Staying silent: the tight-lipped MP who refuses to answer controversial questions
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Should an MP be expected to respond to challenging questions from his local newspaper? Or is it their right to pick and choose what they decide to answer?
The matter of politicians' accountability is one which has dominated the national media in recent weeks, but is also relevant much closer to home.
With the Conservative government coming under fire over different issues in the past few months, we have frequently attempted to gauge the opinions of Tory MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Bim Afolami in relation to key stories on the national stage.
But despite contacting his Parliamentary office for comment, on numerous occasions he has completely ignored us, not even declining the opportunity to have his say.
Some of the detailed questions asked by our team of reporters included: "After the by-election result in North Shropshire, do you think it's right Boris Johnson should continue in the top job, lead the nation through the remainder of the pandemic and the Conservatives into the next election?
"Allegations of sleaze and scandal, it could be said, have led to the Conservatives squandering a 20,000+ majority - and as a parliamentarian with a Conservative majority where the second largest vote was for the Liberal Democrats - are you worried the same outcome could affect you in the next election? What message do you have for your constituents?
"This is a clear message that people aren't happy with the Conservative party, and its leadership - so, do you have confidence in Boris Johnson?"
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And on a different issue: "In light of the recent news of evidence of drugs misuse at the Houses of Parliament, would Bim support drugs checks on MPs at Parliament? If he would, please elaborate - and if not, let me know why not?"
Plus: "I was wondering if you might like to comment on the PM's admission that he attended a 'bring your own booze' party in the garden of No 10 in May 2020 during the first lockdown. I thought our readers might be interested in hearing your stance on this?"
We have also quizzed him about the freezing of the BBC TV licence, following recent comments by the culture secretary - again no response.
But it's not just this newspaper Mr Afolami seems unhappy to engage with on difficult or controversial issues.
In the wake of the Owen Paterson scandal, Harpenden resident Richard Scott wrote to the MP on November 21 to ask for his views on the subject of paid advocacy. He received no reply.
He then wrote to him a further 10 times regarding his compliance with the House of Commons Code of Conduct, but received no response or explanation, and said he will continue writing until an answer is received.
Richard, who publicly admits to being a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, added: "MPs are supposed to serve everyone in their constituency, regardless of how they vote.
"But it seems clear from his behaviour that Mr Afolami is not interested in engaging with constituents who are critical or ask difficult questions.
"I would like Mr Afolami to explain why he has chosen not to reply to my 11 emails, each of which were written in a courteous and reasonable manner.
"Either his office is overwhelmed and out of control or it would appear that he operates a policy of deliberately ignoring letters and emails from 'difficult' constituents.
"I know I am not alone in being ignored by Mr Afolami and his office. All I ask Mr Afolami is to provide an answer to this question, in addition to answering my original three questions regarding his compliance with the House of Commons rules on paid advocacy."
This newspaper contacted Mr Afolami's office for a comment on this story before publication. We received no reply.