The end of the political career of Boris Johnson must surely be in sight. His words last week regarding Putin are so far off the mark that they would barely raise an embarrassed chuckle from the friends of an inebriated person in a pub or at a party attempting to make a comment about the current situation in Russia. However for a sober MP to make a public comment about the World Cup, comparing it to the Berlin Olympics and comparing Putin to Hitler in the light of the attack in Salisbury is deeply concerning. When the MP is a Government Minister and Foreign Secretary and refuses to retract his comments, the real risk to our nation is not based on who travels to Russia to watch a football tournament but on our Government losing credibility around the world for making such an appointment and failing to sack Johnson for his comment. On the theme of Russia and the recent attack in Salisbury, two Sussex MPs were signatories to an Early Day motion in December 2010 following the death of Sergei Magnitsky a year earlier. This called on the Government “to exclude from the UK and freeze assets of those Russian officials involved in Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest, torture and death and the US$230 million corruption he uncovered.” The request came in an attempt to deal with Russian finances in the same way as the Americans and Canadians had done. Peter Bottomley was co-sponsor of the EDM along with Jeremy Corbyn and Nicholas Soames also signed it. The tradition with EDMs is that they are signed by back benchers and not Ministers and at that time half of the 16 Sussex MPs were Ministers so although the motion was only signed by 21 MPs across Parliament, Sussex was well represented in that cohort. As the criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn emerged following the attacks on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, I did not hear any references to this motion which if it had been adopted by the coalition Government would have potentially dealt with some of the powers in Russia in a way that could have led to changes in the way in which our nation is viewed by Putin. The fact that Jeremy and Peter were sponsors should have deflected some of the comments towards Jeremy from the Tory Party which was in control of the coalition, although as has been widely reported the Party is in receipt of many thousands of pounds from such sources so perhaps they lack the guts to look one of their many gift horses in the mouth.
Early Day Motions are only one way of persuading Governments to respond to ideas and views from people across the nation. I have contacted the MPs for my constituency in the past to ask them to sign such documents, they rarely lead to any action by the Government of the day, however they do at least create a chance for some consideration to be given to the issues behind them. Another mechanism which is open to all of us is the e-petitions which were introduced by the same coalition that ignored Corbyn and Bottomleys EDM. The intention was to try to “build bridges between people and Parliament” and it was also an attempt to get people like us to engage with Parliamentary matters following the reaction by people to the expenses scandal. I have set up a couple of petitions in recent years and neither has got close to the 10,000 signatures needed for the Parliamentary system to acknowledge their existence. There is one on the system at the moment which was started by Rebecca Ramsay. It is petition number 213172 and it was started in response to the death of her 13 year old son. The petition calls on the Government to teach water safety and drowning prevention along with the effects of cold water in schools. It states “In 2016 we saw the launch of the first ever water safety strategy in the UK which aims to reduce water related fatalities by 50% by 2026. Collaboration, awareness, education and prevention are the main focuses.” Whilst there is no reason for Parliament to acknowledge this petition yet as there has only been 1,429 signatures (at time of writing this piece), there is nothing to stop Sussex MPs, all of whom have constituencies that include open water to create an EDM to run in parallel with this petition. The numbers of young people who have drowned on the Sussex coast, particularly after time spent enjoying our nightlife venues is surely sufficient reason for this proposal by Rebecca Ramsay to be considered by Parliament and acknowledged by Nick Gibbs who is Schools Minister and MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton!