A record number of MPs have announced that they will be standing down from parliament at the next General Election.
Cynics will say, that is because an awful lot of Tories who are jumping before they are pushed. However, the latest parliamentarian deciding to ‘spend more time with their family’ is government Mnister Mike Freer, who has been the MP for Finchley and Golders Green since 2010.
He is quitting due to death threats he has received recently – and an arson attack on his constituency office. This, apparently, is a result of the position he has taken on the conflict in Gaza.
He also revealed that this was the latest in a string of incidents – including what he described as a “narrow miss” with the killer of his colleague, Southend MP Sir David Amess.
He reported, too, that he – as I believe a good number of MPs do now – goes to work in a stab vest.
Far from the glamorous lifestyle that many imagine Members of Parliament to have, I know from personal experience (having worked in the commons as an adviser from 1992-1999), that it is an extremely tough and taxing job.
Not only do you spend far more time than is usual away from your home and family – but when you do return to your constituency, there will be advice surgeries to attend, party fundraisers to support, and village fates to open – before you get to spend a few hours with the spouse and kids – and then have to head back down to London.
“But they have loads of holidays” I hear you cry. Well, again, this is a myth. The time parliament is in recess is the time an MP will use to work on constituents’ casework, engage with her or his party members, and, of course, do some campaigning, as they always have one eye on the next time we, as electors, have the chance to ‘sack’ them.
And the worse part, in this regard is that, often, no matter how good a job they do as a Constituency MP, if their party or their leader, or both are doing a crap job, then they will likely pay the penalty at the ballot box anyway.
Against this backdrop, and with an annual salary of £86,584, standard class travel, lest they want to be shamed for being ‘out of touch’ on social media, and suffering virtually 24/7 scrutiny – not to mention the murders of Amess and Jo Cox, and several serious attacks on MPs – is it any wonder why the current crop of parliamentarians are walking away from what was once seen as one of the most respected roles in the country?
There is a general perception that the calibre of modern-day MPs is poorer than peers from previous parliaments. That may, or may not, be true. But, if we accept that there is no appetite to increase what would now be considered a low salary for a senior executive in London, then surely, we must introduce more efficient and effective ways for MPs to travel, offer them more protection, and introduce much longer sentences for anyone who dares threaten, let alone, attacks an MP.
There will, inevitably, be a cost to all of this. But what price do we place on democracy?