Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

MP’s expenses: the other scandal

Posted in Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on May 15, 2009

A brief foray into the (now) seedy world of politics…but from a media point of view of course.

It’s fantastically scandalous isn’t it. Whether they meant to break the rules or not, it seems Britain’s elected representatives have spent quite a bit of time making sure they can get every penny from the tax payer possible; even if that has taken quite a lot of effort and thought.

“Is it possible to claim this portico back?” “Why not, it’s being repaired right?”

“16p for a lemon. Can I get that back too?”

And as for Elliot Morley, the mere suggestion it is possible to forget the end of your mortgage bill is ludicrous. For most human beings the final mortgage payment is serious party time. Especially if it’s costing £800 a month. Take our money, Mr. Morley, and try and take us for a ride, why don’t you.

So yes, I definitely put myself into the rather large camp of people pretty damn angry about our politicians’ behaviour.

But that’s only part of the reason I’m angry.

As a journalist, what makes my blood boil, is the sheer lack of accountability of these conmen and women. Let’s be straight: when you are elected by the public, and paid by them, you are 100% accountable to them. And even more so when you’ve been caught with your hand in their cookie jar.

So why have all these MPs been so hard to get hold of?

Friday: and John Prescott’s office never answered the phone. He also didn’t release a statement. For a man so tech savvy, his v-blog was decidedly unupdated.

Monday: and I was on the phone to David Davis’ office. “Oh he’s told me he isn’t going to hide away” his assistant Andrew assured me, “he’ll speak to you.” Several more calls and more answerphone messages later, and we still haven’t spoken to him.

Thursday: Elliot Morley’s office couldn’t even tell us where he was. “Somewhere in London,” they said, “we’re not sure where.” End of play Thursday and we hadn’t heard from the man himself. Friday morning and we decided to call his house. Amazingly he answered.

You can hear what happened by clicking here.

For 38 seconds, Elliot Morley was being held accountable to the public, through the media. But he even dodged our reporter Katie Hall‘s questions under the thin veil of legal advice.

Yes, they’ve released statements, and yes they’ve responded to the Daily Telegraph. But that isn’t being directly accountable to the people who put them there and the people who pay them.

When you’re elected by, and paid for by, the public you answer every question, from every media organisation.

If there was going to be a party for fraudulent politicians, chances are it would be held somewhere near Yorkshire, as its where a lot of them are. John Prescott, David Davis, James Clappison, Elliot Morley, Douglas HoggAustin Mitchell, Caroline Flint,  and now Shahid Malik. Now four of these are supposed to represent the Viking FM’s listeners.

One week since the first allegations were published and they haven’t had their questions answered.

And the disclaimer:

All the views expressed in this blog are my own, only, and do not represent those of my employer!

It’s never dull in Hull

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2008

Another year in radio news comes and goes. And that can only mean it’s time for another review of the year!

My three part special for Touch Radio in 2007 went down a treat; this year it’s one 10 minute long extravaganza, featuring Bob Geldof, David Davis, Alphabeat and Leon Jackson!

If you wanna know what we get up to in Hull, check it out.

Click here to listen.

It’ll be available for download on Viking FM next week.

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The people who refuse to get screwed by the system

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 14, 2008

For anyone who doesn’t know I recently moved ‘up north’ to start a new job, working in Hull. So far, so good, and already it’s proving eventful and interesting. Two experiences in the last week have got me thinking about the state of modern Britain, and what appears to be our rapidly deminishing rights and freedoms.

In the dog house

On Monday, I was sent a report from a freelance court reporter in Hull about a case which had just been thrown out of the courts. 57 year old John Hirst, from Hull, an ex-prisoner,  prison reform lawyer – and well known blogger – had been hauled before the judges after his dog was accused of biting a park warden.

When John appeared in court, the prosecution were able to offer no evidence and the judge duly threw out the case.

But not before John had been arrested and questioned. And not before it cost the taxpayer a rather large amount of money (John told me he reckons it’s about £20,000).

Speaking to John on the phone he was “livid” about what had happened and how the case had been allowed to have gotten so far. If it had gone as far as a trial, then it would have cost even more. But there are some other things that worry me about the story.

First up is the supposedly heavy handed response from the authorities. John told me six police officers came to his house after the complaint was made, handcuffed him and took him to a police station. His dog, Rocky, was separated from him and kept at the police station. What defence does any citizen have when this kind of thing happens?

Luckily the justice system came through, but there’s another worry too.

John called me again later in the week, concerned there had been no response from the authorities. True, Hull City Council had refused to comment, saying the police led the prosecution. So I want to find out what the police files on this say, but doing a bit of reading up this weekend it’s not looking promising.

Heather Brooke, the well known journalist and freedom of information campaigner, says Britain’s supposedly “open” legal system is the opposite. Trying to get access to what should be public files is near impossible. Still I won’t let that stop me trying. Let’s see if the FOI Act can uncover more…

Your invite’s in the post

Less than 24 hours later I found myself in Hedon, a small village outside Hull. Today though it was hosting some big(ish) political names. Namely the Environment Secretary Hillary Benn, and local MPs Graham Stuart and David Davis.

Mr Benn had been invited up to talk flooding, and specifically why the EA wants to flood acres of farmland instead of paying for flood defences. We, the assembled media, were there too, hoping to get a soundbite off the Minister.

Waiting outside Hedon’s small town hall, I was approached by a man called Simon Taylor. He lives on a small piece of reclaimed land called Sunk Island. He, along with 800 others were probably going to loose their homes to the Humber River within the next 20 years. That almost certainty meant they couldn’t sell their homes, and are going to have to stay to watch it happen.

A charming and polite man, tall with a bristly moustache, Simon was angry because he was standing outside the meeting, and not in it. The hour long coflab, involved the three politicians, local councillors and a select group of farmers. But the ordinary people hadn’t been invited along. “I’m going to lose my home, and I haven’t got a voice,” he told me.

I chatted to Simon and interviewed him about his worries. But later on he did something which few people would bother to do, or be brave enough to do.

Sure enough, Hillary Benn emerged to give a brief statement to the press before speeding off to his next gig. That left Stuart and Davis left to show off about how they’d got a government bigwig to come all the way up to Hull. But their words were interrupted when to my left, a voice raised above theirs and said “excuse me, why wasn’t anyone invited. We’re going to lose our homes – I think we would have liked to have had a word with the minister.” Like the fiercest of political reporters Simon pressed the question and wouldn’t let it go.

Flustered, Graham Stuart admitted it was a problem of space rather than anything else, and promised a public meeting was going to be held next month. But will Hillary Benn be there? Who knows.

But Simon’s stand is important: denied a voice by modern democracy he persisted and fought to get an explanation. Without him there, the politicians and the media would have skimmed over Sunk Island, and the 800 people would certainly have lost their voice.

Two people then, screwed by the system, and who fought it – and arguably won. In the space of two days. In one city. How many more cases like this are there? And how many don’t get heard?

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