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How not to waste your time as a backbench MP

28 November 2017

12:21 PM

28 November 2017

12:21 PM

Being a backbench MP can be pretty dull. In recent times, former members of the government have found the experience of merely being a member of the legislature so upsetting that they’ve downed tools and left Parliament altogether: David Cameron made a big show of saying he’d stay on and serve Witney from the backbenches, before finding himself on those backbenches sooner than he’d thought and scarpering. George Osborne, similarly, ended up as a backbencher, then quickly amassed as many other jobs as he could, before quitting politics ‘for now’. Perhaps these were rational individual choices given the comparatively lower pay and considerably lower prestige of the backbenches compared to government. But they did suggest that you might as well not bother doing the job that your constituents actually elected you to do.

New MPs are often so keen to join the government or the shadow frontbench that they spend as much of their time as possible auditioning for it by asking sickeningly loyal questions in the Commons, writing supportive op ed pieces for CCHQ to circulate, and doing the dull dirty work of defending the government on political programmes. Nothing wrong with being ambitious of course, but some ambitious backbenchers can neglect their jobs as MPs before they’ve even joined the government. Others sink into a misery when they don’t get promoted.

Will Quince may well be keen to get promoted to the government. He was elected in 2015 and is now a PPS to the Cabinet Office. But he hasn’t wasted his time prior to getting on the lowest rungs of the government ladder. Shortly before entering Parliament, Quince’s son was stillborn. Shortly after entering Parliament, Quince started campaigning on behalf of other bereaved parents for better treatment in hospital, and for proper investigation into stillbirths. He has spoken in the Commons about his own trauma, and worked on the Baby Loss all-party parliamentary group with other MPs, including his colleague Antoinette Sandbach, who have decided to use the darkest moments of their own lives to help constituents. Sandbach’s baby son Sam died of Sudden Infant Death syndrome when he was just five days old. When she spoke in the Commons, she wept, as did her colleagues. One MP offered to intervene on her speech so she could recover a little after describing what happened the night she found that Sam had stopped breathing. Surrounded by colleagues who were elected at the same time as them, the two MPs promised to campaign on baby loss – and they have kept that.

Today, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will announce that every mother whose baby is stillborn or suffers life changing injuries will be offered an independent investigation into what went wrong. He will also say that the government is considering giving coroners the powers to investigate stillbirths too. Without MPs like Quince and Sandbach, there simply wouldn’t have been the necessary attention on baby loss and the way hospitals treat those whose babies don’t come home. All effective campaigns take up a huge amount of an MP’s time, but to use your own grief to try to change things is naturally even more consuming. Whether these two MPs have glittering ministerial careers ahead of them or not, they can know that they’ve used their time on the backbenches so well, to the extent that other parents might suffer a little less.

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