Monday, February 05, 2007

Fiona and the drinking culture of MPs...

A thoughtful contribution following the lonely death of Fiona Jones by the Guardian's Nick Watt on how changes to MPs working hours may reduce the drinking culture in the Palace of Westminster.

The redtops today produce straight re-writes of yesterday's News of the World 'exclusive' in which Fiona's husband Chris reveals how he found his wife dead, surrounded by 15 empty bottles of vodka.

MP killed by her job says the Mirror, while The Sun prefers: Drinking horror of Blair babe.

The Guardian's Nick points out that the Commons altered its working hours after the 2001 General Election - in which Fiona lost her seat.

Before then, major votes were held late into the night, which meant that MPs would hang around in Westminster's numerous bars as they waited to vote.

After 2001, the House starting sittings at 11.30am on every day apart from Monday, meaning that the major votes now start just after 7pm.

Nick concludes:

At a stroke this transformed the drinking culture; at 10pm the place is often deserted. A recent move backwards - Tuesday is now a late sitting day - appears not to have made much of a difference.

Hopefully in the future a depressed, vulnerable MP will be less likely to resort to the bottle.

But an even greater change will probably have to take place: ending the pretence MPs have to keep up that they are strong and in perfect condition all the time.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Similar article in The Times today. Compassionate.

I don't think one can understand the sheer horror of being accused of crime and having to wait to be cleared - and in this instance of even being convicted and having to wait yet longer - unless one has been through it. The emptiness and fear for the future, of not wanting to face people again (though Lord Archer seems oblivious - it must be different actually being guilty).

fairdealphil said...

To be vindicated by the Lord Chief Justice but then have to sacrifice a promising political career clearly devastated Fiona more than any of us could have imagined...

Michael Oakeshott said...

I am afraid all the hand wringing here deserves a better cause. Any person dying is a tragedy. But her death should not distract us from the facts.

Mrs Jones' acquittal was on a pure technicality, and legally speaking highly questionable. To accept her innocence, one would have to accept the LCJ's argument that promotion of a party in a constituency has no effect on a candidates chances of success in that constituency. Is there any intelligent person who really believes that? The only way Jones could therefore be innocent in any way is if she was oblivious to this spending. I doubt that. Even then her negligence would have bordering on the criminal. She was gulity and the LCJ was wrong. The only mistake made in respect of this woman was the acquittal.

I am sorry she didn't deal with failure. But her constituents cast their judgement, and I believe they were right. Other people have been less fortunate. High ranking civil servants with unblemished records have been sacrificed to save the careers of ministers who lacked integrity and courage. So the faux outrage on here is rather hard to swallow for such a person. This was no martyr.

fairdealphil said...

michael:

Your strident views can be rather entertaining at times...but really, there are limits!

To claim that you know more about the law than the Lord Chief Justice demonstrates breath-taking arrogance...

Of course we should concentrate on facts - but it is simply not factual of you to then claim that Fiona's acquital was a technicality. Wrong.

It was a case that never should have come anywhere near court.

Despite the disgraceful (Notts) police briefings about a £20,000 'spend, spend, spend' campaign, the case showed that those who prosecuted the case had scant knowledge of election law - although the case did establish case-law which has since proved helpful to all political parties.

The case established that 'voter identification' work done outside an election period is not an election expense in itself, but that there is a value to be declared on the use (rental) of that material during the election period.

Fiona was actually convicted over the costs of a sub-office for a few weeks in Retford and the value of the use of a carpet square for that period.

The trial judge said she had not declared a sufficient value for these items - but he never said what value she should have put on these items.

However, had that been the level of the alleged 'overspend' (of her own money) at the start of the case, she could have applied to an election court for "relief" as others (of all parties) have done in the past.

Thankfully, you are NOT the Lord Chief Justice Michael.

Until you are, being a Labour MP is unlikely to be a hanging offence.