Did Chris Mullen give Dave the idea of scapping ministerial cars?

Chris Mullen

Who give Dave the idea of scapping ministerial cars? Why no-one but that wonderful campaigning MP, Chris Mullen.

In the Guardian today there’s a marvelous account of the twists and turns that Mullin had to perform to dispense with his own Ministerial car when – in 1999 – he was appointed a JUNIOR Minister in the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions

His diary entry for 29 July 1999 in his memoirs, A View from The Foothills explains:

“I am entitled to a car and a driver. Entirely pointless since the 159 and 3 buses will continue to run past my door, even though I am a minister. Jessica [his private secretary], who cycles in from Brixton, was sympathetic but explained that the situation is a little more complicated than I might suppose. For a start, red boxes cannot be transported by public transport.

“She also explained that the funding of the government car pool is geared to encourage maximum use of the car. The drivers are on a low basic wage and are heavily dependent on overtime. So, if I accept a driver, he will be hanging around all day doing nothing and hating me for not giving him enough to do.”

Mullin found that he would need to give three months’ notice to terminate the use of his official car. If the car had to be sold a payment for “unrecovered depreciation” amounting to £4,400 would have to be made.

His department was charged £864 a week for the car and driver, excluding overtime, regardless of how much the car was used. A pool car would cost £704.75 a week.

The chief executive of the GCS sympathised with Mullin but told him that the drivers were “heavily unionised”. Even then officials demanded the £4,000 in depreciation. They eventually backed down when Mullin threatened the officials with an appeal to the chief executive.

The eventual Mullin victory prompted Cameron to say this in a speech last September on cutting the cost of politics:

“If there is something that really annoys people it’s seeing politicians swanning around in chauffeur-driven cars like they’re the royal family. It’s actually not as simple as that. There are times when having a car to hand which gets a minister to a certain place on time is absolutely vital to our democratic process – for example, to make a vote in the House of Commons, or to meet a foreign dignitary or open a school.

“But there is no need for 171 of these cars to be on hand for every government minister, whip – and indeed, myself. In these economic times, when everyone is making their own sacrifice, this number cannot be justified. So the Conservatives will cut the budget for official government cars by a third. If that means fewer cars – and ministers using them more efficiently – then so be it.”


Goodbye Chris…and thanks

Today’s Guardian carries Chris Mullen’s valedictory speech given in the Common’s last night.

I’ve long been an admirer of this cusading socialist MP – not only for his sterling work in helping secure the freedom for The Birmingham Six

but also his novel [and a subsequent TV screening, with substantial alterations to the plot by Alan Plater], A Very British Coup.

And note to self: must buy and read his latest publication, A View from the Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullen. A fascinating read for sure., as some of these extracts from the Guardian earlier this month show.