Monday, 18 October 2021

Being a Member of Parliament

is, I suspect, a largely thankless task.

I have been thinking a good deal about this over the last few days. The assassination of a second MP in England  has left me shocked and bewildered. It was hard enough to take in the death of Jo Cox back in - was it 2015?  

I never knew her. I had never even heard her name but it still left me shocked. Killing someone meant to represent you in parliament? It seemed unthinkable in a democracy. The second death, of Sir David Amess, is perhaps even more shocking. The unspeakable has happened again. 

This time I had heard of him. It was not because he held any ministerial position but because he was the local MP of my late friend E...  E... had moved to Leigh-on-Sea when she and her husband retired. Until then they had lived in London. E... was a teacher, and then the head of a school. Her husband had a similar sort of "people" job. They wanted somewhere "quieter". It suited them until they were both diagnosed with serious illnesses. E... decided they needed just a bit of extra support to stay in their own home. She set about trying to get it, struck an obstacle she needed some help to climb - and went to visit her local MP.  Sir David listened and took action. E... died quietly in her own home, just as she had wished. I always thought that, if I were ever to meet the man, I would tell him that. 

And now he has gone too. I thought about this. My local MPs have tended to know me. They have known me since my teens. In my teens the Senior Cat was very friendly with the local MP in the rural community we were living in. It was not unusual to find him in our home. He would sit at the kitchen table and drink tea with the Senior Cat as they went through things that needed to be done. This had nothing to do with politics as such. It was more to do with the problems of the local community. As the head of the school the Senior Cat knew a lot about these. He was also expected to be the local social worker, minister of religion, marriage guidance counsellor, town planner and much more. The local MP was also expected to carry out these and other roles.

While I respected this man it did not stop me arguing with him. He actually encouraged it, "Come on Cat. Tell me what you think. I don't want to hear  what you have been told. I want to know what you think." He said this sort of thing to me more than once.

Looking back I know I was very fortunate he took such an interest in me. A decade later he tried to persuade me to enter politics. I said a polite "No thank you." It is one invitation I have never regretted turning down. I don't think for a moment I would have been successful in getting in. I would have hated it if I had.

Your time is not your own. A good MP is always available - twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. It may not be obvious to most of his or her constituents. They will have no idea about much of what he or she does. 

I once did a short stint in the office of the man who was once the local MP for this district. It was not something I ever intended to do, indeed did not want to do it. His secretary asked me to do it. I liked her and she had witnessed my paw print on documents hundreds of times. I did it for her. She went into the main parliamentary office in the city and I was left to keep things going in the electorate office. I answered the phone many times a day. I made decisions I never thought I would have to make. I made phone calls to the secretaries of some of the most powerful people in the country. I wrote letters. I talked to unhappy constituents - and a few happy constituents. I was there for twelve hours a day most days. A change of government tends to bring on such problems. 

It was interesting but exhausting. When the MP appeared things would be frantic. In all this I was merely a very temporary and untrained substitute. I couldn't take short hand - which infuriated him - and my typing was not nearly as fast as that of the woman who had asked me to help. All this was happening and I was merely the person there intended to be a help. He was the MP. He would send me home and still be there until midnight.

We hear about "lazy MPs" but, after that experience, I have often wondered how hard some of them must work. It may be much harder than many people realise.

And they are there on the whim of the people they serve. People like Sir David should be able to eventually retire gracefully and enjoy some leisure time - and we almost never give it to them. 

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