Ben Gummer says
Last week I was on James Hazell’s BBC Radio Suffolk lunchtime show, offering up a piece of music to ruin the sandwich of many a constituent across the town. James asked me a question that some have put to me already – this paper’s Paul Geater among them – can you continue to serve Ipswich as well as being a minister?
There are two parts to this question, both of which are asked by people and both of which deserve a straight answer.
The first is about the possible conflict of serving in the government and being a constituency MP. As I said to James on the radio, there are cabinet ministers who remain exceptional representatives for their local areas. I grew up with one and, with Nicky Morgan, I worked with one in the last parliament.
I joined the Conservative Party and got involved because of what David Cameron wanted to do to serve the nation and because of the direction he wanted to lead the Tories. So I am in the lucky position of being in agreement with the thrust and detail of most government policy, which means that I have only very rarely found myself on the opposite side of what the Prime Minister has proposed. I do not expect that serving in a government led by David Cameron will force me to make a decision, therefore, between my principles, my service of the town, and what the government plans to do. Were that moment to arise, then it would always be Ipswich that comes first: that is why I was elected and that is the contingent basis on which I and any other decent minister should accept a request to enter the government.
The greater matter – and the one that most people have picked up on – is one of time.
One of the few things that annoy me in Ipswich is when people begin a sentence with “I know you are very busy but…”. It is true that I have always been a very busy MP but my business is being a representative, so it should be expected that I have time for constituents.
The same holds now. The fact is that some MPs work very hard and some – a small number only – do very little at all. Being an MP does not in itself mean hard work: it is how you approach the job that makes for long hours.
I like working hard, not least because I easily get bored when I have nothing to do. As I have written in this column before, during term time I would spend Thursday night through to Sunday in Ipswich and the bulk of the week in London; in recess, I would make for Ipswich as soon and for as long as I could. The same still holds: nothing about being a minister changes this routine.
What has changed is that whilst in London, I am no longer speaking in the chamber or pursuing the policy interests that used to fill much of my time – on fiscal matters and prison reform. Nor am I working in the Department of Education as I was. What has replaced it is the fairly punishing ministerial routine of the Department of Health. Nonetheless, I start every day with a meeting with my constituency team, where we go through letters, invitations, and then – most importantly – progress against every one of my six local manifesto pledges.
So the day starts, in time and in place, with my priority, which is the town. That is how it should be and how it will remain.