This supposition was brought to the fore recently when I received a ‘tweet’ that said; “Shame on Steve Rotheram for not attending the debate in Parliament on pub companies”. Despite the fact I had actually attended the debate in question, in between other meeting I had on that day, the underlying concern from the person contacting me was that because I wasn’t visible in the Chamber of the House of Commons when they had switched on their TV, it appeared that I wasn’t interested in their particular concern.
The issue here is; what is the precise role of an MP? The truth is that no two MPs do the same job, or even approach it in the same manner. There is no specification handed to you at the count hall on the night they declare you the winner, outlining the specific roles and responsibilities of an MP. There is no job specification or manual provided once you swear allegiance to the Queen and to the people of Liverpool Walton.
In reality we are 650 franchises guided by certain restrictions, but each carrying out the MP role in our own particular way. I personally try to address what I call the 6 Cs (although it is worth noting that these are NOT in any order of importance): Campaigning/Case Work/Constituency stuff/Chamber Time/Committees/ and Correspondence. Some might argue that there is a seventh C (as in ‘chatter’ from the Tea Room gossips), but I couldn’t comment on that!However each aspect of the job underpins the other and whilst they are in themselves independent functions, they are mutually interrelated in the pursuit of representing the people who elect you.
The real parliamentary talent of course is to keep all of the plates spinning without anything crashing to the ground, which is a particularly difficult task at times. There are certainly occasions when one component of the 6Cs takes precedence over the others, but the balance is returned when other issues take prominence to redress the equilibrium.
In reality, the time spent in the Chamber may be the highest profile component of the job as it is the most visible, but it certainly isn’t the most important.
Parliament sits from 1430 – 2200 on a Monday and Tuesday, from 1130-2200 on a Wednesday and from 1030 – 1800 on a Thursday. Friday is reserved for Private Members’ Bill readings. The idea that I would best serve my constituents’ interests by sitting in the Chamber for every hour of every day that parliament sits, is, in my opinion a fallacy. Certainly the Chamber is important during debates when there are issues that you would like either to comment on, or raise local concerns, but what about the meetings and briefings? What about the select committees? What about the Labour backbench Committee I chair? What about the face-to-face contact time with constituents?What about written and oral questions to Ministers? What about spending time in Liverpool Walton? What about advice surgeries? What about visiting schools, hospitals, businesses etc?
The particular form of contact in each case needs to be tailored to the individual circumstances of the issue in hand. What must be understood is that no MP could do everything without the help of staff. My staff are the backbone of what happens in Liverpool Walton and I rely on them to assist in keeping the ‘plates spinning’. Without a well functioning office and support team, there would be a major crockery disaster!
I have always believed that when you stand for election, at whatever level, you are asking for people’s votes and trust but you are also asking them to believe in your judgment. I hope that the people of Liverpool Walton trust that I divide my time in Westminster and Walton in the best way I can to ensure that I am representing their interests in the best way possible.