I was part of the large new intake of MPs in May 2010 having previously spent the best part of three decades as a Local Authority Councillor in my home town of Gateshead, the last 8 years as Deputy Leader of the Council. I regard the position that as I hold to be a real privilege and even coming into the role in my early to mid 50’s I regard myself as being extremely fortunate to have the opportunity.
Undoubtedly I could have arrived in Parliament in better circumstances. Trying to help people is not as easy in difficult times and the people of Gateshead didn’t cause the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the International Financial Crisis, but it seems as though the people of Gateshead and their counterparts in towns and cities all over the UK are the very ones who are now carrying the can.
My role as an MP is very varied and every day brings something new and interesting – there is literally never a dull moment. But my own personal enjoyment of the role is constantly tempered by the many great personal difficulties that my constituents bring to me as casework; whether it be results of benefits changes, bedroom tax, housing needs, tax problems, the needs are real and the personal hurt is palpable – and as much as it pains me to say, my sympathy is no solution to their problems.
We do of course have some success in dealing with Government departments or the local Council that bring some respite to at least some of my constituents, but so much now is about plain poverty particularly in a region like the North East where unemployment is high and where many, in work, are in low wages or low paid part time work – there is a great deal of under-employment.
So in the face of what the people of the place I represent are going through how can I, in conscience, be looking forward to an 11% pay rise if I am re-elected in two years time. I have already had the best pay rise I have ever had – it was the one I got when I was elected to the job in the first place. At the same time, I would add a footnote. Standing for elections can be a precarious way to live and I am sure most people would not want to see a return to the days of the 19th and early 20th centuries when only those who were wealthy enough could stand for Parliament because that would be the end of any chance of having a representative democracy – we have to find a happy medium.