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Friday, August 22, 2014

The best part of being an elected politician

The Telegraph carries a very entertaining article about what MPs get up to during recess, which for the most part also applies to Assembly Members.

As a regional member I have always held surgeries and like many MPs take advantage of recesses not just to continue that tradition but also to engage with constituents in different ways as well.

The paper says that according to one study a third of MPs spend up to half their time solving problems on behalf of their constituents, but for another third it’s more like three quarters. Many receive 200 new cases receive each month. It certainly can be that busy for an Assembly Member. My staff and I spend a lot of time dealing with individual problems.

I can also relate to the example given of Labour MP Tristram Hunt’s constituency surgery in Stoke where the journalist describes watching a stream of people entering with 'bags stuffed full of horribly big piles of paper that showed just how horribly they were being treated by the state, the landlord, the bank, or [fill in blank]. They dumped this heaving mass of letters, bills, final demands and court summonses on the trestle table Mr Hunt had set up in one corner of a vast gym. Then they asked him to sort them out.'

It has to be said that although I have had one or two bizarre cases, which I cannot relate here or elsewhere for confidentiality reasons, for the most part I have not managed to match some of the examples given here:

MPs must give the impression they are all-powerful: why else would a woman have asked the Tory MP Tim Loughton for advice on how to make the man who had dumped her change his mind? Perhaps the man who left a 3am voicemail with another MP telling him he was having a heart attack had similarly high opinions of his representative (when a panicked caseworker phoned back the following morning, the chap was fine).

Another MP, who describes her constituency surgery as a “jungle”, says: “I am always being asked by elderly men with very young Thai wives to revoke the wife’s right-to-remain status and have her deported – the latest reason was because she costs too much and listens to music.”

Constituents suffering from such concerns are probably best advised to consult the Labour MP Karen Buck, who had to help one appellant who was concerned with the costs of a wedding. Tory Therese Coffey was asked to recommend a good dating agency, and another colleague was asked for help with the costs of a divorce. One MP still appears to be recovering from a case where a constituent demanded breast implants on the NHS because her boyfriend was so depressed by her natural size that he kept missing work.

A seasoned caseworker still chuckles about the constituent who wanted a refund from a pornography website. But the laughs are few and far between: asylum and immigration, benefits, debt and housing are the most popular problems, and few of them are quite as hilarious as the horrified constituent who badgered an MP about the “absolute crazy prices for rhubarb at Asda”.

The best part of this job is when you are able to help somebody resolve a problem and enable them to get on with their life. We cannot perform miracles, but we can act within the system to make it work better on an individual case basis.
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