Thoughts from a train
So I’m off to the House of Commons today to attend the launch of the ‘Rural Housing Pledge’ by the Rural Housing Alliance – a group of Housing Associations that specialise in the provision of affordable housing in small communities across the English countryside.
Affordable housing for local people is a worthy cause that I’m very happy to support, but I have to admit that I’m really going because I’m curious.
The Commons is a place that I feel I know, but have never visited. Almost daily, on TV news I see pictures of politicians scuttling through the corridors in and out of meeting rooms. I almost expect to see friends and family waving to me in the background behind Nick Robinson.
As the home to one of the oldest political democracies, Parliament should be open and accessible to all. And yet, it clearly is not.
Why is it that it has taken over 40 years for me to find a reason to make a visit? Am I that unusual?
Events over the last few years have only made matters worse. Last night, I found myself Googling the MPs that I will be meeting, to find out whether they were implicated in the expenses scandal. Some interesting results came up that will no doubt affect my opinion of a particular MP from Essex as I shake his hand.
Our MPs are distant folk, with who we rarely engage. Is that healthy?
A chap I know from the Republic of Ireland tells me that in Ireland there is one MP for every 20,000 people. He regularly bumps into his in the pub, or queuing for a stamp at the Post Office. Apparently, he even has his mobile number and calls him when he feels aggrieved.
In the UK, there is one MP for every 76,000 electors. Spotting your MP is a bit like trying to meet a friend in a crowd at Old Trafford or at the Emirates Stadium. Not impossible, but fairly difficult!
Now compare that with finding the same friend at a home game for Queens Park Rangers or Tranmere Rovers. Even those who don’t follow football will know that would be a much easier challenge.
Perhaps this is part of the difficulty that the government is having in getting its Big Society message across? If people saw their MP taking an active part in their community, then they may be a bit more willing to listen to what they are saying.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act that has just been approved will not only introduce the possibility of a new system of voting, but will also reduce the number of MPs returned to Westminster from 650 to 600.
At a time when people across Africa are risking their lives to secure their own democratic freedom, perhaps we too need to be given a bit more democracy, and not less.
Phil Rose, Community Land Trust Development Manager