John Walker's Electronic House

Bath MP Don Foster’s Abhorrent Voting Record, And How He Defends It

by on Jan.15, 2013, under Rants

I’m not one for regrets. I try not to dwell on mistakes made in the past, but instead focus on not making the same mistakes in future. But there’s one regret I can’t shake: I encouraged others to vote for Don Foster in Bath, and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere, at the last General Election.

At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Foster had a really fantastic voting record, and behaved like a man with integrity. He campaigned on issues he cared about, and he took a splendidly enlightened view of censorship and invasive laws. I was pleased to give him my vote, and I argued to others why I thought they should to. And now I can only see myself as complicit in the despicable results of that election, in the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, and most of all, in the voting record of Foster since the election.

When I voted for him, my vote was carried over into every vote he’s cast since May 2010, of which all but six have been in line with the Conservatives. He’s rebelled a paltry six times, twice on matters of civil servant pay, and four times on what times Parliament should meet. He has not rebelled or abstained on a single vile policy that has gone through, endorsing the wretched cuts and evil targeting of the poor and disabled – those who Foster had purported to support before this government. His toadying has been horrendous to watch, and seen him rising the ranks of the Lib Dems over the last couple of years, as he appears to abandon all his previous principles. It’s been a miserable and humiliating sight, and one for which I hold myself responsible. Realistically, I couldn’t have known, but that doesn’t change where I put my X, and where I encouraged others to put theirs.

Last week I wrote to Foster to express my horror at his voting for the 1% cap on annual benefit rises – a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest and most needy, as inflation rises far beyond the insulting increases. I’ve written to Foster before since the election, and in response have had the most dismissive responses imaginable, ignoring anything I’ve said, and instead listing Lib Dem “achievements” as if they mean anything in the face of their swathes of failures. The reply to my latest communication was the same, but this time so much more insidiously awful. I really can’t tell if Foster has successfully deluded himself into believing that the microscopic differences his party have made to Tory policy are really of great significance, and thus his voting in favour of the outcome is a noble act on his part, of if he is simply a cruel and terrible man who cares not at all for the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s so sad to find myself hoping for the former, hoping for a deluded quisling MP.

As you’ll see, Foster’s response to my asking why he does not rebel against policies he knows full well to be evil is simply to state pathetic compromise. It does not address the questions at all, obviously. That the Liberal Democrats have managed to change a Conservative policy from being “Burn all the babies” to “Burn most of the babies” does not make burning most of the babies a policy a Liberal Democrat should ever vote for. That he has the gall to boast of an going reduction in benefits to the most vulnerable as some sort of noble victory reveals something terrible.

Here’s my letter to Foster:

Dear Don Foster,

I have expressed my disappointment with your post-election voting record to you previously, and have of course only received responses that ignore arguments made and contain meaningless platitudes – that is, sadly, now to be expected. But I hope that you at least do read these communications yourself, and I write with that hope in mind.

This afternoon you voted in favour of a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest people in the UK. You know this is a cruel and spiteful act, and you know it will only cause more suffering amongst those who suffer the most. You may repeat the transparent nonsense about how cuts have to be found somewhere, etc, as if that explains targeting Britain’s poorest and most desperate, but you still know the truth.

Once again you have participated in an act of evil. I don’t use that term flippantly, or with hyperbole. It is instead simply a pragmatic view of a choice. Right now you, and your colleagues, are being given clear moral choices. And each time you are choosing to side with a position that is openly abhorrent. You are aware of the complicity with the rich, of the ease with which the poor and needy can be demonised, and the despicable simplicity of taking from those with the least. But you are a part of it. You are voting for openly and obnoxiously evil decisions, complicit in horrors that you will have to look back on as part of your career.

I cannot comprehend it. I cannot fathom how the Don Foster I voted for can have become the duplicitous, destructive man who has so willingly voted with every Conservative plan since the election. You have rebelled six times since you came to power, once on a minor clause change to a bill, once on severance payment details for civil servants, and four times on whether you should stay at work a bit later. These are the matters that drove you to vote against your leaders, and not the brutal cruelty at the heart of this government.

