>The truth about Bob Russell, by someone who knows more than the Daily Mail.

>Chris Butler is Agent to Bob Russell MP. Here he exclusively sets the record straight on Bob’s stance on the coalition, housing benefit, and what really happened with that door.

One of the more frustrating parts of my jobs is picking up a newspaper and reading articles which are completely fabricated, but somehow manage to make it into print anyway.

Earlier in the summer, I was hounded by journalists seeking to know if Bob Russell was going to join the Labour Party. I even read that Bob had informed his staff (which includes me,) that he was about to defect, which I was only alerted to after several friends contacted me to find out if I was planning to go with him…

The journalists who reported this had obviously failed to check their history books. Bob defected from the Labour Party to the SDP in 1982, after disagreeing with the Labour Party’s opposition to ‘Right to Buy’, and after militant elements had tried to deselect him when he was Labour’s Group Leader on Colchester Borough Council. There is 0% chance he would ever go back.

This weekend I read that Bob had broken a door when storming out of a meeting with Nick Clegg.

The story was a complete fabrication from start to finish. There was a different meeting where Bob had a disagreement with the Chairman, who accused Bob of using the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ when he had actually referred to ‘economic cleansing’ in a debate on housing benefit. Bob then rushed out of the room to take a phone call from a journalist – but didn’t break any doors! Someone in Westminster obviously started a rumour to undermine the coalition, which managed to find its way into the Daily Mail, despite the fact that the story was merely wild gossip.

It is no secret that Bob disagrees with the coalition line on housing benefit, but he is not a man of violent temperament and not someone deliberately seeking to cause trouble. Instead he is sticking to his principles where they disagree with the coalition line.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons Bob fell out with the Labour Party was over their opposition to ‘Right to Buy’. It is important to note that he is not some old-fashioned socialist, but has always taken a keen interest in affordable housing and child poverty. Indeed, if you look at Bob’s speeches and press releases he consistently criticises the Labour Party for failing to tackle child poverty, and allowing the gap between the rich and poor to widen when in government.

Bob’s concern over the proposed reforms to housing benefit is that while to many the amount of money some families claim on housing benefit seems excessive, the proposed cap will have several consequences that are not in anyone’s interests.

  • If families are forced to move out of central London, they may face a longer, more expensive commute into work. 
  • People working as security guards, cleaners, or nurses who work unsociable shifts may have difficulty getting into work for early morning starts before public transport starts running if they are forced to move miles away. If they are forced to give up their jobs, they may then face trouble claiming benefits if it is seen that they ‘voluntarily’ gave up work, when the truth is they just couldn’t get there. 
  • Children’s education will be affected as they will be forced to move schools.
  • Low income families receiving less support from the state will have to cut down on spending, which will not help the economy grow. 

The best way to tackle high rents for those on housing benefit is to build more social housing, increasing the supply will always bring prices down. Bob welcomes that more money is being invested in building social houses, but sees this as the most efficient way of reducing the housing benefit bill, not cutting payments to low income families.

By speaking out on this subject, Bob is sticking to his principles, and forcing the government to look again at the consequences of their proposals. There are many Liberal Democrats who, whilst grateful for what the party has got out of the coalition, are unsure about some of the policies coming from the government. With the Labour Party proving so ineffective in opposition, it is good that there are some Liberal Democrat MPs questioning the government’s actions rather than simply falling into line. Good governance requires proper scrutiny, and I am pleased that Bob and other Liberal Democrat MPs are providing that.

by Chris Butler

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