Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

London Notebook: Recess has little impact on the endless work of an MP

Hard job: Nigel Dodds' recent health scare has focused attention on the stress our MPs must deal with
Hard job: Nigel Dodds' recent health scare has focused attention on the stress our MPs must deal with

People tend to assume that, if you work at Westminster, you harbour ambitions to be an MP. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.

I wouldn't do it for 10 times the salary they are paid.

Ask an MP their plans for the weekend and it will normally consist of meetings and constituency visits, village fetes that demand to be opened, churches that need to be visited. Not to mention dealing with local party activists who would drive a saint to drink.

You may have heard that our MPs are enjoying yet another two-week holiday, as parliament went into recess at the end of last week.

The idea they are on holiday no doubt provokes a bitter laugh among the elected representatives in question. If they do have the temerity to leave the country for a week or two, they should brace themselves for a bad write-up in the local paper.

To be an MP is to be owned, to be answerable to tens of thousands of people and to be on show 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The stresses of life as an MP were in my thoughts last week when I learned about Nigel Dodds's health scare.

The DUP's leader in the Commons is immensely well-liked by MPs of all hues and the news that he had been taken ill swept the Palace of Westminster. There was relief when he was released from hospital the next day, but for Peter Robinson worry about his colleague turned to anger.

"I hope the episode will bring about a greater understanding of the workload, gruelling schedule, intense pressure and heavy burden constantly placed upon our elected representatives," he told a DUP gathering on Saturday.

"You will, I hope, understand if, occasionally, I display my irritation and frustration when those who should know better attempt to portray politicians as people who do nothing, who enjoy a cosy existence and are in it for what they can get out of it."

I have heard it many times – lazy MPs with their snouts in the trough. They wish.

The independent expenses system, created in a blind panic after a major scandal, is shambolic.

For Northern Ireland MPs, there are additional burdens. They have to fly to and from London nearly every week, away from their families for several days at a time.

Then there are the death-threats and concerns about their security. Frankly, there are easier ways of earning a living.

The next time you read about MPs and their amazing holidays, remember they are more likely to be visiting a pig farm, kissing a baby, or listening patiently to the tedious complaints of their constituents than sunning themselves on a foreign beach.

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