Harder, better, faster, stronger

The slanging matches between the Yes and No camps in the AV ‘debate’ (if you can call it that) grows more tedious by the day… It’s happening in a very small, rarified world of political activists, with virtually no interest from ‘ordinary’ voters. AV has, if truth be told, just started coming up on the doorstep in the last few days, which I guess has something to do with the fact the explanatory leaflets have now hit the doormats and there’s been some ads on telly. But people are mostly raising it in vaguely curious “what’s all this AV stuff about then?” kind of way, i.e. it feels like the start of a debate, not at all where we should be barely a fortnight before polling day. Which confirms my view that there’s no way we should be holding this referendum now (and this was the view of the Labour party which tried to move an amendment to this effect) when we have local/Scottish/Welsh elections taking place on the same day and rather a lot else going on politics-wise.

I was quoted on the BBC website the other day saying I found the main thrust of the Yes campaign – the playing the anti-politics, “AV will make your MP work harder and fiddle their expenses less”, card – rather insulting. I’m simply not going to go round sticking a leaflet through doors saying, vote to make me work harder! Virtually all MPs put in incredibly long hours, and have a work-life balance that is completely off-kilter and makes ‘normal’ family life a struggle. (I say this more as a comment on the difficulties facing my colleagues than as a personal whinge. I have it easy compared to most – constituency is relatively close to London, no kids to feel guilty about, and I rather like the late hours; it’s mornings I hate!)

The Yes2AV ‘work harder’ line is based on the idea that if an MP’s seat is more marginal, and if they have to work for second or even third preferences too, they will spend more time ‘working’ their constituencies. This may well be the case. I think it’s fair to say that in the run-up to the 2010 General Election – and in some cases as soon as they were elected in 2005 – MPs in the more marginal seats were always the keenest to get away to their constituencies as soon as they could. So if it was a one-line whip on Thursdays they’d be away on the Wednesday night and if we weren’t
due to vote till 10pm on a Monday, they’d get down just in time to do that. MPs with families in their constituencies were often the same.

It could be argued this is a great thing…. MPs spending a lot more time meeting constituents, attending local events, pointing at potholes…. But ultimately we are meant to be legislators. Yes, it’s really important that we are in touch with what’s happening on our turf and that we’re accessible to our constituents, and try to get out there and meet people, as I’ve been doing throughout recess. But the best way I can help many constituents in the long run is to change the laws that affect them. To give one example. I’m increasingly being contacted with constituents who are suffering because the Work Capability Assessments which decide whether or not they are eligible for disability benefits are not fit for purpose. I’m also working with a number of charities on the same issue, some of which have a local presence in Bristol. I can and do take up all these individual cases and help to overturn the initial finding of ‘fit for work’. But the bigger game is being in Westminster, raising this problem with Ministers, attending and speaking in debates on the topic, perhaps tabling amendments to legislation going through Parliament. That’s how we’ll sort out the WCA so that people aren’t being unfairly penalised by the system. And that’s what MPs are for.

Another example…. I’ve recently met with the Chief Exec of the Primary Care Trust, and doctors from inner-city GP practices, and local health campaigners and disability campaigners, and spent a day last week shadowing staff at Frenchay and Southmead hospitals… All of which was incredibly useful in informing me about frontline health
services and how practitioners and patients feel about the Government’s proposed health ‘reforms’. But what I need to do now is return to Westminster armed with this insight, and do something useful with it.

So yes, perhaps AV will make MPs work harder in ‘their patch’ but if they do this at the expense of their Westminster role, it’s not necessarily a good thing. (Oh, and I’m Yes to AV by the way… I just think they’re wrong on this one).

Now you could see this as a good thing. MPs spending much more time in their cosntitun

(although I am sure this depends in part in the nature of the constituency you represent,

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