Most people go from one election to the next without thinking about their MP, unless they find themselves in trouble and need help. When this happens they can find that having a good MP is actually pretty important!
The media frenzy over expenses, has focused a lot of attention on MPs. It is worth looking briefly at how this untidy system came about. Initially there were no expenses, and only wealthy people stood for parliament. Then there was an emergency fund for MPs who found themselves out of pocket. Under Mrs Thatcher there was a need to cap MP’s pay, and the MPs were encouraged to claim expenses to “top up”, over time it became the norm for a lot (but not all) of MPs to see the expenses as “entitlement”. So now it is seen as perfectly OK for someone like David Cameron, with his fortune of £30 million, to claim the maximum in mortgage interest.
The system will now be sorted out. I personally hope there will be some form of capping or means testing to ensure that those who have a great deal of money already are not encouraged to claim money they do not need.
In the middle of all this excitement the media has done injustice to the many fine MPs who care a lot about us, work hard, and do not play the system. The democratic process has been damaged, and we now have people elected to represent us in Europe that most people never wished to see there. I would personally not blame MPs who just gave up on us and walked away from it! If we want decent MPs we had better start by valuing the decent ones we have!
Many people know very little about their MPs and don’t know how to find out more. Here are some starting points.
• If your MP wants people to know what they are doing they will have an active Website, in addition to sending out regular press releases.
• They will probably have published their expenses details on line.
• A growing number of MPs also blog or use Twitter.
• Most MPs will have an office and regular surgeries in their constituency.
• Check their activity in Parliament by looking them up on http://www.theyworkforyou.com It will let you see the debates you MP has taken part in, read or see video clips of their speeches, see what proportion of votes they have taken part in, what committees they play a part in, and it also gives useful comparative information on expenses.
• You can also sign up for email alerts so that you can see whenever they ask questions or take part in a debate.
I’d like to think that by the time we all next have a vote more people will know a little more about their MPs than they do now. Don’t take my word for it – but do check your MP out using some of these clues!