One of the things I enjoy most about my job are my regular advice surgeries. I have done four a month now for the best part of twenty years, and if you assume an average of 10 cases per surgery, that comes out at rather more than 9,000 people who I have seen. I hold them on alternate Saturdays – in Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett one week, then Cricklade and Malmesbury the other. In addition to that, I have had occasional ‘mobile’ surgeries, at one stage in a friend’s caravan, and have had several in Box and other villages from time to time.
Now you could ask “What’s the point?” Some MPs don’t do them at all, others less frequently. You could argue that in what is now a pretty ‘safe seat’ (not a term I like much), I don’t need the votes. So here are a few reasons: first, it’s my job for which I am paid a decent enough salary. Second, it may be that those who come to see me - especially the elderly, for example – are less familiar with email, and would prefer a face-to-face discussion. Third, it’s all part of being out and about in the patch (I tend to fit in a visit to the local newsagent and probably a pint in the nearest pub afterwards as well), and just getting a flavour of what people are thinking around North Wiltshire. Fourth, I do actually find them mentally stimulating. Every single person who comes in has a different problem or matter to discuss, so it requires a degree of mental agility. And finally, I find it immensely satisfying to be able (on some occasions) to help my constituents, even in a very small or practical way.
Here, for example, is a flavour of my surgeries last Saturday (anonymised, of course). In the course of a 4-hour morning I saw: a lady who wanted to thank me for my work with the Normandy Veterans; a couple very concerned about certain essential drugs for their daughter which look like being withdrawn; a lady whose sister is suffering from mental health problems; a person with damp in his Housing Association house; a school student who wants to get involved in the Conservative Party and my work locally and nationally; two ladies concerned about cuts to solar subsidies; a former Conservative Councillor from London who wants to volunteer and get involved with local events; a gentleman with an immigration problem; a lady concerned both about euthanasia and about the sale of Housing Association houses under the Right to Buy; a lady concerned about bookings in her local NHS surgery and a person concerned about agricultural practices in Sri Lanka, and keen to encourage British aid to help. A pretty broad spectrum of issues, and I hope that I was able to help with some, elucidate others and sympathise with all.
It may be a little old fashioned (others prefer to do it by Twitter), but I hope that my surgeries do a bit of good. And if you have matters to discuss or a problem to solve, I’d be glad to see you at some of my future ones.