government to account. Not bad for a piece of A4.