David Morris MP has now replied to my second letter about his remarks concerning Morecambe Bay Foodbank. As a lot of people have shown an interest in this matter, I thought a final blog post was in order.
In his reply, Mr Morris made no reference to his comments in the Visitor, but rather asserted that he stands by his statement on his website (which is not easy to find) and has no intention of changing his position. He alleges that the Foodbank is politicised and that he has raised concerns about that with the Trussell Trust. He ended the letter saying that this concludes the correspondence he will engage with on this matter.
This leaves me with a few questions. Since Mr Morris won't engage with this further, I simply put them out there.
1) Why didn't David Morris address my specific challenge to his statement that the Foodbank was "started and run by the Labour Party"?
It is entirely plausible that the Foodbank has volunteers who are politically active, including ones aligned with the Labour Party. When I visited there was no discussion of political affiliation, but on enquiring, I understood there to be a range.
The Foodbank can't be held responsible for the political affiliation of those prepared to commit time for volunteering; the question is whether he can demonstrate that the Foodbank has been politically biased in its recruitment of volunteers.
Even if there is a disproportionate representation for Labour in the volunteer team, there is a great deal of difference between that being true and the Foodbank being started and run by the Labour Party. And what (or who) does he mean by "the Labour Party" in his allegation?
2) Why won't David Morris visit the Foodbank?
As an MP representing a political party which purports to encourage volunteering and charitable activity, I find it very strange that he hasn't visited long ago. He has said he now fears being ambushed by a political stunt: "they want me to walk through that door, take a picture of me and shout at me". Potentially any public appearance by an MP can turn into a shouting match. It suggests a lack of political courage that he isn't prepared to go and defend his corner. Much as I disliked their policies, I can't imagine that Norman Tebbitt or Mrs Thatcher would have been deterred.
It also demonstrates a lack of faith in the hand of fellowship the Methodist minister offered him in his most recent invitation. I am confident that any minister would do all they could to show hospitality, even if they disagreed profoundly. In the Visitor David Morris said he will go with national Trussell Trust and Social Services staff, so I hope he sees that through and pro-actively seeks to arrange to do so.
Another mystery about this is that in parliament on 17 Dec 2014 Mr Morris said "I have never been invited to a food bank in my constituency, although I would love to go..." (see the full text here). He also questions the levels of take up stated by the Trussell Trust. Morecambe Bay Foodbank say that 3 invitations were issued, along with a 4th indirect approach. Furthermore, the church minister also wrote to invite him. It's bewildering why he would deny this.
3) What data does Mr Morris actually want?
As stated above, Mr Morris suggested in his comments on 17 Dec 2014 that the data for Foodbanks was unclear. I have seen data being entered into the system at Morecambe Bay Foodbank, I have seen the referral forms which have to be signed by professional in the area, and I have seen the stock taking and record keeping taking place. I am sure that if Mr Morris mustered the courage to visit and explained exactly what stats he required, they could be called up for him there and then.
4) If Morecambe Bay Foodbank is really so politicised, why hasn't he taken action much sooner to get its charitable status withdrawn or reviewed?
Many individuals and organisations are supporting and donating to Morecambe Bay Foodbank in good faith that it is a legitimate charity, operating within the rules and parameters for a charity. My own parish has donated some money and we have also sent other assistance. If an organisation is not operating legitimately as a charity in the local area, but is pretending that all is well, we need to know about it and be protected from it. Surely Mr Morris has a duty of care to us all if he has compelling evidence that the Foodbank is masquerading as something that it isn't. The fact that he has not done so after so many months leads me to conclude that he doesn't possess such evidence.
If, as Mr Morris implies, Morecambe Bay Foodbank were a covert organ of the Labour Party, it's been very subtle in its methods. There is, of course, uncomfortable evidence for the government in foodbank data, but I have seen no promotion of any of the opposition parties in any of the literature I have seen, or in conversations I have held.