Friday, 19 November 2010

A Strategy To Produce Better MPs, By Molly Bennett, Aka The Mother Teresa Of Northwick

While I've been pole-axed by swirling rooms and trying to think philosophical thoughts, I've been mulling over the state of our politicians. Especially the one who ate my bloody sandwich this lunchtime.

It's occurred to me that MPs should be made to take sabbaticals, particularly as more and more of them seem to be becoming professional politicians before they've had any work or even life experience outside politics. Six to eight weeks a year ought to do it.

I know MPs already get months off when Parliament's in recess, but that's not what I mean. I'd make them take the same (i.e. much shorter) holidays as the rest of us (except for teachers like Ellen), then spend the rest of each Recess working at the sharp end. Under assumed identities, so they don't just get to see the bits that have been pre-gilded to impress them.

If The Boss had to spend a week or two in a hospital ward as an orderly, and then another few as a debt adviser, for example, he'd have a much better idea of the real situations his constituents face. And of the obstacles and possible solutions to their problems. Any attempt he made to influence policy formation as a result would at least have the virtue of being genuinely informed.

Andrew used to get some real-life input from constituents during surgeries, of course, but that was in the days when he was really listening. I don't know what's happened to him lately - whether he's burned-out, chronically tired, or just distracted by whatever is going on with Vicky - but he doesn't really seem to absorb what he's being told any more.

The only exception to this was the Leylandii business the other day, which is what got me started thinking about this, actually. I know his solution was completely impractical - as well as probably illegal - but at least he saw Mr and Mrs Parker's situation and really understood it, for once. And he brought it up afterwards, too. You could have knocked me down with a feather.

Maybe The Boss doesn't usually worry about the outcomes of constituents' cases because he's started to believe that his almighty power as an MP will override everything, whether it be social security regulations, or waiting lists, or even the housing shortage. Even so, it's depressing that, the longer he's been an MP, the less interest he seems to take in what happens to the people he promises we'll try to help.

I mean, it's nice that Greg and I are trusted to do a good job without any oversight, but I can't understand how Andrew can just forget about most of the constituents once they leave surgery. You'd think curiosity would kick in sometimes, if nothing else. Unless he just has a short attention span, like Dad. (And look where that's got him, not to mention me and Dinah.)

Greg and I have completely different attitudes. Even when we take annual leave, the first thing we do upon returning to work is to check what's been happening with our cases while we've been absent. That's if we haven't already phoned in during our holiday, especially if a significant deadline's been scheduled to occur while we're away.

We don't do it because it's our job - but because these people are real to us. (Too real in the case of the usual suspects, but that's a different issue.) At the risk of sounding like Mother Teresa, I wish that Andrew still seemed to care as much as we do. He was a much better MP when he did.

Anyway, I'm going off on a bit of a tangent, so I need to re-focus on the main argument - I really hope Mum's rambling Kevin Turvey thing isn't hereditary - and explain why my sabbaticals suggestion would be good for MPs in other ways, too.

When Michael Portillo spent a week living with that single mother on benefits, it didn't do him any harm, did it? Even though he didn't go undercover, it did bring him good publicity. I've had a sneaking affection for him ever since, and I bet I'm not the only one.

It also helped that, although Portillo did look completely out of his depth, he did at least seem aware that he was in deep water. I'm starting to wonder if Andrew thinks he can bloody walk on it. And as far as his political philosophy goes, well - there's more to that than smoking a pipe and wandering around trying to look like Jean-Paul Sartre, isn't there?

So, to sum up - quick, before Channel 4 News starts - if MPs really want to help anyone, and to make policies with a chance of achieving their aims, then a regular reality check would be A Bloody Good Thing.

There endeth the sermon as delivered by Molly Bennett in uncharacteristically dictatorial mode. This may be due to vertigo, but hopefully normal service will be resumed tomorrow.


  1. Spot on. Only I wouldn't shorten their holidays but instead curtail the number of days Parliament sits so they can fit in their work/life experience. Less legislation would bring better government and, who knows, the happiness index might rise in Northwick

  2. Haha - glad you agree! Though I'd give anything to shorten Recess, bearing in mind that The Boss spends it all in the constituency ;-)

  3. The 'Tower Block of Commons" series earlier in the year – where four politicians lived on sink estates to see how people actually lived – was pretty instructive in this regard. The MPs' behaviour ranged from Austin Mitchell who really did not want to get his hands dirty, to Iain Duncan Smith who really understood what was going on (but had to withdraw early because of his wife's ill-health). Then there was Matthew Parris who lived rough for the cameras all those years ago.

    OK, in both examples the TV cameras were present so there was an imperative to be on best behaviour (not that Mitchell seemed bothered).

    Incidentally, what strikes me about the row over IDS' welfare reforms is that, whatever one's views on them, he has clearly put in the hard graft to get to grips with the subject in depth (pretty much, I think, from when he stepped down as the conservative leader). Would that more MP's of all colours took the trouble to master their briefs (though have to admit, as I gaze out at the washing line, I've never really mastered mine).

    Apologies for wandering away from the Bennett thesis. And thanks for the analysis of the Boss' paralysis by the way. Oh and (and!) hope the labyrinth clears up soon.

  4. I agree about IDS, actually. Though I suspect that it would only be as backbenchers that MPs could be expected to have the time to do undercover work - as Ministers are far too busy. But at least if they'd done their time before being promoted, we could hopefully expect better policies...