Am I having a ten week holiday?

Parliament is now in recess until October 8th. The media obsess about the long ‘holidays’ that MPs have – but of course – recess doesn’t equal holiday. I don’t know about all MPs – but certainly all the ones I asked had pretty intense programs.

For the record – I will have one week off to sort my house out, two days at the Edinburgh Festival and one week in France – and yes I will be travelling by train! That’s the hols bit.

What about the rest of the time? Well, once you get beyond the "10 weeks holiday" jibes, I think there is actually a lot to be said for MPs having blocks of time (though not quite so long) to concentrate on matters other than the immediate Parliamentary demands.

When Parliament is sitting the hugely frenetic political and media cycle means there often isn’t time to stop and think – or to do those things that take more than a moment. Now – you can get away with either in the short run, but in the long run – that way bad decision and out of touch politicians rest. And of course there’s also plenty more to being an MP that talking and voting in Parliament.

So – in case anyone wonders what I am up to – this is my summer program. I have a number of ‘projects’ planned this recess. The first is getting around the businesses in Hornsey & Wood Green. Businesses don’t have a vote – but they still need to be properly represented. Small businesses, shops and restaurants are the life-blood of our local communities. This year huge rent reviews resulted in much loved local businesses like Bond & White (DIY shop – Muswell Hill) deciding to close after decades.

So I want to try and get round as many businesses as I can to introduce myself, hear what the particular issues are – and continue my campaign to introduce business recycling. Did you know that it is illegal currently for a business to take its recycling to a council recycling facility? If we are serious about recycling – we have to bring businesses into the loop.

Next project is to knock on lots of doors in to make sure that I spend time in each ward meeting residents face to face. Of course, I do all this anyway during the term time – but it is just not possible to do it enough – and recess presents that opportunity. I like meeting people – and there is nothing like turning up at someone’s house out of the blue if you are the MP.

I go to many meetings and neighbourhood assemblies etc during the term time – but there are many, many people who will never go those sort of gatherings (unless a very specific issue affects them). Each year I carry out with my colleagues a residents’ survey which gives me a very good picture of what is going on (or not going on that should be going on) in each street of the constituency – but there is still nothing like meeting people face to face.

And then alongside all this there is making sure the office is up to date and that my paperwork, emails etc are all up to date; writing a number of articles; reading papers and documents that I have slung in a ‘when I have time’ pile; preparing and time-tabling campaigns for the next term and also doing more work to make sure two new-ish local groups continue to take off and prosper. These are MailWatch (residents concerned about the state of local postal services) and the Darfur Action Group (campaigning for more action against the genocide in Sudan).

All the time of course other local issues will carry on ticking over and calling on my time I’m sure – such as making sure people know what health service changes are proposed and are properly consulted on and the futures of Fortismere School, Parkland Walk, Hornsey Hospital and Hornsey Town Hall – plus two short work trips – three days in South Africa looking at AIDS projects and a short trip to the USA on foreign affairs and international development business where I plan to meet with UN and World Bank officers.

And that’s that. It will be over in a whoosh!

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007

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