Must admit that I'm feeling a bit naggy. Here I am, confined to Westminster at approaching 5.00 on a Thursday afternoon, subject to a 3-line whip on the Finance Bill. Been here since 2.00 Monday. And just been given a copy of an article written by the former MP for Montgomeryshire in my local County Times, accusing me of not 'pulling my weight' - at least of not being prepared to travel to a public meeting at Llanidloes last night. Normally, I try to ignore this sort of petty sniping, but this is just too sly and devious to ignore.
The truth of the matter is that when Lembit Opik was MP for Montgomeryshire, his actual presence in the House made little difference. He could come and go as he pleased. I well recall him just driving off and missing a hugely important vote on Post Office closures, while campaigning vociferously at a local level - ignoring the job he was elected to do. No-one at Westminster seemed to care. As a member of the governing party, I cannot leave the House without permission from the whips. A Government cannot lose it's business. The former MP knows this only too well. He will have known that I could not travel to Montgomeryshire last night. The whip was lifted at 7.00. His article is a disgrace. Truth is, I was very keen to travel to Llanidloes last night, and have maintained a close interest in what was said there - by telephone and email. Also I will be going home later tonight, so that I can speak at a Newtown School at 9.00 in the morning, and travelling back to Westminster at midday tomorrow. My commitment to the job is total.
The former MP was up to the same tricks in his County Times 'column' last week. He referred to his having a very late night conversation with me in a House of Commons bar. Reason I know about this is that several of my friends mentioned it to me, assuming that I was 'enjoying' myself in what they thought was an inappropriate way. That may well have been the underlying intention behind the article. Now lets look at what actually happened. The Opposition had decided to continue a debate on the Finance Bill into the middle of the night (entirely within its right), and all Government MPs had no choice but to stay for the votes. No MP was happy about it - but it was our job. Its the rough end of what we're paid for - hanging around until after 2.00 in the morning waiting for a vote to be called. Nothing wrong with a glass of wine while you wait, but so happens that I was not drinking at all - because I'm currently on a 6 week course of medication. Anyway, for some unexplained reason, Lembit Opik 'appeared' from somewhere at around 1.00 in the morning. I exchanged the briefest of pleasantries with him and his companion before moving off to 'hang around' somewhere else.
I fully accept that the former MP can adopt a policy of trying to undermine his successor - if he hasn't got anything better to do with his time. The one issue that does concern me is that my local weekly newspaper allows disingenuous comments about me to be made on a weekly basis, without giving me the opportunity to challenge what's written. If this carries on, we could be heading for a bit of a rumpus. Perhaps I should call a local press conference next week to get a few things straight.