Friday 4 September 2009

Forget silly season and get into real reform

Taking a holiday is good for all of us. I'm just back from an August break all refreshed and full of energy.
While I've been away new pressure group 38 degrees has been trying to stir up a feeding frenzy by suggesting that when the debates are not running in Parliament MPs are out on holiday for 12 weeks.
Every year the same old newspapers run the same old story, even though political correspondents know it to be untrue, suggesting that MPs are taking a "12 week holiday". This is no news to you boys - but when the chamber is closed, there is plenty of other work to do. I was in Portcullis House yesterday and it was packed with MPs, and researchers at work.
But there is also this convenient misplacement of memory among the politically well-informed that MPs are also working through piles of emails, fighting constituency cases, going to local meetings, and generally being out and about among the people that elected them, when the House is not in session.
Anyone with a bit of political knowledge knows that attending debates in the chamber, select committees and other parliamentary business is only a small part of a MP's job.
Political correspondents know this because they spend a lot of time with MPs, but others -- such as 38 degrees -- might want to spend a day with their local MP and find just how much she or he does, and that includes weekends and evenings, when most of us take a rest.
So it is disappointing to see this newly formed campaigning group going down the same old anti-politics misinformation trail as tired tabloids.
In their campaign "MP holiday watch" they have been asking the public to snap MPs on holiday. No worries about intrusion there then. How would you feel if you went off to take your fortnight in the sun, and someone on the beach snapped a picture of you and your kids in the sand? Not great, I would have thought.
And then there is this overwhelming suggestion that MPs are slacking by taking time off at all.
Alistair Campbell makes the point in his blog today, that Tony Blair always drew criticism for his holiday choices, and now Gordon Brown gets criticised for not taking time, or wearing a tie when he is away.
This is, as he says, a no-win situation for politicians.
So enough with the anti-holiday nonsense already, let's get real and focus on some proper parliamentary reform, there's plenty to do. How about reform of the House of Lords or MPs expenses or getting MPs to live in or near their constituencies for a start?
And can we forget about creating fake scandals which make easy tabloid stories, when there is plenty of reform that will make a real difference to politics?

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