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Bombs, plots and the dripping of poison

November 5, 2008

column-picture1“Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder, treason and plot…”

I looked up the rhyme in preparation for the column this week and it really reminded me of my childhood.

Bobbing the apple, treacle toffee, sparklers. The smell of the bonfire. The crackle of excitement and dry wood.

We had an amazing Bonfire in Hastings this year. And I entirely understand the Bonfire Societies’ desire to spread the fun over the course of a couple of months, so that people can attend each other’s bonfires. But there is a small Northern part of me that is sad that we don’t have the bonfire on 5 November.

(No need to comment on which part that might be!)

Apparently the tradition of a ‘Gunpowder Plot Sermon’ developed following Guy Fawkes’ escapade on this day in 1605. The sermon was supposed to remind people of the terrible consequences of treason, and it was out of this that the famous rhyme emerged.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to give you a special Liberal Democrat Gunpowder Plot Sermon! But I will take the opportunity to raise an issue that makes me (metaphorically you understand) want to put a few barrels under the Houses of Parliament myself!

Over the last few weeks I have written about the need for politicians to reflect on our political system and make the changes that are necessary in order to re-engage the country at large.

I have spoken about the corrosive effects of perceived corruption, the need for citizens to be stakeholders, and the importance of making each vote count.

This week I have been having a row with the local Conservative candidate. I have been questioning her on the funding of the Hastings & Rye Conservative Association, and whether or not (during her tenure as parliamentary candidate) it has accepted monies from Lord Ashcroft, the Tory Party deputy chairman, who (allegedly) is not resident in the UK, pays no tax on his income, and funnels money from abroad, through British based companies, to spend in seats which the Tories think are winnable.

To give you an idea of the kind of monies we are talking about, in the last financial year the local Conservatives spent in excess of £70,000.

The impact of big money in British politics is massive, and it is high time that Parliament legislated against it.

The trouble is, Labour and the Conservatives (just like on proportional representation) have a vested interest in the system as it stands.

My party leader, Nick Clegg, has written to David Cameron asking the Conservatives to support moves to restrict the influence of big money on political parties. Nick has said,

“The flow of big money into parties is dripping poison into our political system. We need to remove once and for all the risk of political parties becoming over reliant on donations from rich individuals or organisations with vested interests.”

For all their talk of being new, and changed, and progressive, it is on key issues like this that the Conservatives show how close to the surface are all their old ideas and habits.

One hundred years ago in Hastings & Rye, Robert Tressell was railing against the danger of political parties buying parliamentary seats.

You have to ask yourself, has anything much changed since then?

Aren’t they really just the same old Tories?

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