MPs and constituency service

House of CommonsThe appalling death of Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, generated considerable reflection on the role of an MP.   There was recognition that MPs are generally dedicated public servants.  Jo Cox was a remarkably able and dedicated Member.  She was one of many.  There has been a tendency to generalise from the unworthy few rather than the hardworking many.  MPs work long and unsocial hours and the demands of the job have got greater over time.  If there is one positive thing that may possibly come out of this tragedy (other than the amazing public response in donating to Jo Cox’s favoured charities) is a better public awareness of what MPs do.  It may provide some balance to the cynical and generally ill-informed view taken of MPs and the work they undertake.

The other reflection has been on the specific constituency work of the MP, not least casework undertaken through constituency surgeries.  Such surgeries are a post-war development.  They are taken now as a given part of an MP’s role.  Discussion in recent days has focused on whether or not security at surgeries should be stepped up.  Jo Cox was not the first MP to be physically attacked at a surgery, nor the first to be killed at a surgery.  MPs are reluctant to have too much overt security, as they don’t want to put up barriers between them and their constituents.

This discussion, though, is premised on the value and continued existence of such surgeries. Constituents look to MPs to put the constituency first.  Constituency work takes up an increasing volume of an MP’s weekly schedule.  However, there is a difference between pursuing constituency interests and the interests of particular constituents.  MPs are well placed to make the case for the economic, environmental and social benefit of their constituencies.  Constituents look to them also to take up their particular grievances, even if not related directly to matters for which government has responsibility.  Demand is matched by supply.  MPs are reluctant to say no to constituents.  They see casework as keeping them aware of the problems faced by constituents – it keeps them in touch with the real world.  However, most MPs are not trained social workers.  Many of the problems brought to them could be better dealt with by professional agencies or by individuals trained to deal with such issues.  Insofar as issues could still be pursued via Members, there may be a case for more resources to hire additional caseworkers or someone trained to refer the constituents to the most appropriate authorities.  As things stand, the more constituency casework an MP takes on, the less time there is to devote to the particularly important cases and to pursuing the interests of the constituency.  There is also an opportunity cost in terms of fulfilling the tasks which only MPs collectively can fulfil and that is calling government to account and scrutinising legislation.

I am not saying MPs should give up constituency casework.  (Many years ago I encountered an MP who argued that MPs should be statute-barred from undertaking constituency casework.  He was subsequently deselected.)  However, given the increasing pressures of such work, and the sheer demands it makes of Members, I think there is a case for a serious discussion as to whether MPs should simply continue on their present trajectory of dealing with all the matters brought to them by constituents.  We need to stand back and think about an MP’s role rather than simply plough on regardless.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to MPs and constituency service

  1. Gary Weatherhead says:

    At least one MP that i know of arranges to have an experienced CAB worker to be available with them at constituency surgeries. I’m surprised that more MPs don’t do this, as they are perfectly suited (and trained) to give advice & information (and make appropriate referrals to other relevant agencies) on all the weird and wonderful variety of subject matters that constituents bring to their MP.

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  3. Croft says:

    A former (make of that what you will) MP I know thought >90% of his constit work was misdirected to him as an MP. ie it was really a council or other bodies problem and not really a good use of his time or solvable by him.

    I guess LN will b busy with his crystal ball today – have fun all 🙂

  4. maude elwes says:

    Good Morning Great Britain!

    The MP’s great constituency work didn’t quite get through to their electorate though did it? I wonder why that is?

    And listening to this mornings group spouting sinister fury at our decision to opt for separation surgery, they still aren’t.

    This crowd of wonderful conveyors of the peoples will, as always, want to circumvent reality to find a get out clause for their strange and bewildered thinking, Instead of accepting the ‘new think’ brigade, akin to Blair and his band of merry men, which include a great many conservatives, is not the way forward, they continue to hang on to that old pal called, ‘what is right.’. Which goes to prove they have a severe case of indoctrinated Stockholm Syndrome.

    Happy Independence Day!

  5. maude elwes says:

    This morning we read Prime Minister Cameron is standing down as leader, whilst others are being considered for the job. Mr Cameron was very good looking as a British politician he carried it off well. And he and his wife made a nice looking couple to represent GB.

    However, the crew being listed as a replacement, in the main, are horrendous. Intensely disliked most of them.

    How is it the calm, measured, kind uncle faced Chris Grayling MP isn’t being listed along with those others? I watched him in interviews running up to this election and even if you don’t agree with all his political views, he comes across a Mr Nice Guy and straight forward with it. How come someone of his calibre and experience is being passed over for some of those, Easter Island tormenters we get so turned off by?

    I think he would make a good PM.

    Just saying.

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