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Live chat with Derek Wyatt MP
Labour MP Derek Wyatt takes time out of his busy schedule to answer your questions on party donations, voting for the first time, electoral reform and how he feels as he steps down.
I'm With Stupid: With the election coming up, there has been a lot of focus on party donations. Do you believe that in future, donations to political parties should be capped or election campaigns publicly funded, to avoid commercial interests influencing policy?
Derek: Good question. After the publicity given to Lord Ashcroft recently I think it's morally wrong rich people should spend as much as £25k in a marginal constituency to influence a vote. I think there are two solutions.
One is that each year every MP has to declare what has been spent in their constituency. If it's more than £1,000 a year then they would have to stand down. Or, we look more actively at the state paying for some aspect of a General Election but I'm not yet convinced of this argument.
Teagan: What practical advice would you give to whomever takes over your seat in the upcoming election, regardless of political persuasion, to be a successful politician?
Derek: Well, I worked at Sky TV before 1997, where even when I was on holiday I'd receive 30 or 40 page contracts to deal with straight away. The great shock is that when you're an MP you give up your complete privacy, work 80 -100 hours, work three nights a week and find that even on Valentine's Day people will come across to you in a restaurant to ask for help. You really have no time of your own.
Whoever wins - I hope it's Angela Harrison - it will be the travelling, the 500 emails a day, six or seven meetings a day, the lobbying for your constituency that comes on top of committee work, that's what they'll need to know about. And, at the end of 13 years, still only a third of the electorate know who their MP is!
Teagan: Do you think party politics is one of the causes of the apathy amongst people not willing to come out and vote?
Derek: Hard question! There's a combination of factors, but I think politicians are always behind the curve, never in front. We have a civil service, which is risk averse - I would follow the example of America and France and I would make all the senior positions in the civil service political.
Secondly, I would make voting compulsory. And thirdly, I would make it so that there's a pattern to the election - that they happened on the same day every four years, preferably at weekends, not at the whim of the Prime Minister.
I'm With Stupid: There's a lot of talk about electoral reform, possibly proportional representation or single transferable vote, as well as reforming the Lords. Which system would you favour, or which country's political system would you most like to emulate?
Derek: Like all good politicians I'm not going to answer that question! But I would suggest a solution. We need four lower parliaments - Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. We need to bind the four lower parliaments of the UK into a new Upper House, which we call the House of Representatives and we might decide that this would be responsible for some parts of the economy, some parts of taxation, all of foreign policy and environmental policy.
The national parliament could have the rest of government - housing, transport etc. That would be much fairer all round. The single vote is not a long-term solution to the issues facing us.
Teagan: What voting decision are you most proud of?
Derek: The one that sticks in my mind is when I voted for the two amendments against the war in Iraq. In hindsight, this was the right decision and now the country wonders why we went to war at a huge cost. Although we lost that vote, we also lost the other one I'm pleased with - to abolish the House of Lords - we lost that too.
Teagan: Were you overly idealistic in what you were hoping to achieve when you joined parliament - and do you feel any cynicism now, at the tail end of your political career?
Derek: Another good question! I came in with open eyes like most - you think you'll be able to change that little bit of the world and I think I've done that. I'm not a cynical person, but I'm disappointed with the way Parliament works and I no longer feel it's as relevant as it thinks it is.
Flashmans Ghost: Have you ever felt the urge to pee in David Cameron's Rice Krispie's?
Derek: Hahaha, no never.
Flashmans Ghost: Are the Liberal Democrats really as useless and wishy-washy as they appear?
Derek: Well it's hard to be objective as a Labour MP. One problem is they say one thing to one side of the road and then another to other people. They don't have a consistent philosophy. They have a record number of MPs though, so it will be a test this election to see if they hold their seats and whether Clegg has changed the party enough for it to not be seen as an electoral liability.
I'm With Stupid: Could not having a consistent philosophy be a strength in a way though?
"I think if you take a step back, the problem is that what we're offering in secondary education is simply not relevant to the world anymore. I would radically restructure what we offer students."
Derek: No, I think what people like is to know what you stand for even if they don't agree with you - that's what's important and why people belong to either one party or the other. The one thing that makes me proud to be a Labour MP is that we have a strong core in social justice, not just in the UK, but the rest of the world as well.
One thing that's different this time is the election debate. There's an opportunity for Clegg to look as good as Cameron and Brown, which is a first.
ADWS: What do you think about youth unemployment and the hard time young people have getting jobs nowadays? Do you think apprenticeships should be brought back in - more of the modern apprenticeship schemes? On the radio the Government advertisements say companies are fighting for young people to go on their apprenticeships but I know before I got on one it was quite difficult to find any sort of job as a 16 or 17 year old.
Derek: First of all, the apprenticeship schemes have been successful and of course we need more but they're relatively new so it takes a while to bed in. I know from personal experience people are enjoying them though.
I think if you take a step back, the problem is that what we're offering in secondary education is simply not relevant to the world anymore. I would radically restructure what we offer students. It would take at least two books for me to tell you how I'd do it!
ADWS: Hehe, I agree about secondary education!
pad: What would you say to encourage people to vote at the coming general election - especially those who'll be voting for the first time?
Derek: We're the oldest democracy and it's a gift that our forefathers have fought for in a civil war in the 17th century and we can take it for granted or we can value it. Democracy is only as strong as the people who value it.
Teagan: Ben Bradshaw once stated that, as an MP, he had to make decisions (i.e. he towed the party line) even if the decisions were unpopular with his constituents (e.g. supporting the war in Iraq). I believe that, in a democracy, a politician should be prepared to back his constituents and make decisions that are unpopular with the party. What is most important to you? Loyalty to your constituents or to the political party for whom you stand?
Derek: Well we're elected as members of Parliament to represent the voters. We're not delegated by the voters to vote the way they'd like us to vote for them and I was elected as a Labour MP to more or less follow the manifesto that was published. So, of course I'm loyal to that manifesto. However, I don't see why it's impossible for voters to be politically active between elections.
For instance, if a petition was raised with 250,000 signatures and we could verify the signatures and addresses, then I think there could be a referendum on whatever that petition was about (that's what I mean about Parliament being behind the curve).
I'm With Stupid: Does it disappoint you to see the BNP gaining popularity in traditional Labour heartlands?
Derek: They seem to be gaining popularity across the board, which is very, very disappointing; and to some extent we only have ourselves to blame. Neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party have handled the issue of immigration with sufficient care and attention.
ADWS: Do you think the BNP gains are because of politicians not engaging young people who want something to be part of? Do you think that's a part of a lot of the problems in the country - that young people are struggling to find something to be part of?
Derek: No I don't. I think there's an underlying concern by blue-collar workers, largely white, who are apprehensive about how they see their country. The idea we can live on an island without connections to Europe or the wider world is nonsense. We live in a global environment and we need to compete in one. Whatever someones colour or race is in the UK they are British.
Thanks for all your questions everyone, unfortunately I have to be somewhere else now! You can contact me via iPhone if you have one - there's an app called MyMP. I'm also happy for people to email me directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do ask me questions via email then it would be great to know your name and that you came through TheSite.org and perhaps share my answer on the discussion boards with others.
I'm With Stupid: Bye, thanks again Derek.
ADWS: Bye :) Thanks for coming on. Its really brave to put yourself forward in my opinion. Thanks for answering my questions.
Jo7: Thanks for your time Derek; we got through plenty of questions. You can find our more about Derek Wyatt on his website, www.derekwyatt.co.uk. He is also currently involved in the Savvy Citizens Campaign a campaign about education, the value of information and how we access, use and manage it.