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A Thankless Task: Who’d Want To Be An MP?

Do MPs deserve all the stick they get?

Lucy Mannion

Naked Politics Blogger 

There was a time when MPs were respected members of society. This doesn’t seem to ring true anymore.  Deference to parliamentarians has been replaced by intense scrutiny and personal abuse, with MPs as punching bags for the media and public.  Reflecting on the treatment of many politicians, I wonder who would want to be an MP anyway?

The most obvious and tragic example of what can happen when you enter the political arena is the vile murder of Jo Cox, a woman who dedicated her life to public service and improving the world.   This is an extreme case but sadly the everyday safety of MPs is being questioned and politicians are being provided with extra police advice on their security.  The abusive messages many receive now are having to be taken less as rants from those displeased with their political stance, and more as actual potential dangers.

You would assume that, after Jo’s death, people might have thought twice about menacing MPs, but at least 25 received death threats last month.  This time in an email which also threatened their families and included a picture of a severed head.  Similarly appalling was the tweet received by Yvette Cooper MP threatening to kill her children over her position on the EU.  Examples such as this are not as rare or shocking as they should be.

Even at a more mundane level, the reports of Conservative MPs being spat at as they entered the party conference last year are unsettling and not what I expect in modern day Britain.

Over in the Labour camp, this year has seen some abysmal incidents facing those who question Corbyn.  The height of which being when former leadership contender Angela Eagle had a brick thrown through her office window and her staff intimidated.  It should be a positive thing that people are becoming more engaged in politics, but we need this to be via open debate, not mob violence.

Away from the issue of personal safety, MPs are attacked for their pay, expenses and long holidays.  Many concur that the downward trajectory of respectability MPs have been facing began with the expenses scandal and understandably so.  However, more than 225 MPs were elected to the commons for the first time in 2010, who never even had a taste of the expenses gravy train that came before.  However, the idea that MPs are all on the take is so ingrained this is generally ignored, despite the fact that the new IPSA expenses regime is generally accepted to be a lot more stringent.

On the matter of the long parliamentary recesses, the media like to run pieces sneering at all the time off MPs get.  However, the majority of parliamentarians use this time to work in their constituency, catching up with their constituents.  For very few is it a jolly holiday, but again the perception of MPs as the cats that got the cream is entrenched.

Your private life also ceases to be that when you become an MP, whether any personal indiscretions affect your job or not.  Of course some may be more pertinent than others, the recent issue of Keith ‘Jim’ Vaz and his party boys does leave a bit of a bitter taste seeing as his Home Affairs committee has done a lot of work on prostitution.  However, there have been plenty of personal indiscretions by MPs that deserved to remain behind closed doors.  Steve Double’s MPs extramarital affair with his own caseworker would arguably be one of these, but regrettably for his wife this was not an option.  I realise some would disagree but I’m of the school of thought that MPs should be people not paragons of virtue.

If you are a female MP, the focus also largely extends to whether or not you have children and if not why not?  The tasteless scuffle between Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May highlighted this to the extreme during the Conservative leadership campaign.  Following on from this was Nicola Sturgeon’s bare all about her miscarriage.  So it seems this remains a focal point for women politicians.

All the above taken in to account, I wonder who is going to want to become an MP in the future.  Though not badly paid, it’s likely most MPs could earn more doing something else and being an MP is the definition of having no job security.  You have the unenviable task of having to balance your own conscience, with the often conflicting views of your constituents and the whip of your party.  Not to mention also giving headspace to the positions of experts, charities and lobbyists.  Then in the end, whatever you decide you will never please everyone.  MP’s, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  They have my sympathy.

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