Feeding vanity, starving self-respect?

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

Visitors to this country are intrigued and impressed by the range of British radio broadcasting. In addition to the glorious range of commercial stations, the BBC range from Radio 1 to Radio 6 is unsurpassed.

Thirty years ago, Radio 1 was the only national pop music station. When I was responsible for trying to reduce the awful level of road deaths associated with drivers who had clearly exceeded the unsafely high alcohol limit, the first task was to get away from the idea that the best approach was to lower the criminal threshold, to introduce mass random breath-testing and to increase penalties.

My ideas were different. They worked and I believe they would work again.

Trust people to help each other and to help ourselves.

––– Also in the news, GCSE students across the area have been celebrating after receiving their results; an Angmering grandfather has taken to caring for hedgehogs to help him overcome a spinal injury; and a memorial to honour the victims of the Shoreham Airshow crash is almost ready for installation on the banks of the River Adur –––

Hosts can make alcohol-free drinks easily available, passengers can pick drivers who are not significantly affected by alcohol, and people can try to decide in advance whether to drive or to drink.

Instead of a boring sermon from a 42-year-old junior minister (as I then was) on Radio 4, disc jockeys twenty years older discussed the issues as news on Radio 1.

It was not preaching; it was pretty effective.

Nearly 80 per cent of the expected fatal casualties evaporated.

Put in a negative way, nearly 1,000 people a year do not die.

We do not know who and we do not know where.

We can estimate that over ten years, more than 20 local lives were not lost.

Radio 1 reached the audience of younger male drivers who seldom watched television and who had not discovered an interest in Radio 4.

I can be criticised for caring too deeply about the good that an active member of parliament with a dedicated team can help to achieve locally and nationally.

When on a south coast beach, I try to give time each day to the opportunity to help.

Even so, there has been time for holiday reading.

This week I turned to the novel Continental Drift by Libby Purves, a Radio 4 Today programme presenter forty years ago.

She includes an unattributed quotation that ‘being an MP simultaneously feeds your vanity and starves your self-respect’.

Not if you have the range of constituents like those who write to me. Many are generous and kind.

Some complain when I go wrong and a few are dismissive, either because they are extremely left wing or they think I am too left wing. Each might be right.

Last week I tried to call on one critic but his window displayed the sign ‘Gone fishing’.

I had better luck at the other side of the constituency where there have been anti-social behaviour to tackle.

One neighbour passed me to another and so on until, by happy chance, I met someone who can shine light on a totally different incident over thirty years ago more than 50 miles away.

Rather than worrying about vanity or respect, I have reached a stage when every opportunity to help is a joy, every success can be shared and any of my failures can be admitted.

When once I asked a senior minister why they had come into parliament, the answer was that I had spoken at their school sixth form and apparently I had been an inspiration.

For some more years to come, I hope to inspire journalists and public servants together with councillors and MPs: what we do matters most, more than our direct rewards?

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