Paul Foot

Strikes from a sunlounger

(13 July 1996)

From Socialist Worker, No.1502, 13 July 1996, p.11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

NO POLITICIAN more accurately sums up the prevailing values of 1990s Britain than Lady Olga Maitland, Tory MP for Sutton and Cheam.

Lady Olga used to have a gossip column in the Sunday Express in which she gloated over the exciting romances of the very rich. She was regarded by most journalists as a bit of a joke, and no one who worked with her imagined she had any political ambitions.

As soon as she got into parliament, she changed completely. She turned herself almost overnight into a right wing fanatic, prepared to go to any lengths to protect the government. Almost singlehandedly, for instance, she managed to stall a bill for improving facilities for disabled people – by reading out a series of amendments prepared for her by ministers.

Lady Olga has been in action already this week – attacking the strikers on the London Underground for holding the city to ransom by irresponsible behaviour.

Preposterous woman

Did the strikers not realise, she inquired, that when the tubes were not running there was more traffic on the roads – and this led to more road rage violence?

Were the strikers therefore not party to violence? And wasn’t It all the fault of the Labour Party which refused to condemn strikes?

Where has she been, this preposterous woman, who imagines that Labour doesn’t condemn strikes? The answer is that she has been in Malta. On holiday? No, holidays for MPs come later.

Lady Olga was in Malta on business – on parliamentary business for the Inter-Parliamentary Union which encourages and subsidises constant collaboration between MPs from different parliaments all over the world.

Four MPs (two Labour, two Tory) and a Tory peer had flown to Malta as part of this collaboration. They were advised before they left to bring their swimsuits, since bathing in the pools of luxury hotels was as important a part of their itinerary as eating in one of the island’s top fish restaurants.

All this took four days and only just got Lady Olga back in the House of Commons to denounce the tube strikers whose weekly wage would just about have covered the bill for a single night plus dinner in Lady Olga’s Maltese hotel.

Outside interests

That kind of parliamentary business takes Lady Olga all over the world – even to places where the parliaments are not elected. She is a frequent visitor, for instance, to Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, none of whose rulers bother themselves with democratic elections.

All this travelling and bathing and eating by MPs on business in foreign countries was meant to have been curbed by the Nolan Commission on Standards in Public Life.

Nolan, however, turns out to be one of the great flops of the Major era. The Nolan Commission is not at all opposed to such foreign trips. It requires only that an MP should declare them, which Olga Maitland does with some pride.

Lady Olga, of course, is a strong supporter of MPs having outside interests and of a big rise in MPs’ salaries.

She takes the view that the only way to ensure we get MPs who understand the intricacies of the arguments about strikes by train drivers, as well as the advantages of sunbathing in Malta, is for MPs to get a rise which in percentage terms is three times higher than the value of the cut in hours sought by the tube drivers.


Last updated on 6.2.2005