Sunday, 28 October 2007

MPs and their 'holidays'

So, according to the Daily Mail, MPs only work 34 weeks of the year...

True, Parliament closes down for a 10 week recess during the summer. I actually agree that this is too long, and that we don't have enough time to scrutinise legislation, or to fit in all the other things we are, or should be, doing in Westminster. The argument in favour of 'breaking up' early - 22nd July next year - is that Scotland's school holidays are earlier than in England, so Scottish MPs would miss the opportunity to spend time with their kids if we broke up much later. And we can't go back until the second week in October because that's when all the party conferences finish. (The answer would be to move all the conferences forward a couple of weeks; that would take a few years to sort out, but is definitely do-able.)

I can't speak for other MPs, but this is how I spent my 10 weeks this summer:

- The first few weeks were mostly spent in Bristol, catching up on things I don't get time to discuss with staff during 'term-time', sorting out the office computers (a perennial problem), holding surgeries, carrying out constituency engagements, etc. I also spent a few days in the London office, just making sure everything was ticking over there.

- August 19th I went to Uganda, for two weeks volunteering with VSO, working in their Kampala office. I then headed straight to Addis Ababa to meet colleagues for a four day parliamentary delegation to Ethiopia/ Somaliland. (I confess, I had a day to myself in Addis before my fellow MPs arrived, but it rained and I stayed in my hotel room watching TV. I also had a Saturday off in Uganda, when I went to the source of the Nile in Jinja). I also carried on with parliamentary work while I was away, checking emails every day and putting in the occasional call to the office.

- Arrived back in early September, and another two weeks in the Bristol office/getting out and about in the constituency. I also moved flat. Plus a day trip to London to plan my Conference diary.

- Week nine was Labour Party conference in Bournemouth. And week ten was going to be my 'getting my life sorted in readiness for the new term' week but ended up being dominated by the election that never was - we'd just taken delivery of 40,000 parliamentary reports that would have had to be pulped if an election was called, so we got (most of) them out. We also had a real blitz on casework, as that would have been put on hold during any campaign.

So basically recess this year meant a few earlier nights, a few weekends off, the chance to catch up with family and friends, to do a bit of shopping, move flat, and even go to the theatre. And yes, if I hadn't gone to Uganda I would have had a proper holiday; last year I spent 12 days in New York in August, and then went diving for a few days in Italy in September. But it's not 10 weeks 'holiday' by any stretch of the imagination, and I think it's true for most MPs that even when they do go away, they feel guilty about missing events in the constituency back home.


Parliament is going to be prorogued on Tuesday, probably after some very late night votes, until the following Tuesday when it's the Queen's speech. Yet another holiday, according to the Mail. Just for the record, I've got constituency engagements on the Thursday and Friday, two speeches to write, and we're going to finish off all those little bits on the new website which aren't sorted yet.

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