Thursday, 28 May 2009

It's all about Julie

It is tough for Julie Kirkbride. No, I mean that. She has to balance childcare and being an MP while she is unable to rely on the support structure that most MPs enjoy by having a family in the constituency. Balancing her family life, in London, and a constituency in Bromsgrove when her husband is an MP for another part of the country is not easy at all. So, yes, actually she does get some sympathy- even though she is explicitly not courting it as she explains in her article in The Times this morning.

She may even be able to empathise with the millions of working women (and some men even!) across the country who have to balance work and family commitments. She might well also reflect on her position of financial privilege in relation to them. Perhaps that would induce a greater degree of humility?

However, and predictably, she has attempted to change the subject from the one that's actually at hand. The issue is not her work-life arrangements. The issue is the cost to the public purse that flows from that and how fair and legitimate that is. It is simply perplexing to most people that each and every life decision that Ms Kirkbride and husband, Andrew Mackay MP, have made has resulted in them securing the maximum amount of financial benefit for themselves. They maxed out on the parliamentary expenses. It remains to be seen whether all the claims were within the rules but whether they are or not, it is the maxing out that people find so difficult to comprehend.

I'm going to take her at her word because I have no reason not to do so but there is a broader underlying point. The article that she has written this morning is all about Julie. And that is the second thing that people in Bromsgrove are so concerned about. She just simply continually asserts that she is doing a good job for them. Is she? How? Bromsgrove does not seem to have fared particularly well in the last dozen or so years with Ms Kirkbride as MP and a Conservative Council. The town centre has declined precipitously even as the town has expanded. Why? And what has she done to challenge this?

So there's lots of questions for Ms Kirkbride to answer. Firstly, she has to prove that she was actually within the rules. Let's assume she passes that test. She then has to give a better account of why the arrangements that her and husband made all seemed to benefit them financially to a considerable extent: they are not separate cases at all whatever David Cameron asserts. Finally, she has to start talking about the people of Bromsgrove and the town itself to give a stronger impression that she's in it for them and not just for herself.

If the article this morning was an attempt to stop the questions it has had the opposite effect. All she can do now is face her constituents in an open meeting. She is right not to attend the 'Get Julie Out' campaign meeting- that's a kangaroo court run by Respect party activists with an agenda. But nor can the public meeting be stage managed and packed with supporters which I suspect is what will happen. Should she go? It's for the people of Bromsgrove to decide. Speaking to people in Bromsgrove- as someone from the town- I think I can see which way it's heading.

Post script: And she is gone.

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