Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

MP with... the biggest constituency

By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News

Andrew Turner

Every weekend Andrew Turner is besieged by people telling him what he should be doing.

Like most MPs, his constituency time is not really his own.

But Mr Turner, who has represented the Isle of Wight for the Conservatives since 2001, has more people to deal with than any of his colleagues.

His seat - with 132,731 residents at the last count - is the most populous of any in the UK.

Mr Turner, a 54-year-old former teacher and education consultant, told the BBC: "It's a huge constituency and it might seems a lot to deal with but I've never had any other experience so it doesn't seem different to me.

"If I'm out doing something, people there are very keen to come up to me and talk. They don't just stand back. They let me know if they are not happy."

Pub meetings

After the ferry trip back from the mainland on a Thursday evening, Mr Turner likes to get out and about.

He carries out Saturday surgeries in Newport, the island's administrative centre, and has meetings in pubs with constituents in towns such as Shanklin, Ventnor, Yarmouth, Cowes and Ryde.

Mr Turner won the constituency in the 2001 general election, having lost to the Liberal Democrats in 1997. He kept it with a majority of just under 13,000 in 2005.

It affects the way you talk and write, but I don't think it prevents me from doing the job properly
Andrew Turner
On having a stroke

In the decade or so that he has lived in Newport, Mr Turner, who grew up in Coventry, could be said to have "gone native".

A large map of the Isle of Wight hangs on the wall of his Westminster office, while his cufflinks are also fashioned in its diamond-like shape.

He said: "The island is a place where I'm happy. More to the point people seem to like me. I think it's very important to listen to people and I enjoy it."

Indeed, Mr Turner seems fascinated by the differences between life on the island and mainland England.

Horses

He said: "People look at things in a different way. For instance a lot of young people have horses. It's not like on the mainland. There's nothing like the feeling that it is an upper-class hobby.

"It's just the normal thing to do."

Political attitudes are different too, he argues.

ISLE OF WIGHT FACTS
Population 132,732 - 2001 census
Size - 23 miles east-to-west; 13.25 miles north-to-south
People born on the island are known as Caulkheads; those born elsewhere are called Grockles

"People don't have a feeling that you are a member of a political party but they simply see you as their MP. They are very interested in what you do; they are just not party political.

"Also people are more likely to come up to you and discuss things with you than in some other constituencies.

"I think some of that is due to the way the local economy works.

"The biggest employers on the island are in the public sector, such as the county council and the hospital. Then there are large firms like BAE and GKN, with about 1,000 staff.

"But the overwhelming majority of people work for firms with only one or two staff. So they are actually much more affected by what is happening and, therefore, more involved in things.

"They press their MP to an extent you don't always get elsewhere.

"Another factor is that most people are only 10 minutes from work. That's a huge difference from places like London and it gives people more time to get involved in the community."

Trusting

In December 2006, Mr Turner suffered a stroke, which led to a lengthy period of recuperation.

He said: "For the past six months I've been spending as much time in Westminster as I was before, but I think I'm trusting my staff to do more things. It's not that I didn't trust them before, of course.

"Since the stroke I do tend to go out less. I do probably two events on a Saturday, whereas I used to do about four.

"The main problem is I can't use words as easily as used to. A stroke affects the way you talk and write, but I don't think it prevents me from doing the job properly.

"I think, though, that having a stroke has given me a valuable insight into some of the health problems constituents may be suffering."

Rotten boroughs

Mr Turner intends to stand again at the next general election.

With so many people living there, the Isle of Wight is, he says, only a few hundred voters short of being big enough to divide into two constituencies.

It is something he vehemently opposes.

"You need to have one MP for the island. It is important. Maybe they should reduce the overall number of MPs at Westminster instead.

"That would increase the number of constituents in each seat, and then it won't be a problem."

However, if the island were to be subdivided, it would be nothing new.

Until the Great Reform Act of 1832, and the abolition of many "rotten boroughs" - easily corruptible seats with tiny populations - the Isle of Wight returned six MPs to Parliament.

Newtown, a declining hamlet with just 14 houses and 23 voters, accounted for two of them.

Since the act there has been one MP for the whole island.

As Mr Turner rushes through the Palace of Westminster corridors to vote in the House of Commons, he could be forgiven for yearning for the lighter workload of his predecessors.

At the mention of the phrase "rotten borough", a fellow MP jokingly shouts: "Hear hear."

Mr Turner gives a wry smile and continues on his way.

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