JOHN BATTLE MP
AS THE weekly recipient of 100-150 individual letters, phone calls, visits to surgery sessions , and my local constituency office, I argued against the House of Commons rising early for the summer break on the grounds that there's much less work at Westminster than there is to face back home.
Compared with the constituency work, typical of Inner city areas of 69,000 constituents, just taking part on parliamentary activities in the House of Commons seems a holiday in itself. From midday Monday when I get on the train from Leeds to setting off back home at 11:15 pm on Thursday night, I'm locally "unavailable". It's much harder to ring an MP and catch them at a desk at the House of Commons, or is it feasible for Leeds' constituents to call in and "have a word" unlike Fridays in the constituency office or at home over the weekend.
Sometimes I feel I go down to London to escape from people wanting to know why they can't have a council home since their home's being repossessed; tenants waiting for years to transfer to a more appropriate home; couples expecting a child who has been told the law says you are not overcrowded until the baby actually arrives.
Then there's those who can't manage on the state pension to pay their poll tax; people waiting for their disabled living allowance to come through problems of access to children"
of separating couples,
unemployed youngsters struggling to get on schemes, petitions to save a local post office from closing, and a major national campaign to tackle asbestos pollution caused by a local factory that closed in 1958 leaving in its wake over 50 people who lived in the vicinity with deadly mesoltelioma.
Tabling a question in the House, or making a speech on the Finance Bill Committee, on stamp duty or mortgages is a much less onerous task in comparison.
In a depoliticised society in which people do not know what the various levels of political representation are, who do not know the role of a local councillor, the "ombudsman", or paid public officials, it is little wonder that they turn to the person they see as having some public profile.
To suggest "go and see your local councillor" simply provokes "why are you fobbing me off?" Thus MPs are changing into general "ombudsmen", or "supercouncillors" faced with people feeling less and less able to get anything done for themselves.
Local accountability, that close particular constituency link, is a precious element in our democratic system. MPs are privileged to be invited to listen to people's stories, to be let in on their personal response to what's going on in their lives.
From individual "cases" a detailed challenge to the legislative or budgetary structures can be distilled. An individual back-bench ("opposition") MP can at least be one of the powerless speaking up for the voiceless.
Since the general election did not itself get rid of the recession, escalating unemployment, poverty and homelessness, to shut down Parliament early on the grounds that there is nothing to talk about is an arrogant suppression of public criticism.
Politics cannot be banished on an extended vacation; or declared over and done with until the next election comes round. Last week I asked in parliament, when the overdue "Households Below Average Income" statistics would be published. The answer was the last day Parliament sits before the break. There can therefore be no parliamentary comment or questioning until after October 17.
While the House is closed I intend to visit charitable bodies overwhelmed with requests from people facing real hardship, having been refused help from the Government's Social Fund.
They at least fully appreciate the difficulties of providing a make-shift ambulance unit on the battlefield and at the same time trying to get through to those in power to cease the war.