By Archie McCann
The phrase “good local MP” gets thrown around a lot. Whether its on every single leaflet that goes through your letterbox, or someone trying to justify why their favourite MP has horrific foreign policy views, it’s an idea of a helpful parliamentarian working tirelessly to fix potholes and lie in front of bulldozers to stop those nasty buildings going up. We see it in an MP showing up to protests, taking photos with dead children, and giving out raffle prizes at school fairs. I’ve heard lines like “I hate Theresa May as Prime Minister, but she’s a good local MP [because I’ve seen her out on walks near my house and she said hello]”, and “Sinn Fein are good constituency MPs”. But all this is the job of your local councillors, not your MP.
Members of Parliament have far too many important things to be doing than this stuff. As we’ve seen over the last few years in COVID restrictions, Brexit votes, and making sure people can afford to live, the House of Commons spends some amount of time on issues that make all the difference in the world. Those issues can literally mean life-or-death to millions. A vital role of MPs is to scrutinise the government – and the government has been doing its best to avoid that. This makes the time of MPs even more valuable, and we should make sure it is spent holding the government to account and ensuring legislation serves its purpose, rather than joining a NIMBY campaign or working as a consultant.
Of course, there is a reason that they spent time doing this crap – they want to win elections. People are much more likely to vote for someone who looks like they’re proactively working for you, rather than somebody who you never see (but is improving the country massively via high-speed rail, or with drug law reform, or a myriad of other things that might happen in Parliament). Similar arguments can, and have, been made for MPs engaging in anti-building local politics. But we should not stand for pure selfishness driving the decline of the UK, especially from those we call “public servants”.
So the next time there’s a general election (i.e. days before the first Liberal Prime Minister in a century), think about what you want from your MP. Is it cutting ribbons and visiting local cafes? Perhaps campaigning against nearby renewable energy projects or new towns? Or is it spending their time scrutinising the government, voting on legislation that might win wars and save lives, and actually working for all of the people, not just their voters.
P.S. It goes without saying that this would, like most things, be partially fixed by Proportional Representation. For example, Open List PR would do away with constituencies, while STV would have larger constituencies with multiple members, which may reduce the “constituency focus of MPs” (such as Ireland and (sort-of) the Australian Senate). Sadly neither the parties in Government (the Conservatives) nor in Opposition (Labour) support this, as the current set-up allows them to maintain a duopoly on politics.
 Heitshusen, Valerie, et al. “Electoral Context and MP Constituency Focus in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 49, no. 1, 2005, pp. 32–45. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/3647711