During a rather frenetic Twitterfest around the subject of potential electoral reform, I tweeted that I thought that the primary function of an MP should be to legislate and scrutinise the government and that the pastoral work could be balanced a bit more with this.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
I had a couple of responses from Darrell Goodliffe and Caron Lindsay who both think that the pastoral side of things is very important. I said I would blog about this to explain what I meant a bit more clearly free of the tyranny of 140 character limits!
The dual role of MPs to legislate and hold the government to account while at the same time performing a pastoral role for their constituents seems to me to be a slightly quirky thing. It has evolved over the years to where we are now but with the advent of electronic communications, most MPs nowadays get much more correspondence from their constituents than they ever used to. I suspect with the decline of deference over the last few decades that they also feel more entitled to attend surgeries and discuss their problems with their parliamentary representative.
Now, I need to be careful here so that I am not misunderstood. Keeping in touch with your constituents as an MP is very important. Actually, I would go further than that and say it is a vital part of our democracy. However I wonder if things may be swinging too far and that MPs can sometimes be swamped with case-work and issues that in some cases they are perhaps not the best placed person to deal with. Councillors should and do perform this function and there are lots of other people and agencies who can help but I think that the local MP is the most high profile and visible politician which is why they can become the first port of call.
There are some issues that MPs should and must get involved with if it relates to national issues and/or requires representation to government. I also think surgeries are a very good thing but I wonder if there might be a way to arrange things so that MPs do not necessarily become the first port of call for things and instead only get issues that they are able to help with.
The reason for all of this is because an MP only has so much time and energy and I feel that a good proportion of it should be put into holding the government to account and scrutinising what they are doing as well as contributing to legislation. God knows we need it, especially with some of the half-baked laws that have ended up on the statute books in the last few years!
I am not sure how many MPs agree with me about this. It would be hard for them to say anything I guess because what MP wants to be heard talking about reducing their constituency case-work? I think this is an important issue though and as I say, I am not advocating a massive change, just a rebalancing to the way I thought things were supposed to work perhaps with the public advised better as to where the best place to take their issues to initially is.
I would be interested to hear other people views from all parties about this and am certainly open to persuasion that I have got this wrong and the balance is actually about right.
UPDATE: Costigan Quist has drawn my attention to an article he wrote last November that talks about this issue too.