Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The "Detached Eye" of Ann Widdecombe

Heard a really interesting discussion on the Radio yesterday about whether constituencies benefit from having local candidates represent them, or you can come to a constituency from outside and be a great representative. Ann Widdecombe conjured up an intriguing image when she talked about the benefits of the "detached eye" - the person from outside the constituency who on going there can learn very quickly about it but take a fresh perspective on dealing with the challenges. It's obviously not a new debate, but seems to be one that has come into sharp relief with selections in all parties in recent years. Clearly people have travelled to find seats previously; Tony Benn lived in London but became MP for Bristol South East in 1950, and then Chesterfield. Ann Widdecombe was new to Maidstone. Bruce George - MP for Walsall South for 36 years, was new when first elected in 1973. Of course this is all triggered this week by the selection of Tristram Hunt for Stoke Central, and his impending challenge by the secretary of the local Labour Party. The answer  of course is in a balance across the country. We would be in a far worse place in terms of the quality of our democracy and our nation's progress if all people grew up, lived and worked in the same area and then represented that area. It's a great model to aspire to - Julia Goldsworthy is one who meets that profile - but it surely isn't the only way. However any representative should show and convince the membership and electorate of what they bring, their wider sense of connection and what they will help change. And we should have better ways of holding MPs to account for what they actually deliver for an area, and how hard they work that should obviously include, but go beyond the oft-quoted measure of how often they vote against the whip. And how people can do this should be a key part of political education.