Here's a way for MPs to see how the other half livesby Danny Dorling, Simon Szreter / March 6, 2015 / Leave a comment
How in touch are MPs with life in Britain today? We suggest that many are not as in touch with it as they should be. So we’re challenging them to spend a week each year seeing how the other half lives. Far more edifying and publicly useful than pursuing a paid second job outside parliament, which is sometimes defended as “keeping in touch,” our already well-paid MPs should try to get to know two very different constituencies as part of their job of representing the people. In 1984, the journalist Matthew Parris, then a young Conservative MP, decided he would try to experience life in a community rather different from the bucolic West Derbyshire constituency he then represented. He wanted to show that he could live in Newcastle for a week on the statutory benefit rate for a single adult. He found that he couldn’t—rather publicly, in a documentary aired on national television. After this chastening reality check, Parris did the honourable thing: in 1986, he stood down from the Commons and left politics for good.
A criticism often made of MPs in general—and of many of the most successful career politicians on the front benches in particular—is that too many of them have not had much, if any, experience of the “real world,” either before or after they begin their careers in the Westminster “bubble.” This isn’t entirely fair, of course, as most of us only ever get to experience a very particular slice or two of the “real world.” But the critics do have a point. It is certainly fair to expect that our elected MPs—including ministers– make a reasonable effort to stay in touch with the diverse society they claim to represent. Parris certainly found the experience illuminating 30 years ago.