It’s good to be back in Parliament and to be contributing again to my regular column. Those eagle eyed readers may have noticed that I did not feature in May’s edition. The reason is that it was the General Election. My absence may sit uneasily for those of you who think you only see or hear from politicians just before election time!
However the good and legal reason is that in the month before elections certain rules apply to ensure that there is a fair playing field between the candidates. This means that the media has to give equal air time and news print to different candidates. There is also the pre-election period called ‘purdah”.
I am not talking about the other meaning of purdah as a religious and social practice of seclusion. But rather the time period which prevents central and local government from making announcements about any new or controversial government initiatives, which could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election. The reason purdah is on my mind is that we have an historic election campaign coming up. Not so much the London Mayor election next year but the referendum on our membership of the EU. The Bill to make this happen by 2017 passed its first hurdle in the Commons with a thumping majority of close to 500 MPs.
I have been an advocate of an EU Referendum for many years and want to ensure that the referendum has integrity and confidence. That is why I helped table amendments to keep the purdah restrictions in place to prevent the Government and the EU from being tempted to use their influence and taxpayers money to support one side if the argument.
The decision to stay or go is a huge one that will affect future generations. This is one reason why some MPs want to extend the franchise for voting to 16 and 17 year olds. I am not persuaded even though I have three 16 and 17 year olds in my family who I am sure would value taking part. I would be interested in hearing your views.
On the issue of membership of the EU my view is that it needs fundamental reform if we are to stay in. The EU needs to get back to its original intention of an economic union not a political one. There are significant economic benefits of the single market but we have lost too much control of areas like immigration. If the Prime Minister’s renegotiations are not able to achieve the fundamental reforms then I will campaign to get out of the EU. However the great thing about the EU Referendum Bill going through Parliament is that it will be the public not politicians that decide. MPs just need to make sure the campaign is a fair one.
David Burrowes MP