“Then there are the likes of Mr Campbell (Lab, Tynemouth), Hon Members who so rarely leap to their hind hooves to shout up for their constituents that you wonder why they ever sought public office. Would life as a librarian not have suited them better?”
Which, on one level, is fair enough: trusting the ever vigilant theyworkforyou.com, Campbell has spoken in less debates than the average MP¹ However, although it may seem this way to a man whose job it is to watch debates, it’s not a competition. Not only does “Labour MP from Bradford, Terry Rooney … seldom catches the scorer’s eye“, no one does. There is no scorer.
The point was very well made by several constituents of Ilford North, who jumped to their MP’s defence in the online comments box². To take a reductio ad absurdum, a MP who spoke only in debates would be a very poor one: there are committees to sit on, votes to pass, written question to ask, policy forums to influence, local surgeries to hold, constituents to meet, visit and listen to, and so on. Merely speaking in debates is a very small component.³
Looking Alan Campbell, the brunt of Letts’ disdain, speaking in debates is also a poor proxy for ministerial effectiveness, which presumably has a much bigger ‘doing’ component than it does a ‘talking about’ part. Given that Mr Campbell had previously held a handful of small-scale back-office governmental positions, it’s not surprising that he’s now holding a minor back-office position at the Home Office. Again, as a reductio, would we prefer a ‘political personality’ like George Galloway to be working beneath stairs or someone with a bit of a track record quietly dealing with small bits of government?
Especially considering the magnitude of the position in question (Parliamentary Under-Secretary), the conclusion that all you have to do is ‘Keep your mouth shut..keep your nose clean…advance past go” towards some sort of golden stipend is something of an exaggeration. The glory is slight, the recompense inconsiderable.
This series of slights on MPs and belittlement of new ministers is a long way to go to pay a complement to Phil Woolas. A new favourite of the Mail for speaking their mind on immigration (or, as Letts puts it, having “a dash of mustard in his snout“), this column sees him already half-martyred, outlived by the unassuming Mr Campbell. Which leaves us with Letts’ own reductio – would you rather the unshowy administrator or the careless interviewee?
¹ Interestingly, both non-Labour MPs picked on here do quite well on the ‘speaking in debates’ front, with both clocking up momre than 20 appearances in the last year.
² ” I have to tell you that in his Constituency of Ilford North, Lee is extremely well known“, say Irene Dunkley of Woodford Green Essex. “He’s a very diligent and helpful constituency MP, he has spoken in the Chamber on many occasions, and having worked hard on the Transport Select Committee is now an equally lively member of the Health Select Committee.” expanded D McDonald of Ilford, Essex.
³ Back at theyworkforyou, all of the named MPs are come out as ‘above average’ on some measure of involvement. Three of them also have websites in which they contrive to look very busy (Alan Campbell, Paul Truswell, Lee Scott). If anyone would like to email them to see what it is they do all day, I’m sure they’d be happy to inform you – theyworkforyou has all their contact details. [Other political websites are available]