Parliamentary and political life is never simple – never dull. This last week was dominated, of course, by the Syria vote and its consequences, and by the Strategic Defence Review. But a thousand other things bear down on MPs’ attention simultaneously; matters great and small, ignoring any of which would be wrong.
In the last Parliamentary week, as well as speaking in the two Syria debates (on Monday, and Wednesday, the latter including Hilary Benn’s magnificent speech), I gave two tours of the Palace of Westminster, had meetings with South West MEP, Ashley Fox, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on which I serve, and the Commons Administration Committee to keep up my battle to save the use of vellum for Acts of Parliament. I quizzed the Secretary of State for Defence when he appeared before the Defence Select Committee; as a member of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen, I chaired three massive sessions of the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, lasting a total of 20 hours or so; I looked into sixteen assorted meetings and receptions; and did a dozen or so radio and TV interviews, including the top story on the World Tonight and another on BBC News 24.
Back in North Wiltshire on Friday, I did a radio interview with BBC Radio Wiltshire, went to see Cricklade Town Council, had a lunch meeting with the local Conservative Party Chairman, went to Bristol to record Sunday’s Politics Show (on Syria, Votes for 16-year olds and vellum); gave a reading in the wonderful Youth Action Wiltshire Carols by Candlelight in Malmesbury Abbey; and held busy surgeries in Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett (which, for the record, are strictly non-political. Their purpose is to give help and advice to constituents no matter what their political persuasions may be. They are paid for by the State, not any political party, and should not be abused by the other parties for any kind of political stunt – see letters in last week’s Gazette.) Some friends for supper on Saturday evening, and Sunday clearing the desk and putting my feet up.
In amongst all of that, I dealt with hundreds of emails and letters, phone calls and meetings. The tidal wave of communication never lets up. And I kept up my other interests as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, I re- launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, of which I am also Chairman, and I printed and signed a good few hundred Christmas cards.
Alongside all of that frenetic activity, one has to try to keep up to date with what is going on in the world and in North Wiltshire; to think through the consequences of my vote on Syria; to consider how best to represent my constituents and to help them with their troubles and thoughts. The end result, of course, is that you don’t get everything right. But I just hope that overall I achieve a few things for the good of the constituency and just perhaps the wider world as well.