Mole sends long-distance reply

STUNG by criticism at home, Ipswich MP Chris Mole has today e-mailed a letter defending his round-the-world trip to study local government in other countries.

STUNG by criticism at home, Ipswich MP Chris Mole has today e-mailed a letter defending his round-the-world trip to study local government in other countries.

Writing from the New Zealand resort of Queenstown – which markets itself as "The Southern Hemisphere's premier 4 season alpine resort" – Mr Mole insisted that his trip was valuable.

Before arriving in New Zealand, Mr Mole and three other MPs visited Singapore and Australia to study their local government system.

However during the stopover in Singapore, Mr Mole managed to see the local flora as well as meeting council bigwigs.

After leaving New Zealand they will return home via San Francisco before arriving back in Britain next week.

His letter hits back at critics who have claimed that the delegation of four MPs who are on the committee scrutinising the work of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) is little more than a junket at taxpayer's expense.

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The cost of the trip – which involves flying business class and staying in comfortable hotels – is estimated at about £30,000.

His trip came under fire from Conservative parliamentary candidate Paul West who said he could see no justification for the trip.

And it comes under fresh criticism today from another Conservative activist, Nadia Cenci.

However the trip is supported by former Labour county councillor Brian Coleman – who says Ipswich should see it as a feather in the cap for the town.

During the trip, Mr Mole has missed the final vital days of the current parliamentary session – including a meeting between Suffolk MPs and health chiefs, the nation's Remembrance services, and the debates about hunting.

However although he missed the meeting with Strategic Health Authority bosses, many of those involved in health services locally – including some of his political opponents – felt his meeting with government minister Stephen Ladyman had been more useful than talks with SHA chiefs.

What do you think about Chris Mole's round the world trip? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

See opinion on page six.

Chris Mole facts:

Age 46.

Studied electronics at the University of Kent.

Worked at BT in Martlesham

Suffolk County Councillor 1985-2001

Leader of Suffolk County Council 1993-2001

Became MP for Ipswich in November 2001 after by-election caused by the death of Jamie Cann.

Married to Shona, two sons.

With his extensive programme of meetings, Mr Mole and his fellow MPs may miss out on these sights.

Queenstown facts:

It is a major resort in the south island of New Zealand.

Ski centre in the southern Alps, and also popular for a wide range of outdoor activities – including bungee jumping and white-water rafting.

It is 12 hours ahead of the United Kingdom. Friday's weather was fine but Saturday and Sunday are expected to be wet.

It is spring in New Zealand (it is like May in Britain) and the temperature is expected to reach 18 degrees celsius during the day and fall to four degrees at night.

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