Recess not holiday

In case people hadn’t realised I am still very much here and working, despite what you may hear about MPs having an 82 day holiday. In fact on Monday I was at an event with three other local MPs – Doug, Roger and Stephen Williams – and on Tuesday I was with Dawn P, and Jim Knight and Liam Byrne – so that makes at least seven of us who aren’t on holiday at this precise moment. And Andrew Gwynne who is busy fighting – and winning – by-elections in his constituency. I’m sure there are many more of us.

There are two questionnaires doing the rounds at the moment about MPs’ holiday plans, one from the 38 degrees campaign, to which I have yet to respond, and one from the Telegraph which asks in rather brusque fashion a series of questions along the lines of: are you going to party conference this year? are you staying the whole week? (Because if you confess you’re only going for a couple of days they will be able to add a couple more days to your ‘skiving off’ total).

Here’s the Telegraph’s full set of questions, the results of which were meant to appear in last Sunday’s paper but didn’t, I suspect because the vast majority of MPs told them where they could shove their survey, and they don’t have enough material yet. They are apparently running it this coming weekend, with all MPs listed, including the ‘No comments’. Anyway, here it is.

The Daily Telegraph is conducting an investigation into MPs’ plans for the summer recess. As part of this investigation, we would be very grateful if you could answer these short questions about your own plans.

1. Have you made plans to take any overseas vacations during the Parliamentary recess?

2. If so, where will you be travelling to, and for how many days?

3. If you have not yet made plans to take any overseas vacations during the Parliamentary recess, do you consider that it is likely that you will make such plans later in the summer?

4. If so, where do you anticipate travelling to, and for how many days? Please provide a broad estimate (ie “roughly two weeks / somewhere in Europe) if you are unsure.

5. Have you made plans to take any vacations within the British Isles during the Parliamentary recess?

6. If so, where will you be travelling to, and for how many days?

7. If you have not yet made plans to take any vacations within the British Isles during the Parliamentary recess, do you consider that it is likely that you will make such plans later in the summer?

8. If so, where do you anticipate travelling to, and for how many days? Please provide a broad estimate (ie “roughly two weeks / somewhere in Scotland) if you are unsure.

9. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in your constituency during the Parliamentary recess?

10. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in London or elsewhere on Parliamentary, party or ministerial / shadow ministerial duties during the Parliamentary recess?

11. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in London or elsewhere on non-Parliamentary, party or ministerial business during the Parliamentary recess? Please elaborate on your activities. (ie work as a director / spending time in London second home working on book)

12. Will you attend some or all of your party conference? If so, how long will you attend for?

13. Do you consider that your plans this year are broadly similar to those of previous years?

14. If not, what are the reasons for the change?

And here’s the email from 38 Degrees:

Dear MP,

Thankyou for representing me in parlement , to help do this effectively i ask the following: Please be transparent about how you’re planning to spend your time away from parliament this summer by filling in this survey from 38 Degrees: [http://confirm.38degrees.org.uk/MPSummerWorkSurvey]

I hope you’ll be using the break from parliament to focus on other parts of your job as an MP, taking the chance to spend time in our local area working hard for our local community. I am concerned though that some MPs may use the time to take excessively long holidays and work on extremely well paid second jobs.

Please fill in this survey

http://confirm.38degrees.org.uk/MPSummerWorkSurvey
to reassure me and other voters that you are working for the people that elected you this summer, and let me know when you have done so. I’ll be checking back on the 38 Degrees web site in a few weeks to see what you’ve said.

I’m asking you to complete the survey because I think we have a right to know what our elected representatives are working on. Please let me know if you disagree and explain your reasons why.

Thank you…

I confess, both these emails made me a little angry. They are predicated on the notion that MPs are lazy, unmotivated, and couldn’t care less about their constituencies or – if you insist on being cynical – given where we are in the electoral cycle, getting out and meeting the voters.

I think the Telegraph has a cheek to ask such questions. It’s up to my constituents surely to decide whether they think I’m doing a good job and putting in the hours, and seeing as I have a blog and a website and am fairly often in the local media I think they’re in a pretty good position to judge whether I am actually working during recess or sunning myself on a beach somewhere from July 22nd to October 12th. And of course people soon realise whether you’re turning up to events or not. But -what next? Publishing our time sheets online at the end of every week? Clocking in at the beginning and end of every day? Electronic tagging?
OK, the 38 degrees email was purportedly from a constituent (although I don’t think they’ve confirmed that yet by providing an address), and I will of course be helpful and point them in the direction of where they can keep tabs on me should they wish to do so. Or even meet them if they want to. But I’m not signing up to a website which encourages people to submit photos of their MPs working or not working over the summer. (What is working, anyway – if I go to St Marks Road street party and am pictured with Paul Smith and his son eating icecream, is that work or me having a good time? Answer: it’s both. But that’s why it’s so difficult to quantify how many hours a week an MP works. I’ve spent the entire evening looking at emails, blogging and on Twitter. Soon I’ll be going to bed with a copy of today’s Guardian I haven’t read yet. So am I working? Skiving? Or something in-between?
I know most MPs were pretty cross about the Telegraph email, but I have a particular reason for regarding it as an intrusion. Those who have read my posts from a month or two ago will know that some people close to me have had/ have serious health problems at the moment. My holiday this year, if you can call it that, will consist of going to Ireland to see one of them, with the timing, length and even the number of my trip(s) dependent on how he responds to treatment and his operation and, to be frank, whether he makes it through the next few months. I told the Telegraph this and said I had no wish for it to be put in the public domain, and they ought to respect my privacy on this (and yes, I know I am blogging about it now, but I am trying to be as opaque as possible whilst still getting across to you what the issue is and why I feel so strongly about it). The response came back, saying we’re sorry to hear of your circumstances but we’re going to record an entry for every MP so do you want to be a ‘No comment’ or a ‘Dealing with personal family issues’ or some variation on that? Well no, I didn’t want to be included in their damn survey at all. I want them to leave me alone. In the end I said to put me down as ‘I have no holiday plans, but I will be attending Labour conference and visiting family’. I now feel this was an error on my part. But they really have you over a barrel, don’t they? “No comment” could easily be interpreted as four weeks in the Caribbean followed by a cruise in the Greek islands on a Russian oligarch’s yacht. “Dealing with personal issues” sounds like you’re being packed off to the Priory. So you end up co-operating… or at least I did.

What would be great would be if instead of recording people as ‘No comment’ the Telegraph recorded MPs actual responses – which I suspect would in many cases be along the lines of “Mind your own ******* business!”

I should add that virtually every MP I’ve spoken to is having a very modest holiday this year, with the most common destinations being Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, France, maybe Tuscany at a push. Some are even going camping or caravanning. So it’s not that they’ve got anything to hide – and none of them have lucrative second jobs either.

So – if you’ve managed to read this far, what do you think? Are people entitled to have a blow-by-blow account of what their MPs are up to this summer? Are MPs wrong to feel hounded and harrassed on this issue? Is the Telegraph performing a valuable public service, or can we trust constituents to hold their MPs to account? Your thoughts please.

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