MPs are now at risk of facing the same long holiday accusation regularly (and wrongly) levelled at teachers. Less than a month after the Houses of Parliament sat in recess over Easter, MPs will again vacate Westminster at the end of the week, not to return until the Queen’s Speech on 4th June.
The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror have been particularly scathing in their assessments of another recess, which has now been extended from ten to 19 days. The criticism has been laid at the feet of the Coalition, and indeed some within the media have suggested that the recess has been extended because there simply isn’t enough legislation to occupy Parliamentary time, making the Coalition a ‘zombie government’ running out the clock on the Parliamentary term.
As a criticism, it’s pretty damning and poses significant reputational problems for the Coalition, along with a proverbial stick for Labour to beat Ministers with. After all, the decision to extend recess wasn’t made by the Opposition.
But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and the extension of the recess poses reputational issues for all MPs, not just those in the Coalition parties. Granted there are European and local elections to campaign for during the recess period, but it’s not the first time the Houses of Parliament have been criticised for the frequency and length of its recesses – and it’s worth remembering that summer and a further lengthy recess will soon be upon us.
Similarly the expenses scandal of the previous Parliament is still reasonably fresh in the mind of many voters (despite the biggest ever turnover of MPs in the 2010 General Election) and has been resurrected numerous times in the past four years, most recently with the resignation of former Culture Secretary Maria Miller. Consequently, public regard for politicians is not high, and an extended recess risks fuelling any public concern that we’re not really ‘all in this together’.
Political strategists and public relations professionals will rightly tell you that it’s incumbent on MPs themselves to challenge this perception – and during this recess they will have an opportunity to do so by being as active within their constituencies as possible and ensuring their work is highly visible within whatever local media is available to them.