The other reason for not blogging much last year was that it was an incredibly busy year. In one sense there wasn’t as much going on in Parliament as in previous years. It’s a very thin legislative programme this year, and there have been weeks when virtually all we’ve had to occupy us is Opposition Day debates and backbench business committee debates. Some of these debates have been very interesting, and a few have been very important – but they’re not binding, and policies/ laws don’t automatically change as a result because we’re not actually voting on Bills.
Despite this, it’s still been busy, which just shows that legislation isn’t the be all and end all of an MP’s work in Westminster. I think the work has partly come about because there is just so much to rail against – so many issues that the Government needs to be held to account on, or challenged over – and also me having a few topics that I’ve wanted to ‘get out there’ this year. There have also been quite a few Foreign Office debates when I’ve had to reply as shadow minister, though – thankfully – none of the committees I had to do when I was in the shadow Treasury team. I don’t miss Finance Bill Committees!
You can see here what topics I’ve been speaking on in Parliament, what questions I’ve been asking, and what committees I’ve taken part in. Modesty prevents me from suggesting you compare this with the work record of other local MPs… And to be fair, some MPs are occupied with Select Committee work, which wouldn’t show up in these stats. As a shadow frontbencher I don’t sit on a Select Committee, although I am very involved in a number of All-Party Groups, which is another thing that can take up a lot of MPs’ time and doesn’t get any acknowledgement on sites such as They Work For You.
By the way, the voting record – number of votes taken part in – will always be lower for an Opposition MP, particularly a frontbencher, as we’re more likely to abstain on some votes – for example when it’s a motion from Tory EU rebels; that’s the Government’s problem, not ours! The Government always has to wheel its troops out, because it’s their legislation they’re trying to protect so if you’re a Tory or Lib Dem MP you’ll always have to be ready to go through the division lobbies. Labour, by contrast, might abstain on Second Reading if we’re not opposed to all elements of a Bill, and then vote against specific sections in committee and at Report Stage. If we do abstain that might mean there’s not a vote at all, but sometimes a small group of rebels, from either side, or the nationalist parties perhaps, might push it to a vote.
I did also do a bit of work-related travelling during the first half of the year, to Colombia, Burma, and the Falklands, and the UN in New York for a couple of days for the Arms Trade Treaty talks, although since my 48 hours in Moscow for the Pussy Riot trial at the start of summer recess the furthest I’ve been is to the Isle of Wight for the weekend for a friend’s 50th birthday! One of the things I keep being offered is a visit to Gaza/ the West Bank. I haven’t been since 2006 when I was an observer at the Palestinian Authority elections. It might be time to return in 2013.
For now, it’s still recess. Parliament returns on Monday 7th. I missed Christmas totally as I was ill (I’m never ill!) but will be getting back to work, doing constituency stuff and emails (lots of emails) between now and then.