Flip-flopping Simon Hughes

December 10, 2012 3:11 pm

Last week LabourList was the first to report that Simon Hughes MP is under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards amid claims he failed to fully declare a high value donation received by his local Liberal Democrat Party.  The original complaint made against Hughes to the Commissioner included, among other things, reference to a £10,000 donation made to Bermondsey and Old Southwark Liberal Democrats in May 2012.  You can find the registration of the donation on the Electoral Commission website here.

One aspect of this affair has not yet been reported in the press and internet coverage.  At the heart of this is the Liberal Democrat approach to politics –  trying to be all things to all people.  In this particular case it is Simon Hughes’ inconsistent approach to the issue of banning cash payments for scrap metal.

Cash payments for metal at recycling yards have recently been banned under new laws aimed at reducing cable theft.  Back in January of 2012 Simon Hughes issued two press releases making reference to this proposal, both of which can still be seen on his website.  The first issued on the 9th January 2012 is headlined “Simon Hughes MP meets Home Office Minister to combat metal theft epidemic” and includes the following:

Measures proposed include amending the Scrap Metal Merchants Act of 1964, by banning cash payments as proposed in an ongoing e-petition signed by Simon Hughes”

And the quote:

“’Tighter regulations on scrap metal dealerships, including banning cash payments, may be necessary. Such changes should not be seen as an unnecessary burden on small businesses. Scrap metal theft is the real burden on businesses and communities as it costs our economy £700 million a year.’”

Stick with me.  There is a point to all of this. The second press release issued on the 31st January is entitled “Simon Hughes MP welcomes new government measures to crack down on metal theft”.  It contains the following:

Banning cash payments will give the police greater enforcement capability, through improved monitoring of scrap metal dealers and their suppliers… ‘I am pleased that the Home Secretary has taken on board the proposals that I and many of my colleagues have made on this issue’”

So Hughes has gone from not just being in favour of banning cash payments, but also giving the distinct impression that he has been partly responsible for it becoming government policy.

What is curious is that by the time the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill has reached its Committee Stage on the 11th September 2012 Hughes gives a very different impression of his views.  Having read his  contributions in full I would say that most people listening to him might think he had developed serious concerns about banning cash payments.  The full exchanges can be seen here.

In fairness to him, he does make it clear that he is putting the arguments of  Tom Pratt (the owner of Southwark Metals), and he does acknowledge that “I have argued the contrary, so I am not adopting his argument but just asking the question.”

But he also says:

“[Mr Pratt}  asks, “Why should we be singled out as an industry? Loads and loads of people pay in cash for all sorts of things. That’s how lots of business is done.” So I would be grateful for a considered reflection on the wisdom of going down this road, as opposed to going down the roads that he and other people in the industry are apparently suggesting.” 

And goes on to say:

“We should be careful about legislating for a particular solution in a particular industry if we do not understand what the implications are elsewhere.”

The strongest endorsement he gives to the policy that he had only recently been strongly in favour of is to say that it “…may be the best available solution.”

There is something very typical about Simon Hughes’ behaviour here. Instead of considering the issues and taking a principled stand he flip-flops between two opposing views. The resulting impression is that of a politician who doesn’t really care about the issue at all and falls short of the straightforwardness that people rightly expect from their representatives.

And that’s before the question of the donation to Simon Hughes’ local constituency party is added into this mix.

Anyone who has come up against the Liberal Democrats at a local level will, no doubt, be familiar with this approach. In Southwark we have spent the last two years highlighting the difference between what Simon Hughes says at a local level and how he votes in Parliament. Locally he has been very outspoken about Coalition policies on social housing, the NHS, police cuts and welfare reform yet he has voted them all through in Parliament.

As a local councillor I’m often approached about less grand concerns.  But if I’ve taken a public stand on an issue, based on a strongly held belief or principle, then I find the best approach to anyone who lobbies me to the contrary is to tell it how it is. That whilst I respect their views, I’ve got to be honest to them and to myself. That on this particular issue, our views are at odds and that I’m unable to fight their corner.  What I most certainly would not do, is go on to represent, at length and in public, an argument that I fundamentally disagreed with.

So the question arises, having received such a large donation from a scrap metal company in May 2012, why does Simon Hughes give such a different emphasis to his views in the Committee stage of the Bill to that given in his January press releases?

It is a question which takes on all the more significance when we consider that the complaint made to the Commissioner alleges that this large donation was not fully and properly registered by the MP.  These are issues which, to say the least, will need to be addressed.

Gavin Edwards is a Labour Councillor for Peckham Rye Ward in Southwark

  • johnproblem

    Excellent stuff – but please remember being a politician requires lots of verbage constantly being spouted – and if occasionally one of ‘em gets his principles in a twist, we should adopt an understanding approach to this – alas frequent – faiblesse. But a lie, or as they position it, a terminological inexactitude, should be punished with the full weight of being banished from the House for a week. The standard punishment, I believe.
    http://www.johnproblem.com

Latest

  • Comment Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Cutting Trident will be the price of support in a hung parliament. That’s the news reported from a meeting of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders this week. With Labour’s slim lead and the SNP and Green vote threatening to impact on its share, this is a serious issue. Labour’s policy clearly states, ‘Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Lord Ashcroft has told him he shouldn’t have done it in 2010. Lynton Crosby has told him not to do it in 2015. It’s no surprise that David Cameron is trying to wriggle out of televised leader debates during the General Election – even though he has said he is willing to take part “in principle”. Time perhaps to dust off one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite barbs “He’s frit.” Neil Kinnock tried it in 1992 to try to goad John Major into […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    By Stephen Timms MP and Ian Murray MP The Christmas period reminds us that modern life can be busy, hurried and demanding. The pressures of work, demands of family life and hectic Christmas schedules can prove stretching as we juggle competing demands. Increasingly the need for flexible work is driven by the complex shape of people’s lives; as parents go to work, struggle to make ends meet, perform career roles, take their children to school and activities and try and carve […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    As the start of the long campaign begins today, curbing the amount of money parties can spend between now and May 7th, Labour MP Jon Ashworth has sought to clarify what precautions are being taken to ensure publicly-funded government advisers are not using their time campaigning. Ashworth has sent a letter to senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood, asking him to answer a number of questions about what kind of campaigning activity was permitted and undertaken by special advisers (SpAds) in […]

    Read more →
  • News Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Public Health, has called on Twitter to do more the stop racist terms being used on the site. Berger has herself faced a large amount of anti-semitic abuse on the site, and in October Garron Helm  was jailed for sending her a torrent of anti-semitic messages. Berger told the Telegraph (£): “At the height of the abuse, the police said I was the subject of 2,500 hate messages in the space of three days using […]

    Read more →