An MP has to keep his feet well-grounded in the Wiltshire clay. So before setting off for my first full week in Westminster, I enjoyed a range of grounding events.
Elizabeth Sexton, who has played a leading role in the Friends of Chippenham Hospital was given a delightful retirement party at Bowood. There was a lunch in Stanton St Quintin, a retiring reception for Chief Constable Patrick Geenty at Police Headquarters in Devizes, a dinner in Broughton Gifford and a lunch in Lydiard Millicent. The Annual Skittles Dinner in the Chippenham Constitutional Club is a traditionally raucous affair - the skittlers giving their President, the MP, no quarter. All this eating cannot be doing any favours to my girth!
Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was a ride in my friend Chris Wannell’s 1935 open-topped fire engine in a cavalcade of steam engines, vintage tractors, steam road rollers and the like from the Castle Combe Steam Fair at the Circuit and then down to the village for a quick pint. The massed ancient vehicles in the tiny and beautiful high street looked like some kind of a film set, and gave various stranded tourists a bit of a shock. The steam buffs gave their inappropriately dressed MP (I was on my way to a dinner) the full value of their (largely very friendly) views. I will not forget the event for a long time to come.
But then back in Parliament, we learned the very sad news that our much loved and admired former colleague Charles Kennedy had died suddenly at his home in Fort William. As the candidate against Charles for Ross, Cromarty and Skye in the 1992 General Election I was glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him on Wednesday afternoon after PMQs and to remember a fine Parliamentarian, and a good friend.
The Queen’s Speech having been passed by the House, we now look forward to a series of Second Reading debates on the legislation it outlined. The Second Reading is the debate on the principle which lies behind the bill. This week it’s the EU In/Out Referendum Bill and the Scotland Bill. Committees and appointments are getting themselves arranged, and all party groups re-established. (I was elected Chair of those for the Armed Forces and for the Polar Regions, and was re-appointed by Mr Speaker to be one of his Panel of Chairmen.)
There is a vital invisible cord which runs between the MP’s constituency life and his Westminster activities. Some quickly forget who it was who sent them to Parliament, focussing their whole attention on their political career. Others allow themselves to be so bogged down in local activities and events that they become quasi-councillors or social workers. Both are wrong. The MP should be well grounded at home, and then use that local experience to act for his constituents in the Palace of Westminster. Truly “From Wiltshire to Westminster.”