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Good example of constituency obligations of an MP

Mike McCartney

7th April 2021

Quite often we think of MPs as servants of a party machine, or as a check on the government. But looking after the people who they are elected to represent may override these aspects of the job

I read an article in the paper about Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West, and felt quite moved by it. Often MPs get a hard time in the press, and maybe this is deserved on occasion, but it would be remiss not to give credit for the enormous amount of good work many of them do for their local areas.

We might think that the job of an MP is to toe the party line, battling for policy changes that fit with their party's ideology or manifesto promises. Especially if their party is in government. Or, MPs might seek to gain a seat on select committees and hold the government to account. Indeed, the impression I have got from many newly elected MPs is that that is what they thought their job would entail.

I say this because I have been present at a number of talks by MPs given to A Level students. The ones that are relevant here are those by newly elected (from just having won to some way into their first term) members. Without giving too much away, because Chatham House rules preclude me form saying much more, these were MPs in very different parts of the country, and from different parties (so, at least one Conservative, one Labour, and one Lib Dem). When asked by students what the most surprising aspect of their job was, every MP said constituency responsibilities. By that, they meant the huge mailbag (now much of it electronic) of correspondence from those in their district. These letters could cover everything from questions about why their MP voted a particular way on a particular bill (Brexit would serve as a good example here), to why their child was not allocated a place at their choice of school, to quite harrowing stories about government benefits being delayed or denied. Often, therefore, these weren't issues that an MP could rightly raise in Parliament, because they were outside of their remit, but a letter to the local media with a House of Commons letterhead might act as a catalyst for action.

So, to the article in the paper. I'll quote directly, so you get a flavour of the way in which the vital role of an MP is often under the radar.

"The Guardian spent a day shadowing Hardy to try to understand the pressures in a constituency like hers, in the fallout from the pandemic. By teatime she had had 10 meetings covering an array of topics: how to help a 11-year-old girl debilitated with long Covid; complaints from Hull’s Salvation Army homeless hostel that they don’t have testing kits for their 109 residents and staff; the “mountain” of debt being racked up by residents behind on their rent who could soon face mass evictions and prosecutions; and whether she will be the parliamentary ambassador for a campaign to return the Viola, the world’s oldest viable steam trawler, to Hull.

All of the above takes place behind closed doors via phone or video call."

Yes, covid times are exceptional. But these experiences chime with the conservations with MPs mentioned above. The common refrain is one of constituents at their wit's end, unable to redress their grievance, frustrated by systems and bureaucracy, and MPs being the last person they know to turn to. But this isn't intended to be a tale of doom and gloom. MPs can, and do, make a difference. But what the pandemic has done has highlight in Technicolor questions about what the role of an MP should be. As it says in the report: "Hardy, an ex-teacher who took over from the former home secretary Alan Johnson as the MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle in 2017, decided it would be her position on Labour’s frontbench. “I felt like I was being a bad mum, a bad shadow minister and a bad MP,” she says. “Now at least I can try to do a decent job with two of them.”

The full article is here:

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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