Tuesday, November 03, 2015

James Gray MP on what is an MP for?

Thanks to Guido Fawkes for drawing my attention to an interesting piece by James Gray MP at politics home on What is an MP for?

He argues that in essence MPs have seven core functions:

* To make, amend, improve, or stop the making of laws
* To examine the daily workings of the Executive branch of Government, and ‘hold it to account.’
* To represent the interests of our constituents in Westminster
* To support our party or colleagues in a collective effort to govern or to oppose To advance causes national or local in Parliament
* To liaise with or scrutinise EU and devolved administrations
* To carry out ‘case-work’ and constituency matters

He makes one point which will be controversial, especially among parliamentary staff:

"It may be instructive that 40 years ago there was a total of 25 secretaries in Parliament to look after all 630 MPs. Today there are 2,700 members of staff. Doing what? And why? Is it really a proper use of Parliamentary funds, for example, to have a team of three or four sitting in a High Street in one’s constituency generating more and more case-work, rather than in Westminster helping us with our true parliamentary work?"

"It may well suit the agenda of the Government very nicely. The more we do in our constituencies (and in harmless, if worthwhile, pursuits like backbench debates, all party groups and the like), the less we will trouble them."

Personally I would not go all the way with this line of argument. I don't want to demean the importance of constituency work or being a good constituency MP.

Other things being equal I would far rather have an MP who pays a lot of attention to his constituency and deploys resources to do so, than  one who doesn't. I know some of those 2,700 members of staff who do an excellent job helping their MP to serve his or her constituents.

I also think that an MP who lots of people with problems come to is likely to have a far better grasp of what the impact of government policies may be on the people those policies affect, so being an active constituency representative who does casework may help him or her to do the job of holding the government to account better - as long as it does not become the only thing he or she does.

When the last Labour government had a huge majority in their first two parliaments, they told some of their "unexpected MPs" for what were normally safe-ish tory seats "we don't need you here in Westminster all the time, come here when there's a three line whip or something you're really interested in but spend the rest of your time in your constituency trying to make sure you hold it."

That attitude was an abuse of parliament and demeaned some of the important role of an MP.

Where I think James has a point that is although in my humble opinion constituency casework is actually very important, it should be pursued in a way which complements the national role of an MP and should not be allowed to become an alternative to the job of acting as a check on both government and new legislation.

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