Long-time loyal Clarion and Voice of the North reader COLIN WAKELING has been driven to voice his concerns regarding what he perceives as north Northumberland’s loss of democracy at both parliamentary and county level. Colin is involved in democracy at parish level
II DID NOT VOTE FOR ANNE-MARIE TREVELYAN, our Conservative MP for Berwick upon Tweed, but I was not too surprised that she won the seat in 2015, given what I regarded as the relative weakness of the alternative candidates.
The result did not unduly concern me, either: although with many other voters I had not appreciated her Brexit ‘credentials’ I thought that she possessed enough independence of mind to avoid becoming just another piece of Westminster lobby fodder. I could not have been more mistaken,
Within an extremely short time she was associated with the Conservatives for Britain group, was elected vice-chair of the All-Party Forestry Group and became a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee. Then she was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary, first at Defence and then at Education, a post from which she subsequently resigned citing her refusal to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal after negotiations she claimed were “built on the UK trying to appease the EU”.
Within a year she bounced back in the wake of the Johnson premiership, rising seamlessly first as Armed Forces Minister then getting a seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Overseas Development, despite a previously-expressed highly sceptical view of the value of her new department. Before the announcement of the department’s coming absorption into the Foreign Office her elevation from the ranks was rapid, even by today’s standards, despite there being some who feel that she may not have stayed in any post long enough to be ‘found out’.
Why does this matter? Well, I was looking for an MP who could be a strong advocate for north Northumberland, a region scenically beautiful but with a host of underlying social and economic issues which need to be addressed by positive action. When I suggested to Ms Trevelyan’s Chief of Staff that her freedom to speak out on such matters could be restricted by her elevation I was taken aback when he indicated that this would be ‘good for her career’. What I wanted was a representative rather than a career politician.
So, having quickly abandoned her traditional summer perambulations of the constituency “because of a credible security threat” – something that does not seem to bother her parliamentary colleague John Lamont immediately across the Border – she is now somewhat remote from her electorate and its concerns.
The situation might be redeemable if she were supported by a responsive back office team, but this seems sadly lacking. I am not a serial ‘MP botherer’ and, while the list of my interests may appear eclectic, the results of my letters to Ms Trevelyan have been distinctly variable: I received helpful responses to questions about building society governance and, after some prompting, authorised rail routes. But my concerns relating to the apparently irrational exclusion of coach operators from business rate relief during the pandemic and a request to support a blue plaque application for a Victoria Cross recipient in the (1879) Zulu War who was born in my parish (Kyloe) and who died in an influenza epidemic in 1890 went disregarded.
More importantly, my concern about apparent double standards raised by Dominic Cummings’ notorious sojourn in County Durham was met with an anodyne, standardised response which studiously avoided the issue and brought fence-sitting to a new and painful high.
This is difficult to accept: in my experience, many letters to MPs require little more than forwarding to the appropriate government department with a covering letter, supported by active monitoring. Maybe if I ‘did’ social media – which I don’t, since my children warned me off – I might stand a better chance of attracting my constituency MP’s attention.
I have looked at Ms Trevelyan’s Facebook posts from time to time but apart from seizing the obvious occasional photo opportunities they seem characterised by the re-posting of statements generated by government press offices, the Ministry of Defence, Home Secretary Priti Patel and, more recently, the Department for Overseas Development, but precious little about matters directly affecting her – and my – constituency.
The most pressing local democratic issue, covered extensively by this publication, involves Norham and Islandshire’s lack of effective county council representation, given that for the past 18 months the area’s ‘councillor’, Roderick Lawrie, has lived on the Isle of Man: how CAN the elected representative possibly have a finger on the pulse of life here in rural Northumberland, especially in times like these, when he lives 350 miles away?
Is it any wonder, then, that I am frustrated by what I sense as a deep democratic deficit from a lack of effective representation and advocacy in the corridors of power at either Morpeth or Westminster?
I think this is a sad reflection on how our parliamentary election system works, or rather DOESN’T work. At a general election the voter is trying both to chose the candidate who will best represent their local interests and send a signal about national government.
The 2019 election was dominated by the Brexit issue. The simplistic slogans employed by Dominic Cummings were successful in securing an 80-seat majority for Boris, but have not produced a government or cabinet well suited to the task of running the country in the current situation (or, possibly, even in ‘normal times’).
I live in the adjacent, southern, constituency to AMT’s and find it more interesting now that it is a marginal seat.
The previous long-serving Berwick MP, now Lord Beith, made a point of getting around the constituency holding surgeries in remote settlements during the summer recess.
I think many residents of north Northumberland feel their current MP is less bothered about constituents than her own career. I don’t see her turning into the well-respected elder statesman her predecessor has become.