Regular readers of the comments will know that Kevin Barron, the returning MP for the Rother Valley, took great exception to my post in which I explained why I would not be voting for a man who has often ignored my emails and letters to be my representative in parliament.
For those of you who missed Kevin Barron’s reply to my request to discuss the policies he believes in, here it is:
I have indeed had chance to read your earlier e-mails and have also recently seen what you have put about me on your blog. This is just a note to say in my 27 years of being an MP nobody has ever made personal remarks about me in the way that you have. You are wrong in most comments about my political career, have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party. My stance on smoking in public places in 2006 made this clear.
Having reflected on the last two telephone conversations I have had with you I feel there is nothing to be gained by carrying on this dialogue. Of course if I am re-elected on Thursday feel free to contact me on any matters that you require personal assistance with.
Could I also say that the website that you say does not have many political comments on was originally funded through the Communications Allowance and therefore putting party political comments on would have been against the rules. I don’t know if you have noticed but a message went on the website earlier this year saying that I am personally funding it and therefore there will be no recall to public money. Consequently the content may possibly change in the coming weeks and months if I am re-elected.
I should also say to you that the content of blogs are not immune from the law. I would not hesitate to take appropriate action if the law is breached.
It’s a nice end to the letter, don’t you think – a veiled threat of legal action to one of your constituents for having the temerity to form their own opinion of the effectiveness of their MP based on his voting record, promotions and history of failing to reply to my emails asking questions about his views.
I was particularly interested in the line:
have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party
I have to admit that the idea that Kevin Barron does not agree with his party almost all of the time, and on all major issues, had indeed never crossed my mind.
This is partly due to his voting record. In the last parliament (2005-2010) Kevin Barron rebelled against his party in 1.2% of votes in the Commons. I blogged about his voting obedience in March last year. His rate of rebellion makes him less rebellious than the likes of Stephen Byers, former Transport Minister (rebelled in 1.4% of votes), Derek Twigg (only elected in 1997, and has already been an Under Secretary of State, who rebelled in 1.7% of votes) Higher still up the list of Labour MPs who have voted against their party we get former Home Secretary, Health Secretary and Defence Secretary John Reid (2.2%) Former Health Secretary and Labour candidate for London Mayor Frank Dobson (4%) and a certain Tony Blair, who rebelled in 2.1% of votes. Kate Hoey (former Minister for Sport) rebelled in over 25% of votes.
The other reason – aside from lack of evidence from his voting record – that it had never occurred to me that Kevin Barron does not essentially agree with his party is that he has never said anything to us, his constituents about it. Kevin Barron stands as a Labour MP, and recently as a Labour candidate for the Rother Valley. I would have thought that if he did not fundamentally agree with the policies of the party he was representing, he ought at the very least to have made that clear to those whom he sought to represent.
But here we have a strong suggestion from Kevin Barron that he doesn’t always agree with his party. That he doesn’t always agree is not in question – he voted against his party 1.2% of the time, and it would be unrealistic to expect a member of an organisation to agree with everything that organisation did. Kevin though suggests or implies that he disagrees with his party to the extent that it has hindered his career. Given that some of those who rebelled have risen to much more senior positions in the party than Kevin Barron, I can see little evidence that him disagreeing with the party – if indeed he does – has held him back. In the 2001-2005 parliament, the leader of his party and Prime Minister, Tony Blair, rebelled more than Kevin Barron (Blair 2.1%, Barron 1.2%) and it didn’t seem to hold him back. Gordon Brown didn’t rebel at all in that parliament, by the way, and it didn’t seem to hold him back either.
Clearly though, there is must disagreement going on behind that scenes that is holding Kevin Barron back from a cabinet post, otherwise his statement is entirely misleading. It can’t be to do with policy, unless Kevin has been hypocritically voting for things he disagrees with. Perhaps then it is something to do with Labour party politics, rather then national politics? I can’t imagine what the disagreement would be there though – Kevin certainly hasn’t become an MP known to be critical of their party like, say, Claire Short, and as a leading figure in the campaign to rewrite Clause IV, he couldn’t wish for better ‘New Labour’ credentials.
So it’s a mystery. Kevin Barron suggests that he disagrees with his party significantly enough for it to hold back his career, but neither his voting record, nor his election literature suggest he is anything other than a loyal party member. I’m genuinely stumped by this.
Kevin Barron does provide one example of where he has been critical of the Labour party:
have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party. My stance on smoking in public places in 2006 made this clear.
Which I assume refers to this article from the Guardian in December 2005 in which Kevin Barron was critical of the party for having a pledge in their May 2005 manifesto that wasn’t consistent with what had been agreed at conference. Whilst it is critical of party procedures, it isn’t the most incendiary piece I’ve ever read, and nor does it concern an issue over which I remember the government being particularly sensitive. Nor does it explain why someone with ‘Old Labour’ roots (former pit worker, NUM member etc) an, apparent new Labour mindset (involved in re-writing of Clause IV) and with plenty of parliamentary experience didn’t get a ministerial position in the eight years of Labour government prior to this article appearing. What is clear is that, if Kevin is correct that disagreement with his party is holding back his career, then it is a disagreement that is well hidden.