Simon Hart MP is the former Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance. To be fair, he was probably the best CEO they ever had, or are ever likely to have, but that doesn’t mean he is in my ‘Top 10 blokes of 2015’.
In an organ that I rarely even see, let alone read, it is revealed (allegedly) that the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire has had a pay rise from the Countryside Alliance. Instead of getting £20,000pa for 6 hours a week he now receives £30,000pa for 8 hours a week. It is difficult to believe that his constituents are not thrilled by this.
Mr Hart is a non-rebellious Tory who has voted against measures that will tackle climate change, for culling of badgers, for flogging off our forests and for measures that will further hobble charities’ campaigning activities. He seems keener on the rights of smokers than gays.
No doubt those readers of this blog who are Mr Hart’s constituents will simply be thrilled that Mr Hart has the time to represent their interests and those of the Countryside Alliance. Might this lead to a conflict of interest at times?
The Countryside Alliance has called for the BBC to sack the Birdwatch readers’ Conservation Hero of 2015 and 2014 , and BBC Wildlife Magazine’s #2 in their power list, Chris Packham. Is it possible that the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire has written to the BBC asking, as has the Countryside Alliance, for Chris P to be sacked?
I thought that this might be the sort of thing that might happen so I asked the BBC (in late September) whether they had had any letters from any MPs about Chris Packaham, and if so, how many, and if so, was Simon Hart one of the MPs who wrote. When the BBC replied in October they told me they wouldn’t tell me so I could complain to the Information Commissioner if I wanted to. I did want to, so I did. The reply from the Information Commissioner in late November was that the BBC didn’t have to tell me but that I could press the point – so the point is being pressed.
It seems to me that it is certainly not a matter of journalism to refuse to answer whether any MPs, influential figures in society, have put pressure on the BBC to sack a freelance presenter because of his views. If any MPs have written to the BBC on this matter, on House of Commons headed paper or using their position as an MP, then I believe it is absolutely in the public interest that the constituents of those MPs should know this and that it should be known by the general public too.
I don’t know whether Simon Hart has written to the BBC, but my antennae were twitching, and if any MPs have written to the BBC having a go at Chris Packham then I’d say that Simon Hart MP, part time consultant for the Countryside Alliance, would be a short-priced runner in this race rather than a long shot. Of course, if the BBC had told me that no MPs had written to them on this subject then such speculation would be inappropriate. But if it is to remain secret until the BBC is eventually forced to be open on this matter of public interest then speculation is fair enough.
Some of Mr Hart’s constituents have written to him on this matter and his replies, or at least those I have seen, have been evasive. Mr Hart agrees with the Countryside Alliance line but is rather coy on whether he has written to the BBC on the subject. So unless Mr Hart would like to take the opportunity of a Guest Blog here on whether he has corresponded with the BBC on the subject of Chris Packham’s contract we are at a loss to know whether he has taken any action, as an MP, a representative in parliament, on this issue.
I do not have the great fortune to be one of Simon Hart’s constituents, but if I were, I would be asking him whether he has written to the BBC pressing the Countryside Alliance line that Chris Packham should be sacked. If you are a constituent, and do write to Mr Hart, then please do share the reply here.
I’m certainly not saying that it would be disreputable if Mr Hart had written to the BBC – that would depend on what the letter said, I think. But I do wonder how many MPs might have written to the BBC on this matter and I do think that is a matter of public interest (they work for us, after all). Might all the MPs who have written (if any have) to the BBC be previous employees of the Countryside Alliance or other pro-shooting or pro-hunting organisations? Might they all be Conservatives? Might they all be men? We won’t know unless the BBC opens up on this issue – and I really can’t see why it should be secretive about it.
I’ll be writing to my MP, Tom Pursglove, asking him whether he wrote to the BBC mentioning Chris Packham and I will expect him to answer openly. You might want to ask your MP the same question. I’ll be happy to tabulate the replies and see where Mr Hart sits.