The exceptionally bright Year 6 kids at Fynamore School in Calne on Friday pelted me with perceptive and demanding questions. The toughest of all was “List what you have done for Calne while you have been our MP.” Now I think I have done a fair bit for the people of Calne and across the patch over the years. I hope that I have been as hard-working and effective as anyone could want, and increasing majorities over 20 years suggest that by and large I accurately represent your interests in Parliament.
But the truth is that MPs have no ‘powers’ to do very much at all. Town and County Councillors do stuff – they have huge budgets to mend the roads, run the care homes, educate our children; they control planning, and have direct and demonstrable ‘powers’ over our lives. MPs have no budgets, no decision-making needed, no mechanism for actually ‘doing things’ in the local area. So we have no power. But we do have influence.
This last week, for example, I have been making quite a fuss about the 387 unaccompanied children in the Jungle Camp in Calais, who have a perfect right to come to the UK, because their families are already here. We must find a way- and quickly- of reuniting them. There is an obvious humanity there, and Unicef tell me that action is now being taken. At least 200 of them are being moved this week, before the camp is cleared by bulldozers. I did not ‘decide’ to move them, because of course I have no powers to do so, but a little bit of influence alongside many other people, had the effect we all want.
Elsewhere I took part in the debate over a possible new Royal Yacht Britannia, which seems to be making a little progress (at no cost to the taxpayer); I attended a Corsham Institute Reception to discuss how better to use digital technology in the NHS and elsewhere (with clear benefits for employment in the high tech sector in and around Corsham), I spoke at a Christian Aid Climate Change meeting in Castle Combe (adding my voice to the many campaigning to save the Globe), and in a host of meetings in Parliament and elsewhere tried to ’influence’ government decisions for the better of the people of North Wiltshire. Locally I had a meeting with Councillor Allison Bucknell and the developer to discuss the potential new GP’s surgery in Lyneham. I have no powers in that area but I can (and will) try to influence the outcome.
The 15 or so people who came to my surgeries on Saturday in Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett were very largely raising matters over which I have no powers - planning, benefits, immigration – but on whose behalf a letter here, a word there, a meeting or two planned, all supported by the powerful green Portcullis symbol of the House of Commons just sometimes might help get the correct outcome.
So in one way I cannot point to a list of things I have ‘done’ for the area, because I have no real powers to do much; but in another, perhaps subtler way, I hope I am not being immodest in thinking I have done a great deal to influence the best possible outcomes for my constituents in a wide spectrum of matters.