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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November, 2004, 15:56 GMT
Time with constituents a privilege, say MPs
By Anna Browning
BBC News

John Prescott and member of the public
And another thing ... MPs say they are happy to listen

Tony Banks may think them tedious, but being an MP means constituents and constituents mean constituency work - and woe betide any politician who forgets.

Speak to other MPs about their constituency work and, unlike Mr Banks, it is the words "privilege" and "rewarding" that are more commonly used.

When announcing they are to step down, invariably it is the constituents who are thanked the hardest - after all it was their votes that kept them in the job.

Due to stand down at the next election, former Education Secretary Estelle Morris spoke first of her "debt of gratitude" to her constituency.

Work and Pensions Secretary Andrew Smith recently resigned from the Cabinet saying he not only wanted to spend more time with his family but to also devote more time to his constituents.

'Vital oxygen'

For the average MP it is their weekly surgeries that bring them into contact with their public - no matter what.

For Linda Perham, Labour MP for Ilford North, this has included police officers posing as constituency workers for her protection when threatened.

And there was the time a constituent requested she pass his "complex" legal case on to Tony and Cherie. Well, they are lawyers after all.

Sometimes I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders
Glenda Jackson MP
But for most, it is an opportunity to escape the "Westminster village", says Denis McShane, Minister for Europe and MP for Rotherham.

"It's the vital oxygen that allows me to learn what's happening in Britain," he said.

Glenda Jackson, like Mr Banks a Labour MP with a constituency in London, holds about four surgeries about month. She admits to sometimes feeling like a social worker, but says it was always gratifying.

"Sometimes I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders," she said.

Hearing some of the tales of "human suffering" could be quite "debilitating", but spending time in her patch of Hampstead and Highgate, north London, was a highlight.

"I am sorry [Tony Banks] feels like that, but that's not my experience," she said.

"I am particularly fortunate to have such a varied constituency. Economically, socially, ethnically and age-wise, who have a wide-range of issues - which is most interesting."

'At their service'

Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey and President of the Liberal Democrats, has "thousands" of constituents' cases on the go at any one time which are dealt by a team of eight dedicated staff.

"I never get bored," he said. "I always thought it was a real test of any MP's understanding of a community and their commitment.

"I am elected by the community and answerable to the community. I am at their service."

It was particularly satisfying solving people's troubles, he said. Recently successes included earning a Kosovan family - whose mother had been raped during the conflict there - the right to stay in the UK and giving them the stability they have not had in years.

I think it is a privilege to represent a constituency and be part of it
John Redwood MP
"I live in the middle of my constituency and people stop me every day and yes, some times it is inconvenient at that minute, but that's what politics is about."

John Redwood, Conservative MP for Wokingham, and Shadow Secretary of State for Deregulation, said it was a positive thing to represent a pocket of people who you were accountable to.

As for his constituency, he likes the area, it is where he lives, and he always meets a lot of people who are "interesting" and with "common sense".

"I think it is a privilege to represent a constituency and be part of it," he said.

He said he enjoyed taking part in constituency life, from solving problems right through to the "pure pleasure" of attending concerts.

"After all, it's a nice way to spend your life - and people call it work."

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