Open Letter to Matt Rodda, elected Labour MP for Reading East on 8th June 2017
We don’t really know each other at all, but I wanted to write and say how delighted I am that you have been elected to represent Reading East for Labour. Until your election yesterday I was the only Labour MP the constituency had ever had, and I was very proud to hold that office from 1997 to 2005. I’m so glad that the people of Reading East again have a Labour voice to speak for them in Parliament.
I was once told “The House of Commons is a great megaphone: use it so your constituents can be heard.” Good advice, that was. Your place is on the green benches, speaking, petitioning, debating, giving the government a hard time if need be – at the time of writing we don’t know who is going to form a government, nor what its party composition will be. Your place is in the constituency too, and it isn’t either/or – being an MP is two jobs. Your constituents will expect to see you in person and hear from you regularly, and they will also want you to contribute to debates and speak in the House, and not just on the high-profile causes.
You are Labour, but you are no one’s creature. You will need to work cross-party from time to time, especially now that Reading’s two MPs are of different parties. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but sometimes it’s easier that way. You need good relations with both the councils whose areas you represent parts of, but you are the tool of neither, nor can you (as your constituents sometimes believe you can) overturn the decisions of either.
You are your constituents’ representative, and not their delegate. How else can you represent constituents who hold diametrically opposed views – and I promise you they do. You represent a relatively highly educated, fairly diverse, urban and suburban area, with quite large disparity of income and wealth. But all your constituents, whatever their situation, share the general human needs and concerns we all have. I was once remonstrated with by a former government minister for not tabling Agriculture questions (as it then was). When I said that was because I didn’t represent any farmers, she said quietly “Your constituents eat food, don’t they?”
Table questions. All the time. Get involved with causes which are precious to you, to your constituents, or both, through All-Party Groups and committees. If there isn’t an All-Party Group on something that matters to you, start one. It’s one of the ways a back-bencher can have some real influence over policy.
The House of Commons Library is better than Google, for almost everything.
Travel, on your own account and on parliamentary visits. Keep it to the recess, but don’t be hair-shirt about it. You will learn from it, and you will learn from the colleagues you travel with, and maybe they will learn from you. Be discreet (you know this) – a backbencher of another party (unnamed here) once passed out from unwary drinking of toasts next to me at a dinner on a parliamentary visit to (country name redacted). No media (this was before Twitter et al) found out about it through me. Make time to read, in the recess and in the evenings. This is advice I was given and should have followed but didn’t. You probably have a special skill or talent your colleagues don’t. Perhaps you are fluent in Basque, or play a mean harmonica, or win prizes for growing tomatoes. Whatever it is, use it. Show off a bit.
Woodley is one quarter of the constituency by population. Spend more than a quarter of your constituency time there. I promise you you won’t regret it. A little piece of my heart will always be there.
If you ever want a chat, pm me and I’ll be happy to. Best wishes and give my love to Reading East.
9 June 2017
Phnom Penh, Cambodia