Many people think MPs spend a good deal of time sitting on green benches, cheering or pointing, popping up occasionally on TV? writes Caroline Flint.
Maybe it’s our own fault – MPs that is – for not telling the public enough about what we do. In my case, the Westminster week is only half of my “MP life”. I leave Doncaster for Parliament on a Monday morning, stay until the Government business ends on Thursday, usually around 6 or 7pm, and then I’m back on the train to Doncaster as soon as I can, usually with a busy day planned for Friday and the weekend, before it starts again.
Life in Doncaster is central to my work as an MP. My GP surgery is in Balby, a few months ago, my husband sat in A&E for half the night; I use the same supermarkets, attend the same galas. Recently, we were clearing litter at the Conisbrough Mill Piece; two weeks ago I was giving a hand at Martinwells Lake, Edlington, a five year labour of love. This Saturday I attended a ceremony for Albert Burkill, a merchant navy veteran who waited 69 years to receive his Atlantic Star service medal.
The media show politicians appearing on doorsteps at election time. Well, with my local team and councillors, we’re on doorsteps most weeks of the year. In recent days, it’s been Cantley, Hatfield, Thorne and Rossington but, as my constituency has 42,000 houses, even if I call on 100 homes each week, it would take 8 years to get round – and I still might not find you in!
My April surgeries – 7 in one day (the next are on 9 May) – brought the total to about 1,134 surgeries since I became Don Valley MP 17 years ago. It’s surgeries, local visits, and the 4,900 people whose cases I’ve taken up since the last election, that keep my feet on the ground.
You see, an MP may help make laws, we may fight for funding for public services or lobby Government, but we don’t run anything, except a small office. So when I meet the police, St Leger Homes or local NHS trust executives or even Mayor Jones, I’m often asking the questions you would – trying to find out if our services are working the way we hope they do.
When Parliament is meeting, I lead on Energy & Climate in Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet. I’ve no doubt that our efforts to secure fair energy prices and demand for an energy price freeze is having an impact.
But for me when Parliament is in recess, that doesn’t equal holiday – it’s meetings and visits and the occasional Sky TV truck in my front garden – and best of all, I get to work from where I live, here in Doncaster.
So next time you watch the MPs cheering during Prime Minister’s Questions, remember that sitting on the green benches is only half the job.
This article was first published in the South Yorkshire Times.