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The media should stop vilifying MPs as lazy and idle if we want to continue attracting decent people into Parliament

By Jonathan Isaby

Parliament is currently part of the way through its Easter recess, so the Commons and Lords are not sitting and MPs are thin on the ground at Westminster.

And to read various pieces in a number of papers over the last couple of weeks, you'd think that the entire membership of the House of Commons had packed their swimming costumes and sun tan lotion on April 5th to head somewhere exotic until April 26th.

For example:

"MPs faced renewed fury over their long holidays yesterday after it emerged they will get a mammoth 58 days off in just five months. While millions of us toil away trying to kick-start the flagging economy, the nation’s politicians will spend just 46 days working between now and September." - Daily Express, 30th March

"Lazy MPs will spend just 17 days of the next two months working in the Commons. Politicians from all parties started a THREE-WEEK Easter holiday last night. While ordinary Brits carry on working, MPs will not return to Westminster until Tuesday April 26." - The Sun, 6th April

"Over the next two months, MPs will have 21 days off, not including bank holidays – 13 for Easter and eight for Whitsuntide – which is almost the entire holiday allowance many British workers get in a year, excluding bank holidays... The springtime leave is six days higher than it was just two years ago, when MPs got ten days off for Easter and five for Whitsuntide – leading to concerns that MPs are having an easier time of it than before the expenses scandal." - Daily Mail, 6th April

"Since the Commons went into its cushy pre-Easter recess – MPs are on a sneaky extra holiday of three weeks right now – I have been unable to reach any ministers on their mobile phones. They all seem to be on foreign ring tones and not answering." - Daily Telegraph, 11th April

I don't doubt that some MPs will use some of the Easter recess to have a break away with their families - from whom any representing a seat outside of London are separated for half the week when the Commons is sitting.

But these sweeping generalisations about "lazy" MPs getting all these "days off" and stopping working for weeks on end are simply unfair and cumulatively damaging to democracy. I have friends on all sides of the House of Commons and know how hard they all work - and not just when they happen to be sitting on the green benches in the Commons chamber.

The fact is that the Commons does not have to be sitting for MPs to be working! The demands from constituents are more than ever these days and there is plenty that MPs are doing in their patches at the moment.  I dare say many are spending much of this recess meeting constituents on the doorstep as they campaign in the local elections and the referendum. 

There's no doubting that the expenses scandal brought the standing of MPs among the public to an all-time low and they are having to fight to improve their reputation. But that will be harder, the more the media caricature MPs in this way - and the Yes to AV campaign have also been culpable of indulging in that lazy negativity this week.

And the more unfair criticism that is thrown at MPs, the lower the chances of good people wanting to think about a political career - in particular the many who are able to earn far more in the private sector and frankly do not need the opprobium being directed at politicians, the invasions of privacy, the loss of family time and so on.

Of course there will always be a few bad apples in any basket and a number of now former MPs are rightly paying the price for their criminal behaviour.

But with a new era of transparency and the internet making it so much easier for the public to see what their MPs are up to (and how they are using public money), so it is harder for those few MPs who genuinely are lazy to get away with it. The bad 'uns will be found out and increasingly unforgiving electorates will not hesitate to give them their verdict at the ballot box.

However, the media and commentariat really shouldn't be lured into writing the lazy and patently untrue "idle MPs stop working for weeks on end" story every time the Commons has a recess.


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