Comment: Why we'll always be a watchdog, not a lapdog

One has to laud the Herts Advertiser for taking such a brave stance.

When it emerged in 2009 the taxpayer was helping already amply-remunerated MPs pay off mortgages for second homes, it provoked public revulsion.

And on the evidence of the reader emails sent to the St Albans and Harpenden Review newsdesk following last week’s front page on the city’s MP Anne Main’s mortgage claims, that anger endures.

Yet Herts Ad editor Matt Adams last week courageously shunned the populist stance on the issue and defended the MP’s right to use taxpayer’s money to pay her mortgage interest.

Anne Main was merely "claiming what she is due for representing the city", he wrote. In this case more than £7,500 for mortgage interest between May 2010 and January 2011. This was on top of her £66,396 basic salary.

Questioning this paper’s report on the mortgage claims, Mr Adams added: "It is almost as if she is not entitled to any money for doing the job for which she has been elected for the past two Parliamentary terms".

He issued this clarion defence at a time when the overwhelming majority of the Fourth Estate has lined up on the side of taxpayers and condemned the use of public subsidies to help MPs build up their property portfolios.

But maybe taxpayers are being overly austere with their political representatives.

At a time when the public purse cannot stretch to fund expensive cancer drugs or military aircraft carriers (which we may have to start borrowing from the French), why should it not help those already paid more than twice the national average salary with mortgages on their second properties?

Perhaps because thousands of people in St Albans, many on lower salaries than Mrs Main, manage to commute to jobs in London without taxpayer assistance.

They are ostensibly forced to undertake the onerous commute out of the necessity to pay their bills and mortgages - including the interest.

Some MPs have a more valid claim for needing accommodation in their constituency as well as London.

Those representing places outside of commuting distance from Westminster such as Carlisle or Aberdeen spring to mind.

Surely these arrangements should be rental as it is grossly unfair for the taxpayers to give MPs a leg further up the property ladder when so many cannot even make it onto the first rung.

In his paper, Mr Adams also praised Mrs Main for her efforts highlighting potential ministerial lobbying breaches around the proposed Park Street rail freight terminal.

Possibly he learned of this from the St Albans Review website, which published the story before his paper.

Apparently this negates the need to report on how much taxpayers are subsidising the MP’s lifestyle.

Mrs Main does not like papers reporting her expenses.

She cut contact with this paper after taking umbrage at its coverage of her claims when the scandal broke in 2009.

However, at this paper we refuse to allow heavy-handed tactics alter our coverage of issues that are in the public interest.

Engaging in media spats is unseemly and not something we enjoy doing.

But when our journalism is traduced by another outlet, we do feel the need to respond. As the St Albans Review marks its 40th anniversary, we still strive to ensure it is a watchdog for our readers, not a lapdog to those in positions of influence.

And we’ll continue to take the same approach, whether reporting on the city’s MP or, say, a reality TV cupcake saleswoman.

Comments (1)

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11:13am Thu 26 Sep 13

fight rates says...

Keep up the reporting. You are one of the few publications that will publish stories that others will not. Where others are very selective in publishing articles that may jeopardize their council & government advertising revenues, you are not. The freedom of our press is a corner stone of our democracy & should not be controlled by our political elite.
Keep up the reporting. You are one of the few publications that will publish stories that others will not. Where others are very selective in publishing articles that may jeopardize their council & government advertising revenues, you are not. The freedom of our press is a corner stone of our democracy & should not be controlled by our political elite. fight rates
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