A Very English Revolution
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
There is an irony, although it is hardly surprising, that a very English Revolutionary and devout Parliamentarian, John Hampden, and the family name of "Hampden," is better remembered in the Americas than in his own country. There are towns bearing the name of Hampden in Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, but in his own county of Buckinghamshire, only Hampden House, not far from where I am sitting, still carries his name.
Hampden was everything that the founders of America would have approved of, and doubtless had he been alive, he would have been a stout proponent of independence for the American colonies. Hampden was loved and respected in equal measure; he despised pomposity and despite his obvious wealth spoke truth to power. He was mortally wounded, fighting the Royalists on the side of Oliver Cromwell at Chalgrove in the county of Buckinghamshire in 1653.
If Hampden were alive today I imagine that he would be one of the first to sign up to the ‘Buckinghamshire Campaign for Democracy’, launched today by one of his latter-day disciples, John Stevens. Irony abounds again down the centuries, because the announcement of the new campaign and the decision by Stevens to try and force the current MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, from his Buckingham seat, has not appeared in the British media. It is appearing here first, in New York, in Big Think.
The charge list against Mr Speaker Bercow is voluminous. When the truth about MPs expenses finally came tumbling out, here is what the good citizens of Buckingham learned;
*He avoided paying capital gains tax
*Claimed the maximum MPs allowances
*Paid his accountant £1000 of taxpayers’ money
*Spent £3600 on a three day trip to Rome
*Totted up a bill of £13000 on entertainment & hospitality
*Claimed £23000 for his London flat
*Spent a further £45000 refurbishing his London apartment
*Spent £107000 of taxpayers’ money on a ‘spin doctor’
And managed to refund the taxpayer the princely sum of £6508. No wonder a pervious Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd remarked in her understated way that “Mr Bercow is letting the side down”.
Under the arcane jurisdiction that govern Britain’s unwritten constitution, the Speaker gets a free run at election time, as none of the official parties will run candidates against him. In other words, we have a situation here in Buckingham that residents of Washington DC know about all too well – which is why all of those auto fenders carry the slogan “No Taxation without Representation”.
I have no personal beef against Mr Speaker Bercow, who I have run against myself in the past as a Labour Party candidate. He is unerringly polite, a good local MP and has had occasion to help my family out in the past.
But that personal view has to be detached from his astonishing gamesmanship with MPs expenses, and I suspect that will be the view of very many others in the Buckingham constituency. Hampden would have taken a stand against a system riddled with representatives who have evaded their taxes and abused a rotten expenses system in this, the most rotten of Parliaments.
John Stevens, like John Hampden before him, is informed by a moral mission. He wants to clean up politics and clean up Parliament, and he wants major constitutional reform. You will find out more about his campaign here www.bucksfirst.co.uk
His campaign will be one of the liveliest and interesting of the British General Election, and you read about it in America, first.
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