At the foot of the 129 stairs that lead from the ground floor of the House of Commons right up to my little office in the attic, there is a bronze bust of Oliver Cromwell. On Monday, someone turned him round to face the wall. In 1647 Parliament, on the instructions of the “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, decreed that Christmas should be abolished. The Puritans were incensed that anyone should celebrate a religious festival by enjoying themselves.
On Christmas Day I – like most people in Ipswich – will have a very merry day and probably eat and drink rather more than is strictly good for me. I understand the moral outrage that the 17th Century Puritans had over the Court of Charles 1st flaunting their wealth at the expense of the vast majority of struggling people. And it is certainly true today that there will be some people in Ipswich who will not have a particularly merry Christmas, struggling in a single room in a “bed and breakfast” hostel or even sleeping rough. But that is not a good reason for being miserable ourselves. Joy and merriment are gifts to be relished, and if we don’t know how to be happy we are unlikely to make anyone else happy either.
Enjoying life and caring for others are not incompatible. People who spend most of their time and money trying to please themselves probably enjoy life far less than those who look out for others. Every Christmas, people’s generosity rises as they try to help others as well as making a great festival for themselves and their families. If you see people begging please do not give them money – there is a very real danger that that money will feed a drug or alcohol habit. The best way to help homeless people in Ipswich is to donate to the www.helpthehomeless.co.uk campaign – either go to the website, or donate at any of the collection boxes in the Town Centre – including the Library in Northgate Street and Isaacs on the Waterfront. All the money will go towards making sure there are beds for the night and warm food and clothes and a foodbank – things that will actually make lives better for the homeless.
But making other people’s lives better is not just about charity. It is also about all of us contributing to a society that works for everyone. It is about making the right choices in our jobs. It is about paying our taxes. It is about being good neighbours.
As you might guess, I am very adequately paid as your Member of Parliament. Like all public servants, my salary is paid out of your taxes. In our Manifesto this year, Labour promised to increase taxes for those paid over £80,000 per year. There would have been no increase for those earning less than £80,000, but for those who are lucky enough to be paid far more than most of the rest of us, I think it is entirely right that they should contribute more towards a society that is so good to them. My allowance is actually less than £80,000 so I wouldn’t have faced any increase in tax under a Labour Government, but I am sufficiently well paid that I think I ought to be able to contribute more, so I will be putting aside £300 per month from my personal account to support good causes here in Ipswich. As a first payment of that commitment, I have today made a £1,500 donation to the Suffolk Law Centre, which I wrote about in October. If anyone else is thinking of making a sizeable donation you can contact them through www.facebook.com/SuffolkLawCentreSteering – they have already raised nearly £9,000 and they need another £30,000 to make sure that everyone in Suffolk can access justice, whether they are wealthy or not.
I think Ipswich residents have a right to know how much their MP is paid and what he is doing with that money. That is why I will publish an account of my personal allowances as well as of my parliamentary expenses on my website which I intend to launch in the first week in January. I apologise that it has taken so long – I have been doing other things – but I know that the residents of Ipswich need to be able to see what their MP is doing on their behalf, and from January onwards you will.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a really great New Year!