“Do you have to go to London often,” is a question I am asked with astonishing regularity- “er, Yes. I am a Member of Parliament and Parliament’s in London, so I am there Monday to Thursday most weeks.” The exception, of course, are the Recesses – currently a week marking half term, or more properly Whitsun. Whitsun is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and coinciding with Beltane, the pagan celebration of Summer's Day, it marks the beginning of the summer half-year. It was one of three holiday weeks for the medieval villein. How appropriate for we MPs!
It’s a week in the constituency for all kinds of meetings and visits. For me, for example, it was a fascinating visit to Malmesbury’s Sweetman and Bradley steel company (most of whose workers live within walking distance of the factory); lunch in Grittleton, political supper club in Purton, a variety of meetings to plan the new Constituency (to be called South Cotswolds), surgeries in Cricklade and Malmesbury, planning meeting in Crudwell, the opera at Shipton Moyne and so much else.
Yet it’s also an important moment to catch up on the backlog, clear the decks, read and write and think, and generally take stock. The whirlygig of activity which is the Parliamentary week rarely allows cool thought and strategic reflection.
I am very fortunate to represent such a wonderful, beautiful, relatively prosperous and happy Constituency. It’s convenient for London (MPs from Cornwall or Inverness spend a huge amount of their time just travelling to and from Westminster). It’s a ‘safe’ Conservative seat (although I never allow complacency nor any kind of arrogant presumption over what the electorate may think). And it’s a thoroughly wonderful place to live one’s life. Like my parish minister father before me, I love my constituency work, and find it very fulfilling and satisfying.
Yet, unlike some of my colleagues, I also love my Parliamentary life, my leadership of military interests, my involvement with the environment and Polar Regions, and the role I play as one of the Speaker’s Panel of Committee Chairmen and on the Procedure Committee. I try to say something or another in Parliament most days – main Chamber or Westminster Hall, or perhaps in a committee; and I do my best to mention North Wiltshire or some part of it every time I am on my feet.
All of that; but I also support a Party which I passionately believe will always (especially now under the very capable Rishi Sunak) do the best for the people, albeit not necessarily always achieving that noble ambition. Conservative instincts and beliefs are both mine, and I think the majority of people in North Wiltshire. I support free speech, our great institutions, a liberal market economy, less government, minimal bossiness, low taxes (post-Pandemic they are too high); coupled with a real concern for those less fortunate than ourselves. The poor, the needy, the ill or bereaved- they need more care than the prosperous and healthy, which is perhaps why I maintain and enjoy my constituency surgeries so much.
So the Whitsun Recess has given me a chance to ponder anew how much I love both aspects of my job, and how fortunate I am to have it. It also reminds me that I am here to serve the people who sent me there- and to renew my commitment to doing so. I relish the hard work which lies ahead- in London as well as in Wiltshire.