Who would be an MP?
I wouldn't. Just consider what it means for the average backbencher. Off to Westminster on a Sunday night, back on Friday or sometimes Saturday and then straight into constituency surgeries, speeches at the bowling club or WI, meetings with the council, meetings with the constituency organiser, meetings with angry local campaigners, then Sunday lunch and off to Westminster again.
It's your child's birthday? Your wedding anniversary? You haven't had a full day off for a month? Too bad– you are a servant of the people and they come first.
Add in the wearing effects of our cut-throat politics, and the personal attacks on individual MPs that come with it, and it's hardly surprising that so few of us would put ourselves forward for election.
So MP-bashing, especially the accusation that they don't work hard enough, is something I don't have much time for, which seems to put me in a minority. Earlier this week, the Commons procedure committee published a report proposing that MPs could have Fridays off from parliamentary business. It also suggested that midweek sittings of Parliament might finish earlier, so that those MPs whose families live within commuting distance of Westminster could get home in time to see them.
The reaction has been predictable. With expletives deleted, it goes something like this: they're all a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings; they line their pockets with our money and now they want to work less for it. One online commentator quipped: "Come back Guy Fawkes, all is forgiven."
Oh please. At the heart of these sneering condemnations is a wilful misunderstanding: that if MPs are not in Parliament on Fridays, then they are not working. Nonsense. They would be working in their constituencies, having real meetings with real people, the very thing they are so often condemned for not doing enough of.
As it is, MPs only work on 13 Fridays a year. Many try to leave on a Thursday night. Why? Because they have two places of work, Westminster and their constituency, and in order to do their jobs properly they must spend time in both every week, or as near to every week as possible. That means spending hours each week travelling. Going home from Westminster for a Scottish MP involves a journey of at least 400 miles; for Highlands and islands MPs, it's more like 600 or, to Lerwick, 830 miles.
Working in their constituencies on a Friday would have several benefits for our system of government. Not only would it make it easier for local people to meet with their MPs; not only would it mean that Private Members Bills (currently the only business to take place on Fridays) would be better attended by being scheduled earlier in the week; but it might encourage a wider range of people to consider becoming MPs. Parliamentarians would see a bit more of their families each week. That might make a political career more appealing to those with children or hoping to have children, especially women, and let's not forget how under-represented they are (women currently make up 22% of MPs).
It would be no radical change – in fact, Fridays off are the norm in the devolved administrations of the UK. At Holyrood, debates and committees are not normally held on either Mondays or Fridays and somehow democracy has struggled on. In emergencies or exceptional circumstances, parliament could of course still sit on a Friday.
I'm not saying that MPs should work less, what I'm saying is that they should work differently. In fact, I would propose one other change: that Parliament should rise later or return earlier – those long summer holidays? Now they are harder to justify. Ending formal parliamentary business on a Friday, however, makes eminent good sense. A little more time spent understanding people's lives before debating legislation surely has to be a good thing.
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