While empathy is due to anyone who is working hard and struggling, MP George Freeman’s pleading poverty as reason to resign his ministerial post has rightly been much discussed, but one very revealing commentary requires unpacking.

Chairman of Mid Norfolk Conservative Party, Cllr Bill Borrett, defended Mr Freeman and said he had the association’s full support, adding: “An MP telling the truth is always unusual. I think it’s an endearing quality, to be honest. People will like that, won’t they?” he said.  

People don’t just like it when their MPs tell the truth, they have the right to expect honesty in all their elected representatives all of the time. MP Watch exists to empower people at constituency level to hold their MPs accountable for their actions.

 It started with Steve Baker Watch, as citizens were appalled that their MP’s was a director of the climate denying, fossil fuel-funded lobby group that calls itself a think tank. It is a dynamic and growing movement for active citizen scrutiny, with more than 40 such groups around the UK.  

MPs are subject to many influences, of which the most important should be the people they are elected to represent.

Backbenchers like Mr Freeman can earn significantly more than the £32k ministerial addition from outside work, which is implied but not quite spelt out in the reason he gave  for his resignation.  Cabinet members have to wait until they leave the Cabinet. Lobbyists are willing to pay good money for access to ministers, legislation passed, oil and gas licences granted, for example. 

Therefore people need to know who is paying their MP,  for what, and in whose interests.  They all have a register of interests,  and their voting records can be found if you know where to look. 

Theyworkforyou.org is a good place to start, and much simpler than Parliament’s own website.

If all MPs knew that their voters not only care what they say, but can see what they do and and commend or call them out, we might have avoided many of the emissions that have taken us over 1.5 degrees of climate heating, and the impoverishment of so many of our neighbours.  
Constituents pay a high price for flawed representation, for example several Norfolk MPs have consistently voted against climate action that would reduce flooding, and against government funding for council services that we rely on. 

Cllr Borrett is also Norfolk’s Cabinet member for Public Health and Wellbeing, Chair of the Public Health and Wellbeing Board, and Chair of  the Integrated Care Partnership.   

His statement about honesty being unusual begs the question of integrity in the County Council  too. I doubt that Cllr Borrett imagines politicians suddenly becoming dishonest on election to Parliament. Can he and his colleagues be trusted to tell the truth on anything? 

I would urge anyone in who wants to hold their MP to higher standards to take a look at the work of MP Watch at www.mpwatch.org  

There is a Norfolk MP Watch hub (norfolkmpwatch@gmail.com) set up to bring people together to scrutinise their MPs work and act as the critical friend in encouraging good practice, and demanding a standard of decision-making that is fit for the existential challenges of our times.  

Lesley Grahame is a member of the Green Party