Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Three charges against Helen Grant MP

A week after the charges levelled at Helen Grant over her expenses the dust has settled and the minister is still in post.

The big question is should she?

After all on top of the expenses there is a charge of ignoring constituents and their complaints and also fiddling an employees contract AFTER he signed it which I thought was highly illegal in employment law.

First, looking at her expenses it should be stated that what she is doing doesn't break the rules. However it is bad form.

Call me old fashioned but an elected representative should be elected from among the people to represent the people. There are of course grey areas like a candidate living in Rochester and standing for Chatham - the two areas are so close and if the individual has interests in the constituency then that is alright. However living in Reigate, which isn't even in the same county, is pretty far removed, especially when claiming a second flat in Vauxhall.

I had the distinct privilege to grow up just off the Weald, attend a school in Maidstone and to list the Weald as one of my favourite places in the World. If you don't want to live there you need to ask yourself if you're representing the right constituency. There are conflicting reports that say her mother lives in Sutton Valance and that Helen maintains a residence in Marden but no one has seen her in my home village and believe me - it's not that big!

It is one thing to turn up for events and surgeries but only ever weekend there and another to live and have serious ties there. In fact the MPs current operations have left constituents fear full that when her constituency office in Maidstone is sold off they will have to commute to London to see her. This has been denied according to the Cranbrook press but watch this space. Should this happen it would be a ridiculous state of affairs.

Say what you like about Anne Widdecombe but she always had the interests of Maidstone at her heart, maintained a residence and was a common sight around the countryside.

The next charge is failing to listen to her constituents. About three months ago I was talking to a couple of campaigners who are trying to stop rail fare rises but their MP - Helen Grant - had cut off all correspondences with them. Her political aide had this to say in an email response:

  It is clear from the Twitter networking site that your unwarranted and unpleasant activities have been ongoing since that email was sent.  We attach a sample for your ease of reference.  Mrs Grant, like any other individual, is under no obligation to engage with rude and abusive people whether it be in the course of her work or in her private life.

We would now ask that you desist from sending any further emails or other forms of communication to Mrs Grant or to her staff.  We consider your persistent unpleasant email approaches and twitter posts are a form of harassment and we reserve our right to take legal action to prevent ongoing activities if you do not cease.  We hope this will not be necessary.

I unfortunately do not have a copy of the emails sent to Mrs Grant but I do have a copy of the offencive tweets which had been sent in this email to the two campaigners. The tweets were not offencive in any shape way or form. They questioned her competence as an MP and indeed demonstrate the same level of frustration that we commuters feel about the system but none of them were abusive.

A while ago I wrote about the symptomatic social change of customer relations with staff etc. Unfortunately Mrs Grant has to come to terms with the fact that this is no longer the 1930's and that people can be demanding and a little bit rude some times especially when they are frustrated by the system that continues to milk them dry of their hard earned money and the MP elected to represent them seems to be a.) not doing anything to sort the problem and b.) claiming rail expenses so they don't have to pay for their transportation.

This of course does not stack well when other local MPs are not claiming expenses in this manner and are also regularly updating their twitter feeds, websites and press releases to show what they are doing to sort out the issue whether successful or not.

Also, like it or not, Twitter is a forum for freedom of speech and the statement of opinions that were made by the two activists were in fact that. Whether you like someone's opinion of you or not it is irrelevant to the over all situation. They are your constituents and come wind or shine you should be representing them. In responses you can stay aloof and rise above it.

I know as a solicitor and lawyer she will be accustomed to dealing with people who have more respect for her position but as an MP you need to earn that respect in today's political climate and frankly I think her publicised actions and expenses have not aided that. 

Finally, the accusation that the MP changed her political assistant's contract after it was signed. It was amended so that the usual 6 months paid sick leave was reduced to two weeks to -Save the taxpayer money. A somewhat hilarious notion considering the expenses claims...

As far as I'm aware, and my employment law is somewhat fuzzy since I left the PCS a couple of years ago, but your Terms and Conditions (of which Sick pay is a definite T&C) cannot be altered without negotiation with the contract holder. So what the heck happened?

There are some serious problems in the house of Grant that need addressing either by herself or by David Cameron as her party leader. This 2010 watershed was meant to bring us MPs who were different, who wanted change and to make the system better - not continue in the same vein.

Although Maidstone and Weald is a somewhat safe seat I really do hope that if this sort of disregard for her constituents continues, in 2015 there is a swing away to another candidate whether another Conservative or another party.


  1. Excellent article - Helen Grant has a number of charges to answer, sadly the promise of being a new MP in the same style as Mark Reckless or Tracey Crouch was forgotten the moment she put her nose in the trough - now she acts like one of the old guard of Tories, who don't answer to the plebs that are in their constituencies or who have the sheer cheek to question what they do!

  2. This makes the situation worse regarding here staff contracts

  3. This is my understanding of facts that have emerged so far (are there anymore to come?):

    Helen Grant said she made the changes to reduce someones sick pay, as it was standard practice with all her staff at her legal aid firm, and added that the changes were made to "save taxpayers money".

    The one thing I will say in Helen Grants defense, to the above article, is that it is my understanding that the contract was amended before it was signed, not after as suggested above, but none of the staff affected (which were all of them excluding her husband of course), nor IPSA spotted the change.

    Dispatches uncover huge expenses (the maximum allowed in fact for a second home) despite Helen not even living in the constituency that gives her the right to make these claims. This somewhat flies in the face of "saving taxpayers money".

    A later statement says that meetings between constituents and their MP will take place in London as the local office will be closing.

    Neither press, not public reaction is positive.

    Helen Grant refuses all interviews but her office release statements.

    Now, we hear her husband is at fault (see link given by DavidM above), not Helen, and so has resigned to save her embarrassment.

    So - Surely either there were some untruths told when we were told that Helen Grant made the amendments "to save tax payers money" or there are untruths being told now when we find that it was her husband after all - who evidently wrote his own, as well as others, contracts?!

    Another obvious suggestion is that our Equalities minister gives different sick pay rights to different people. Not particularly equitable by all accounts.

    Perhaps whoever writes Mrs. Grants press releases is at fault and should resign too?

    Or perhaps, even better, now would be the time for Helen Grant, Equalities minister and MP for Maidstone and the Weald (depsite neither living here, nor wishing to hold constituency visits here anymore), should stop hiding and start answering the press' requests for interviews.

    I remain, as a Maidstone resident, incredibly angry by what has been published in the press of late. Not angry with the press I hasten to add, but angry that any MP can treat the people they are there to represent with such contempt.

    I have yet to find one person who has a positive word to say about either Helen Grant or that can defend this debacle.

    Tomorrow's local paper (Kent Messenger Maidstone) clearly shows the former MP for the area Ann Widdecombe stating that she does not agree, at all, with previous press releases made by Helen Grants office either!

    What angers me the most is that we now appear to be stuck with an MP who cares only about what she can get from her position, and not a stuff about those that voted for her (let alone those that did not!).