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The Constituency Activist Member of Parliament

Constituency has become more important and MPs are now expected live, or at least have a house, in the constituency. The constituency role has a number of dimensions:-

The Party Member of Parliament

MPs will want to keep in touch with their constituency party and members. MPs are mostly party loyalists and so want to have a good relationship with local party members. Local parties can deselect an MP. This happens rarely and parties are very tolerant and may actually support an MP who rebels against the party leadership but deselection happened in Reading East in 2004 because of ‘personal differences’ between the MP and the party. MPs still need the help of party activists to campaign between as well as during elections.

The Area Advocate Member of Parliament

MP take up issues related to their constituency, for example, the Cornish MPs combined to defeat the proposals for a tax on hot pasties in the 2012 Budget, MPs with the proposed high speed line going through their constituency would raise the issue in Parliament, or a factory closure would find the MP meeting with the local council, business groups and trade unions to see what could be done.

The Problem Solver Member of Parliament

MPs, especially those in the big cities, are contacted by constituents with a whole range of housing, benefit, immigration, tax and other personal problems.

MPs normally hold surgeries in their constituencies so that people can come to discuss problems with them and the increase in allowances for staff in 2001 made it possible to have a properly staffed constituency office that can take on the case load.

Austin Mitchell, the former MP, made the point that MPs have become the interface between the public and the State. The range of problems is remarkable. Paul Flynn, the Newport West MP, in his book How to be an MP, recounts that while in his office the phone rang and a constituent from Milan rang and said that her husband had just died and what should she do. Having given advice he put the phone down and it rang again. A constituent said that the refuse disposal workers had left a wheelie bin on his drive and he couldn’t get his car out.

Some people question whether MPs should be dealing with all these problems when they should be spending their time on the main issues facing the country. Tony Banks felt that this was the aspect of being an MP that he would not miss when he left Parliament, ‘All you were was a sort of high-powered social worker and perhaps not even a good one’.

The Local Dignitary Member of Parliament

MPs will be invited by the range of local groups in the constituency to open buildings, attend fetes, come to their AGM, attend religious services and so on. MPs are therefore much more visible in the local constituency than would have been the case 50 years ago.