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Bye bye Benton, Benton goodbye

Sleazy, extremist and far more visible on social media than on the streets of Blackpool, the dishonourable member will not be missed here.

December 14 2023, 17.16pm

It felt like Christmas had come early for many in Blackpool South today. Hitting the refresh button on the Committee on Standard’s publication page for the last few days has been my equivalent of Google’s Santa Tracker and, last night, with the conduct report on Scott Benton MP promised for the next day, I was too excited to sleep. 

Unwrapping my gift this morning did not disappoint. Even a 10-day Commons suspension for our MP, who was exposed in a lobbying scandal by The Times in April, could spark a by-election. The 35-days he’s been actually handed is more than our constituency, long resigned to political sleaze, dared to hope for. 

The report is damning. The bar for causing significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons is a high one, it states, but Benton “significantly exceeded it”. The message he gave, when he met with undercover reporters posing as a fake investment fund and offered to lobby ministers on behalf of the gambling industry, was that he was “corrupt and for sale”, and that so were many other MPs. He showed himself, the Committee says, to be unworthy of the position he holds in public life.

But Benton has never been worthy of Blackpool South, and it’s an insult that such a brazen upstart was the Conservative’s best offer to us in the 2019 general election. The community mostly gets to see him via social media – unless you’re one of the swathes of constituents he has blocked – where he posts almost weekly pictures of himself grinning dumbly over a fry up or a mixed grill and pint of full-fat coke. He’s a man of the people, see. 

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If it wasn’t for a few unfortunate sightings in the wild, I’d question whether Benton was even real – appearing more like a bot generated by AI directly from the Trump-Johnson populist playbook, and superimposed onto stock images of our local boozers. He was designed purely to manipulate the vulnerabilities of a constituency that had been left behind by mainstream politics and used its Brexit vote to let the world know. 

Since unseating long-serving Labour MP Gordon Marsden, Benton has busied himself representing a caricature of the Brexit voter instead of his actual constituents. He’s managed to alienate just about everyone in his wake – including his own party representatives in the town, who circulated a letter of no confidence in him even prior to the Times’s lobbying sting. His views are extreme for even the most hardened Conservatives – anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment – and he regularly appears on GB News to flog them under the auspices of channelling the views of his constituents, most of whom, he claims, agree with him.   

When the Times exposed Benton for offering to lobby for the gambling industry and leak a confidential policy document in exchange for up to £4,000 a month, it may have sparked national outrage - but very few locally seemed surprised. For anyone living in Blackpool it was clear this was Benton’s natural trajectory. To locals, who feel political systems do less than nothing for them, the more surprising part was that he’s not been able to get away with it. 

That the senior representative of a town that faces a public health crisis in betting  would offer to lobby against moves to tighten up gambling laws is completely perverted. 

Benton exposed himself for what he is during the Committee for Standards’ investigation.  When explaining the comments he made during the meeting with undercover reporters in March, he told the Commissioner that his comments were “not accurate in any way, shape, or form… a gross exaggeration and in fact a downright lie.” Attempting to explain himself further: “I’m just trying to exaggerate my remarks as part of an interview as I’ve done throughout on a number of different occasions… that’s broadly what people do within interviews,” he said, during the interview. 

If we didn’t laugh, we would cry. The reality is that Benton does not represent a constituency full of venal nationalist nuts, but one of the most deprived in the country, whose residents need someone capable and willing to advocate for them in Parliament. That the senior representative of a town that faces a public health crisis in betting - among many others - would offer to lobby against moves to tighten up gambling laws is completely perverted. 

But Benton has form. Here is an MP who has not only stirred up hatred and division but who had actively worked against his constituent’s interests on many previous occasions. 

Despite 40.1% of children in Blackpool South living in poverty, in 2019 Benton voted against a free school meal provision during the holidays. In 2021, while drawing his £80k+ salary and enjoying various “hospitality” benefits, as he revealed to Times reporters, he abstained from a vote to extend the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift. His silence would be deafening had he not gone on to defend the resulting scrapping of the uplift, despite his constituency having the second-highest proportion of claimants in the country. He voted against banning fracking, which caused actual earthquakes in Blackpool, and in favour of amending the Environment Bill to allow water companies to continue dumping raw sewage in our waterways.

Benton’s suspension will now allow campaigners to use the recall process to trigger a byelection, spelling doom for the Tories who have largely lost recent byelection by immense majorities throughout 2023. Waiting in the wings for Labour in Blackpool is Chris Webb – a local man and community campaigner who missed out on a seat in Blackpool North in 2019. 

For the past four years Scott Benton has been a dark cloud over our seaside town. The House of Commons tells us that Benton has damaged their reputation and integrity. Welcome to the club. Our dishonourable member of parliament has brought shame and embarrassment to a place that is sadly all too familiar with those feelings. But Scott Benton doesn’t truly represent us. He never has, in any way, represented Blackpool. We deserve better. And as the cloud breaks for the first time in a long time, that feels almost possible. 

Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a writer, editor, and activist from Blackpool.

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