With Parliament shutting down until the 12th of October, 38 Degrees is launching a new campaign, MP Holiday Watch, to find out how exactly MPs spend their time. The usual story is that MPs spend this time getting back to their constituents and catching up on case work, but though this might hold true for some, the truth is that we just don't know what our MPs are up to. How many take well paid second jobs or spend most of their time holidaying in the sun rather than dealing with their constituents' issues?
Some suggest that asking MPs to divulge details on how they spend the summer recess is intrusive and a needless violation of the privacy of our hard-working elected representatives. But, as David Babbs points out, these arguments sounds more than a little familiar when one considers the rationale for not investigating MPs' expenses for so long… While there might be a case to be made about protecting privacy if 38 Degrees were demanding detailed holiday plans and day to day movements of MPs, the short survey they suggest MPs take 10 minutes filling in seeks simply to build up a picture of how they will spend the recess – how many weeks on constituency work, how many weeks (if any) on a paid second job, and so forth. Requesting a breakdown of how our representatives spend the 82 days they do not have to be at Westminster is simple enough, and doesn't require the exact address your constituency MP will be staying at in the south of Spain, nor whether the kids will be going too.
There is of course a related debate, regarding how much constituency work MPs should be doing at all – can we really expect MPs to do a good job both scrutinising the executive and sorting out constituency matters? It might be argued that rather than focusing on whether MPs really are doing constituency work, it would be more productive to campaign for MPs to take shorter recesses and spend more time making sure legislation is of a higher quality. After all, do all constituency matters really require MPs to take a direct hand in it? It might seem that many problems that are taken to MPs are of a kind that would (or should) be more effectively dealt with by local councillors or social workers.
However important this related debate is though, we should not get distracted. 38 Degrees' MP Holiday Watch remains significant and a reasonable demand to take to representatives. We should expect a degree of transparency from our MPs and not just take their word for it that they will spend all of their time on constituency work. If they do spend their time on other matters, let MPs justify this openly and be accountable for it – if we have learnt anything from the recent scandals and crises, it is that self-regulation doesn't work.