Wrong target, but right argument

pidcockThe wunderkind Laura Pidcock MP has a lamentable grasp of history and no common sense whatsoever, but irritating little tike though she is, she is not necessarily wrong about the way an MP’s workload has changed since the time of the dinosaurs, er like me.

Today I read comments on Twitter linking to stories in the Daily Mail and other places that suggested Laura Pidcock MP had compared herself to Sir Winston Churchill and that she works harder than he did.

The screaming headline on Mail Online says that at least. But when you read the text it qualifies it as “works harder than he would have.”

The source for this is a Guardian interview in which she said this:

“It is a really important political point that the role of an MP’s office has fundamentally changed in the past 20 to 30 years. I can’t really imagine someone like Winston Churchill or his staff supporting people like this. I know the system was completely different then, but now it’s literally asking people, have you got food, have you got electricity, can you live through this week? We’ve got to physically help people.”

Now it might be justified, and I did this in a tweet on the day it was published, that there is something seriously wrong with Ms Pidcock’s education if she thinks that Churchill was an MP “20-30 years” ago, as ended his illustrious parliamentary career in 1964 and died in 1965.

The great man’s funeral is one of my oldest and strongest memories. As a nine year old I watched the funeral on TV with my parents, and like the rest of our Nation we cried together.

But to Ms Pidcock, it’s just a page in history. Mixing up her timeline on Churchill is not that different from some people confusing the dates of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. I wouldn’t do that either, but then history is my favourite subject and I think history is the most important thing in the world to understand.

But Ms Pidcock like most of her generation seem obsessed with the “now” not the then.

I don’t know this, but my guess is she randomly plucked Churchill as an example simply because he was an old Tory bloke from pre-history who she knows her enemies respect. Her point was surely not really about Winston, it was about the way an MPs job has changed since his day, be it her 20 years ago, or the real more than 50 years.

Both are true. The MPs’ constituency workload has changed out of all recognition. Although not in the content as Ms Pidcock suggests, because 20-30 years ago when I was a constituency agent to five MPs successively, they all (including the then PM) dealt with exactly the same subjects which she says are her concerns now.

In my experience of looking after constituency mailbags and advice surgeries MPs back then were full of social services, housing, welfare, poverty, and immigration issues. This was true even in Richmond upon Thames one of the wealthiest places in the country with a 98% white British electorate. The biggest surgery issue there was immigration related just as it was in Haringey where even 30 years ago one in four school children were immigrants.

What has changed is not the content, it is the volume.

20-30 years ago most if not all MPs employed from their parliamentary allowance or shared the employment of one secretary who worked in the House of Commons who was their “constituency secretary.” She, it was always a she, would single-handedly manage all constituency correspondence and advice surgery work.

The lucky MPs also had an Agent like me in the Conservative Party or a Labour Organiser for the other side. Local agents like me had to raise our own salaries from local subs and Bring & Buys Sales. We may or may not have played some part supporting the MP with this kind of work, but most dididn’t. It was the preserve of the secretary.

Now, most MPs have maybe two, three of four “case workers”, also paid out of their MPs allowance, who manage their “mailbag” as well as work on policy issues. the mailbag of course is now electronic and there lies the rub.

20-30 years ago it required a constituent to make a considerable effprt to write a letter to their MP or to find them at a surgery. Most of them were in my experience – regulars.

In 2017 Ms Pidcock and her colleagues are instantly accessible and receive hundreds of emails every day – mostly of the kind really looking for the help of Citizens Advice or social services, but everybody thinks their MP is there to help with everything.

Ms Pidcock’s grasp of history is suspect. She was silly to pick the Greatest Englishman who has ever lived as her example of an old bloke…. but she is fundamentally right about the massive increase in a constituency MP’s workload.

Sir Winston would not have recognised it. I very much doubt if he would have wanted to do it. He aspired to be and became a Statesman. Most MPs these days are just glorified social workers for most of their working lives.

 

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