Saturday, 24 January 2015

Perhaps we are to blame for so many good people leaving Parliament

Another skilled and able MP, Mark Hoban (aged 50), has just announced his retirement at the coming election. Many others of a similar age are also leaving Parliament this year including David Willetts (58), Andrew Lansley (58), William Hague (53), Sir Hugh Robertson (52) and Greg Barker (48). 

I have no doubt that the parliamentary party and politics in general will survive the loss of such talent, and there will be plenty of eager newcomers keen to replace them. But as a nation we need to ask why politics is failing to retain such skilled and capable people. 

As I campaign across West Kent (or answer the phone to yet another "disgusted" voter ranting about that morning's Daily Express headline) I ask myself why anyone would wish to be an MP?

There was a time Members of Parliament were legislators, sent to Westminster to review new laws, hold the Executive to account and ensure the views of their constituents were taken into consideration during the parliamentary process. 

Then something changed. 

I am not sure why or when, but MPs suddenly became social workers and local celebrities and the public's view of them perhaps changed too.  

We now demand that our MP spend their weekends opening dog shows, drawing raffle tickets and cutting ribbons. We bombard them with impersonal lobby correspondence; thousands of people entering their postcode and clicking "send" resulting in angry 'personal' emails demanding their MP speaks out in favour of newts, supports legislation to reduce fuel poverty, oppose shale gas, demand new military intervention on "humanitarian" grounds... whilst opposing war... whilst always..."something must be done"

One MP I know recently told me they had responded to 20,000 (twenty thousand!) letters or emails in the last five years. With these new demands come the need for bigger offices and more staff. With bigger offices and more staff come more angry letters complaining about the cost of bigger offices and more staff. Gone forever are the days when Enoch Powell used to send a hand-written response to every letter, written from a shared desk in the Commons library. 

We treat our MPs as many now treat the A&E Department of their local hospital - the easiest option rather than a point of emergency. We bombard them with correspondence then complain at how much they spend on employing staff to respond to the demands we have created. We expect them to run in three-legged races or dress-up for charity, shake collection buckets whilst accusing them of being "out of touch" if they decline, then complain that "we never see you in Parliament". And we demand "better quality Parliamentarians" whilst paying the ones we have 30% of what most could earn in the private sector.  

Rather than complaining, sneering and attacking, we should be grateful that so many people (of all parties) are prepared to put up with it in the name of public service. 

But if we wonder why so many decent people are leaving parliament too soon - we should perhaps consider the words of William Thackeray,

"The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to
every man the reflection of his own face."

1 comment:

  1. While I tend to agree with most of this and wonder why MPs appear too often to be glorified mayors, I can't be outraged by 20,000 emails/letters over 5 years. If we assume a working year of 200 days that works out at 20 a day. Not very onerous for someone with staff.