I am horrified and demolished by what I am seeing happening, and I am enraged that my vote contributed to this terrible time. Please, I am genuinely begging you, please act like the man I thought you were when I voted for you, and stand up for what you know is right. Don’t let this evil be your legacy.

Yours sincerely,

John Walker

And here is his reply to me:

Dear Mr Walker,

Thank you for your e-mail of 9 January regarding cuts to the welfare budget.

First off, I can confirm that I do indeed read correspondence from constituents myself. Unfortunately, the media do not always cover the efforts the Liberal Democrats have made to mitigate Tory cuts, so let me fill you in on some of the things we have done:

We blocked George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith’s original plans to cut the welfare budget by £10bn and impose an absolute freeze on benefits. The welfare budget will now be cut by £3.8bn and benefits will rise by 1% .

- We have ensured that under-25s will still be eligible for housing benefit.

- We have ensured that families will not be penalised for having more than two children; Iain Duncan-Smith had previously argued that child benefit should be capped.

- We are protecting the most vulnerable by uprating disability benefits and the state pension in line with inflation or higher.

- We have increased taxes on the wealthy – lowering the 40% tax threshold; intoducing a new higher rate of stamp duty on expensive homes (something the Tories resisted strongly), and increasing inheritance tax to 28%.

- We have also increased the tax threshold for basic rate taxpayers to £9,440 making most taxpayers around £600 a year better off.

I hope this assures you that we are not standing idly by and just waving through draconian measures. If it weren’t for the Liberal Democrats, welfare recipients would have been much worse off.

With best wishes,

Don

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14 Comments for this entry

  • RevStu

    Terrific stuff. “Insidious” is exactly the right word for Foster’s reply.

    “We reduced the welfare cut from £10bn to £4bn” does sound like an achievement as the weeny partner in a coalition, until you remember that they could have voted no and stopped it altogether.

    And if it caused the coalition to collapse and an election to be called? The Tories are miles behind in the polls. If ever there was a time to hold an election it’s now.

    (Not that Labour are any sort of prize, but we could hope for a Lab-Lib coalition where Lib Dem influence might actually do something actively useful instead of just shaving off the very worst edges of Tory brutality.)

    I voted for Foster too, and I’m every bit as ashamed.

  • Paul Knights

    Personally I live in an area that is staunchly Tory, and therefore no surprise when the Tory MP acts as Tory.

    The betrayal by the parliamentary Liberal Democrats have been astonishing to behold. I left the party as the coalition was announced. No matter how they dress it up the fact is that the Libdem MPs saw the possibility of power (or coattails of it) and jumped at the chance, it was astonishing to behold.

    The parliamentary party is not the one I believed in, and it is amazing how many of the constituency members are blind to it.

  • Xercies

    That vote and then then two days later finding out most MPs want a pay rise made me the most sick of this government and well all politicians. It also basically made all the arguments they made about everyone getting cuts null and void ergh.

    I think they try to not get a break in the coalition because there not stupid, they know that after this governemnt the Lib Dems are gone, I mean they are getting beaten in polls by UKIP they just want to cling to power as many years as possible and tell lies to us to help the Tories for some reason.

  • Nick Mailer

    PUPIL PREMIUM PUPIL PREMIUM PUPIL PREMIUM PUPIILM PEREMIUM PUPIL PREMIUM PUPILM APOEIJ S

  • Joe

    The mention of disability benefits rising in line with inflation is a plain lie. Rise in ESA (work group) WILL be capped at 1% and only the additional element in ESA (Support Group) will rise for those in that group. This means that ALL disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance will receive LESS than inflation.

  • Steve Eustice

    @Xercies

    Whisper it quietly but the idea of giving MPs a pay rise, taken in conjunction with other sensible changes to expenses and allowances, is not the worst idea in the world. Paying MPs well, within reason, can only help to improve both their quality and the transparency of the system overall.

