Nick Clegg: “The claim that MPs are out of touch with ‘ordinary’ people is complete nonsense”

This part of Nick Clegg’s session at a recent conference caught my eye:

The claim that MPs are out of touch with ‘ordinary’ people is complete nonsense. No matter how high or low you are in the pecking order of politics, you have to be in Constituency Surgery every Thursday chatting to a family about how you’re going to help their daughter get into the local school or speaking to a single mum who isn’t getting access to benefits. That’s hugely valuable and boy does it keep politicians’ feet on the ground. The vast majority of MPs I knew – across all parties – had a forensic understanding of their local community. I was an MP for Sheffield for 12 years representing 70,000 odd people and I knew every blade of grass, every school, and every street. I’m not defending British politics – the whole system should be swept aside and replaced – but I am defending politicians. They work extremely hard to understand the people they represent.

It’s a point I mostly agree with… though I think he’s missed the part of the story around the huge variation in the amount of casework that different MPs do. A combination of constituency and electoral needs, added to varying constituency size, powers that – typically an MP (of any party) in a marginal inner city seat with high levels of poverty will have to deal with much higher casework volumes than an MP in a safe seat for their party in a sprawling rural seat with higher levels of affluence.

The latter provides less electoral incentive to work hard, it provides fewer people (as the population of constituencies varies, and – I think it’s right to say – varies even more than their electorates given that some parts of the country have more people living in them who aren’t qualified to register), and also the more urban and poor the area, the higher the density usually of the sorts of issues that people raise with their MPs.

There are hard working MPs in some safe rural constituencies, and poverty is by no means exclusive to inner cities. Plus MPs vary in how much they dedicate themselves to helping constituents with casework.

But the patterns overall are there – and they along with our electoral system mean there is huge variation in the constituency caseload that different MPs take on.


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