Dear Editor, There are two kinds of sleaze. One is where people behave crookedly or salaciously, but another type involves people who use innuendo to allege someone is crooked without giving evidence. It’s the politics of smear.
McCarthy-style character attacks on opponents which imply wrong doing but carefully skirt the libel courts.
The latest proponent of the politics of smear is Mr Byles, the Tory candidate for North Warwickshire (“Why the secrecy if it’s all above board”, March 30). He tried to paint my record as against Freedom of Information and against disclosure of information about Parliament and expenses, saying, “Just what are you trying to hide?”
A check would reveal that the minister who took the FOI Act through Parliament was none other than – Mike O’Brien.
The minister who kept Parliament in the Act, instead of inserting the normal exclusion clause, which has since resulted in the greater openness, was – yes, you guessed it – Mike O’Brien. And the Tories in Government opposed FOI laws, insisting that only voluntary codes were needed.
Of course, none of that was mentioned in the letter. It does not fit with what was being insinuated. If you read the invective, implication and pure bile in the letter you might have thought that I must be some kind of crook.
It’s not the first time this guy has so lacked in anything to say about local issues that he has been reduced to targeting the man rather than the ball.
The last time, I made a gentle plea for less bile from Mr Byles. Let me repeat that request today. I know some politicians have to imagine their opponent has horns and a spikey tail but, in the end, going negative can rebound on the writer too.
It is dark, dirty and desperate stuff to start throwing character attacks at this stage, when frankly in the real world there is so much for politicians to debate without this kind of thing.
On the wider issue of FOI, as the minister who, with the then home secretary, took the law through, I do think that openness has proper limits and Freedom of Information Act is essentially a compromise between the need to be transparent and the need for effective government to take place, so I have voted to properly strike that balance.
On expenses, my personal view is that Tory Alan Duncan’s suggestion that an accommodation allowances should be part of the salary and fully taxed is well worth looking at. I didn’t even know MPs got any expenses until I was elected in 1992.
MP for North Warwickshire and Bedworth