Thursday, April 09, 2009

Housing MPs then and now 

If I remember correctly, the Scot Nats once had a particularly uproarious solution to the problem of long-distance London living. After the October 1974 Westminster election, where they won 11 seats, the party took over (whether purchased or leased I know not) a small hotel in London and made it the SNP watering hole in Sassenach territory, and the English home for most if not all their MPs. Since the premises included a licensed bar the SNP political world rapidly gained a reputation for conviviality and – if you believe the likes of Private Eye - vivid interpersonal relationships. The SNP of course collapsed to two seats at the 1979 election (did the heat of vivid relationships contribute to this?) so the hostelry experiment ended then.

One reason for the social element was that Parliament still sat extraordinary hours in those days – session starting at 3.30 in the afternoon and lasting until 10.30 in the evening. MPs who attended debates to the end rarely got home before 11pm even in central London and many attended debates via the ever-open Palace of Westmisnter bars..

The idea of commuting to (say) Watford was not quite as feasible as it is today.

Another difference to today. Many old-style MPs such as Roy Jenkins (in his Labour years) never entertained this notion of living in the constituency. Roy lived near Didcot in Oxfordshire where he could conveniently catch a train to London or to his Birmingham constituency. Most other MPs were similarly at arms length to their constituents. It was the raise of the Liberals and our local campaigning that changed these expectations – our Liberal MPs had to be super-active on constituency issues, and the other parties eventually cottoned on to the fact that their own MPs were vulnerable to a ‘local activist’ insurgency and had to have a personal local base not just a constituency office.

So perhaps we are partly to blame for the crisis of expectations over many houses for MPs?

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I am a bit confused by this as parliament still tends to sit to 10.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The old system was into the morning. In some ways it was better because fewer things of importance were talked out.
John, in the old days the Commons sat until 10.30 most nights in session. It was one of New Labours reforms to bring in more morning sittings. The culture beforehand was very much one of late nights every night.
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