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.

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

    • None and the very fact that he was elected says much about Labour’s selection process and the ignorance of the students who thought it was a cute idea to replace an MP with the experience of Nick Clegg with that excuse of candidate

  1. Yes we had a greatly respected Liberal Democrat MP for years, Annette Brooke….she was influential locally in many spheres. We also have some excellent Liberal Democrat Councillors who are equally hardworking, holding down “ordinary” jobs too….. the problem with many British people is they focus on the negatives and don’t see the good work done around them, you only have to read the letters in our local newspapers to get frustrated at the ignorant statements made without any evidence……don’t get me started on that one!

    • To lose this seat in particular was a tragedy as the Liberal Democrats had worked so hard in the wards and at constituency level.

  2. I have to comment on this. I am a district councillor and find it extremely frustrating because I work my socks off and hold down my self employment work. Admittedly, I can choose my own hours, however, there are several councillors who seem to do nothing at all.

  3. There are MPs who do little casework and there are some who, while working hard, are somehow on a different wavelength from their electorate, for example failing to understand the kind of language that will get through to most people or believing they’re hugely concerned about something that actually bothers very few (that the MP has different priorities is defensible).

    But there is an entrenched image of MPs and councillors in general that is uninfluenced by actual experience of one’s own representatives. Many years ago I attended a meeting of a so-called tenants’ association on a large estate in my then ward and was very concerned when my introduction of myself as one of the local councillors was met with hostility. I’d done a lot of work on that estate. But I soon found out the tenants’ association discouraged some residents from joining and the meeting was full of people who came for the bar and didn’t live in the ward. Maybe I should have known the character of the association sooner – but its inactivity was a reason why I hadn’t encountered it before.

    Way back in the 70s there was a poll asking people (1) what they thought of MPs in general and (2) what they thought of their own local MP. The answers to the second question were way more positive than to the first. The negative view of elected representatives in general comes from the media and in particular from right-wing media with an agenda of undermining public service and real democracy in favour of marketisation and privatisation.

    • That 1970s poll finding has also been repeated regularly since – it’s a common pattern, not just for MPs, that people think the local version they know (an MP, a hospital) is better than the overall (MPs, the NHS).

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