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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Let Matthew Offord enjoy his holiday

I stood against the Conservative Matthew Offord at the last General Election. He got many more votes than I did, hence the fact that he (as as opposed to me) is now the MP for Hendon. I have blogged previously about how I got on well enough with him on a personal level when he and I were campaigning against each other; he was always courteous and friendly. There is now a 'row' about his being on holiday while the riots and looting have happened, and his not having come back. I care very much about the riots, but I don't care at all about Matthew Offord being on holiday. Lots of people go on holiday and then have big things happen at work while they are away, and they don't all come rushing back. Matthew is a backbench MP, with no executive responsibility for crime or policing. With the best will in the world, if he was here, all he could have contributed was words and sympathy. Words and sympathy that would doubtless have been sincerely meant, but which (through no fault of his) would have done little, in practical terms, to help the victims of these horrible crimes.

He is Hendon's representative in the House of Commons, not the House of Commons' representative in Hendon. The local MP does not deliver local services or affect how things are run locally. He is not the local  council. Had he been here to visit constituents affected by the riots, then I'm sure that they'd have been pleased to see him, but he wouldn't actually have been able to do anything, so what difference does it make that he's on holiday? And don't the police have better things to do than escort backbench MPs (ministers are another matter entirely) around to shake hands with people for the benefit of local press cameras? 

This raises fundamental questions about what we think the role of an MP actually is. They are there to legislate, to scrutinise and to hold government to account. If we want 'community champions', that's a different role - if the British people want to create that role and pay for it with our taxes (which I doubt), then let's do that, but, in the meantime, let's not pretend that's what MPs are for - it isn't, and we help no-one by pretending otherwise.

UPDATE There is now an intriguing post-script on the Hendon Times' website saying that he is not necessarily 'on holiday' anyway, but is actually out there working in some way. If we want our MPs to care about foreign policy, then they are going to do things abroad sometimes. Although (popping back into this post a day later, on Sunday afternoon) it has to be said that the paper's description of Matthew Offord's activities abroad does read a little oddly! He might well be on a fact-finding mission to learn things from Belize's government, but I would be surprised if a backbench MP with his professional background is able to advise a foreign government on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and, er, counter-hurricanes. I guess he's out there on a social action project, volunteering with coastguards, police, etc. Unless Matthew is about to tell us that his CV includes what would be a very interesting and hitherto secret period working for some very interesting employers indeed...I thought he'd been a senior administrator at the BBC, rather than an MI6 agent?! I propose to write a thriller about an MP who is actually a secret agent. Dominic West can play him in the film.

UPDATE on 3 September 2011 It turns out that Matthew Offord was in Belize with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme - sounds fair enough to me.


  1. But Matthew, haven't you noticed how hapless he is? Banana skins move out of his path, because he is quite able to slip over without them.

    Roger T's 'Barnet Eye' blog teases him relentlessly, as David Cameron's Soup Waiter, since that subject seems to be the only subject on which the PM has ever conversed with him.

  2. Yes, but this constant tendency to seek to trip politicians up and catch them out is contributing towards the relentless negativity and cynicism that is undermining British politics.