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Martin Bell MP - Hero

Martin Bell precisely fulfils his election promise.

My only political ambition is to complete one term as Member of Parliament for Tatton.

I stood in the election as an independent and I sit in the House as an independent. What else should I be? The Tatton Park party, the Flat Earth party or the Knutsford Heath party ?

The withdrawal of other parties assisted his election, but he has twice proved that he is no Blair lap-dog. He asked Blair the killer question when the Bernie Ecclestone scandal broke.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the perception of wrong-doing can be as damaging to public confidence as the wrong-doing itself? Have we slain one dragon only to have another take its place, with a red rose in its mouth?

He returned to the theme in 1999.

I wonder whether the Prime Minister would consider the advantages of the political parties allowing their Back Benchers more freedom to speak their minds and to vote with their consciences, so that this place might become rather more the free Parliament of a free people, and rather less a rubber-stamp assembly.

The first Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor said the greatest headache for a one member group is knowing how to vote. Martin explained that he always checks which way Alan Clarke is voting, then goes into the opposite lobby. In fact, he usually votes with Labour.

He has limited his parliamentary activities to a few themes that he understands well: Tatton, warfare, democracy, land mines and the role of independent MPs.

Some space must be given to freespirits, independent-minded people and people a little outside the system, such as citizen politicians. They do not threaten the system, but reinforce it by adding legitimacy to the members of established parties who get elected.

I shall be brief and non-partisan-brief because the issues are fairly simple and non-partisan because it is difficult for a party of one to be partisan.

He was shocked when he read that the Chairman of the Committee bestowing honours said that donations to parties by individuals were part of a person's achievements to be taken into account in deciding recipients for gongs.

Donations are an achievement? Signing a cheque is an achievement? That seems to me to be both a corruption of the language and a corruption of politics.

His constant theme has been land mines. It was the subject of his maiden speech.

It is a moral imperative that we cleanse the face of the earth of weapons that target children. In the end, perhaps, it is a matter of drawing the distinction that was made a long time ago by Theodore Roosevelt: a distinction between those who are in the arena and are trying-sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing for daring too greatly-and others, the critics and the nay-sayers, whom Theodore Roosevelt described as "cold souls" who knew not victory or defeat. Let us not join the cold souls who know neither victory or defeat.

So many decades have passed since Parliament has had a genuine independent MP the system does not know how to cope with Martin Bell. He can sit on the four places, known as crossbenches but he cannot speak from one of them. There is no comfortable place for him to sit in the politically segregated tea rooms and restaurants.

He wears the albatross of the ?unbreakable? promise that he will sit for one term only. The heroic quality of his work demands that promise be broken.