How to choose your MP?

This morning I gave a talk to the Sixth Form at Chew Valley School in Somerset. I wanted to encourage them to vote. Many people despair of politicians and believe it is not worth voting because (a) politicians are all the same, (b) they are in it for themselves and (c) voting makes no difference. But after researching Parliament for five years since 2010 I think all three assumptions are nonsense:

·      MPs are all different: The political parties still spend money on completely different things, which dramatically affects, who gains and who loses out in society, but also individual MPs vary hugely. For example, I have found that women MPs spend more time meeting their constituents than men do. Some MPs have had long careers, others have only had political jobs. Most work incredibly hard, a few are lazy and concerned with looking rather than being busy.

·      MPs are not in it for themselves any more or less than any one else. Half the new MPs in 2010 took a pay cut. Increasing numbers often rebel against their party even though it may reduce their chance of getting a job in government. They are very similar to people I have worked with in charities. They want to improve society. Whether they do or not is a matter of opinion but they are well-intentioned. Politicians are different in having thicker skins and more optimism than the rest of us, but morally they are similar to anyone aiming to do public service.

·      Everything is continually changing: This country has completely changed since I was a child and it is partly due to politicians. Some of the change is good, some not. But the point is that if we want to leave it entirely to politicians, then we deny ourselves the possibility of influencing them. Government does get things wrong – politicians get arrogant, especially when they have been in power for a while. Parliament challenges them but it does so much more effectively if we citizens get involved.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons about their governance

I was furious yesterday when I left the House of Commons Governance Committee. There was so much I wanted to say about management of parliament but failed to. I remembered to say that the person they choose to lead the Commons should have expertise in the core parliamentary business of scrutiny, law-making, committees, research, dealing with the media and so on. But I forgot to say that if they appoint a generalist manager at the top they could lose their exemplary record of efficiency and judgment where it matters most. If there are occasional problems in the building – too many mice has been mentioned as a failing – surely that is better than any shortcomings in the services that enable parliamentarians to pass laws, scrutinize government and represent their electors?

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