Friday, 26 March 2010

Do we want full-time parliamentary representatives or glorified social workers?

In this morning's News Letter I examine the curious attitude that exists in Northern Ireland towards Westminster MP's.

WHAT makes a good MP? You might think that attendance at the House of Commons would be a useful start.

Too often, in Northern Ireland, however, attentive constituency work is mistaken for an assiduous approach to Westminster politics at large.

Although constituency work is an important aspect of an MP's duties, often it is prioritised, to the exclusion of attendance at the House of Commons, by local parties. I argue:

Regular surgeries are a must, and any diligent member will take time to listen to his or her constituents' concerns, but an MP should serve the constituency as a whole, as well as the individuals which make it up.

That means attempting to drum up investment for the area, exerting influence at parliament on its behalf and attending debates and divisions in the House of Commons.

If an MP spends precious few hours in parliament, and a great many filling out forms for a constituent, for example, then it is probable that he or she is not making the best use of time and therefore, the service being provided is not as good as it should be.

The DUP's recent attack on Mike Nesbitt, on the grounds that he would, apparently, be unable to fill in a DLA form, typifies the mentality, but each of the parties has, traditionally, been guilty of the same short-sightedness.

Many politicians and parties in Northern Ireland have a curious attitude to politics at Westminster. General elections are often treated as if their chief purpose were to maintain the profile of local politicians between Assembly contests.

Consider the upcoming tussle in North Antrim. Jim Allister, of the TUV, and the DUP's Ian Paisley Junior will engage in a vicious, personal battle, but the arguments are sure to centre around power-sharing at Stormont.

It will be left to Irwin Armstrong, the Conservative and Unionist candidate, to inject a dose of relevant Westminster politics.

Sinn Féin, of course, refuses to sit in the House of Commons at all.

While DUP MPs are amongst the most eager claimants of expenses, they are the rarest attenders at Westminster.

Yes, they all have duties at Stormont, often at council level too, and they work hard in their constituencies, but their constituents are, effectively, left with part-time representation at national level.

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