    @John

    In the lead up to the last election I came perilously close to joining the Lib Dems. I am now resigned to a life of frustrated impotence outside the party political system given that there is nowhere else worthwhile to go.

    That last sentence of Foster’s reply makes me properly angry given that it is plainly untrue. Claiming that without the Lib Dems we would be subjected to unadulterated Tory is a clear contradiction of the electoral maths that placed them in that position in the first place.

  • George

    But what about the urban gulls, John? WHAT ABOUT THE GULLS?

    Such a shame to see that he’s gone from the MP my parents used to complain about (“He’s so left-wing! Did you hear he wants to remove religious influence from state schools? Despicable!”) to the feeble Tory doormat he is now.

  • Xercies

    @Steve

    Its not that i have a problem with them getting better pay, in fact I think politicians do probably have the hardest jobs since they have to juggle so much and it takes a toll on them it seems. Its just the absolute disconnect, it kind of looked sociopathic. There they were just voting on how they nick poor peoples money from a flimsy argument and now there asking for more money! I would of at least expected a few months down the line.

  • Steve Eustice

    @Xercies

    It’s certainly baffling why politicians can be so inept of managing the actual “politics” of this kind of thing. That said, in this case I have a little sympathy as the news that they wanted a pay rise was released by IPSA after a month long anonymous survey so it’s not like they scheduled a parliamentary vote for the day after they cut benefits. It does seem that they have just suffered from an unfortunate coincidence (unless you think IPSA had it’s own agenda in releasing the information then and was actually playing the political game rather well).

  • RevStu

    “Paying MPs well, within reason, can only help to improve both their quality and the transparency of the system overall.”

    MPs are already paid obscenely well. If you’re talking about replacing their absurdly lavish expenses with transparent salary, fair enough. But the typical MP costs us somewhere in the region of £200,000 a year in salary and allowances (most of which cover things the rest of us have to pay for OUT OF our wages), and if you don’t consider that to be being “paid well” I can only assume you’re Wayne fucking Rooney.

  • Steve Eustice

    @RevStu

    Not sure why you seem to have ignored the part of my preceding sentence that rather answers your implied question – “taken in conjunction with other sensible changes to expenses and allowances”. It’s pretty clear that the current system is a load of old bobbins that leads to a total lack of transparency. There is a legitimate case for MPs being paid a reasonable level of expenses given the particular challenges of being dual-located. If you work for a big company and relocate or are required to work from multiple sites you would expect the same. However, it’s in everyone’s interests that these are kept totally separate from salary in a way they clearly haven’t been in the past.

  • Luke

    For those MPs choosing not to have their family home in London I do not see why parliament should buy some flats for them to live in. I wouldn’t even mind if they were serviced, had a gym, the whole shebang. Remove the need for reasonable expenses and don’t pay unreasonable ones.

    To John’s main point, I find this particularly galling when placed in combination with the cut in the top tax rate. If things are so bad why is this being allowed to drop now?

  • Hammy

    Revstu – just a point about MPs expenses – most of this goes on staff wages – my other half works for an MP (waiting for her to come home for her tea – she works long hours!) and her salary and that of her colleagues comes out of so called expenses. Think the terminology needs to change personally. I don’t pay for my staff at work out of expenses – no idea why we use that terminology. Not do I buy their pens computers etc – work pays for them. Not out of ‘expenses’

  • peaceand harmony1

    Posters in my window read

    1) Window Tax Abolished 1851 – Bedroom Tax Introduced 2013
    Con Foster out now!

    2) Con Foster – Robbing The Poor To Pay Shareholders More
    Toties and Liberal brown nose out NOW!

    3) “I gradually realised that whatever I happened to be speaking about, the number of voters in my favour dropped as soon as I opened my mouth.”

    Quote from Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative MP for North East Somerset

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Rees-Mogg