Parliament has broken up for its annual summer recess, which came in for some discussion last week when it was revealed that the Conservative Government wanted to bring forward the break by a few days.
After criticism from many quarters, including its own backbenchers, the Government chose not to pursue a proposal many of us thought was simply an attempt by the Prime Minister to stifle debate about her Brexit plans and avoid a potential vote of ‘no confidence’ in her leadership.
It seemed to many to be a case of Theresa May running scared of her own MPs and a way to stop them causing further mischief at a time when she was narrowly avoiding defeat of her Brexit plans.
So the original summer break, starting last Tuesday, went ahead as planned and MPs will not return to the House of Commons until September 4.
I have been privileged to serve as Wansbeck MP for the past eight years, and the past 12 months have been the most bizarre I have witnessed in my time at Westminster.
The Government has descended into chaos over its plans for leaving the EU next March, and while the Prime Minister may welcome the recess, it dramatically cuts down the time the Government has to sort out Brexit, especially as her much-vaunted Chequers’ proposal seems acceptable to no one, including the European negotiators.
The situation is compounded by the three-week conference season in September, which means it will be the beginning of October before Parliament really gets down to business and the serious questions surrounding Brexit.
Back to the recess and contrary to public opinion, MPs do not stop working and go off on holiday for six weeks. Instead I, like the majority of my colleagues, see it as an invaluable opportunity to spend time in my constituency.
When Parliament is sitting we are away from our ‘home’ bases so often. For some, that is more of a challenge than it is to colleagues from southern or Midlands constituencies, as a glance at my normal working week will show.
It begins with an early Monday morning train to London, and it is usually late on a Thursday evening before I am back in Wansbeck, which leaves Fridays and the weekends for constituency work. That is often not enough time to do all I want. Take last Friday. I had back-to-back meetings all day with constituents, local groups and organisations wanting to raise issues and concerns with me.
The time we spend at Westminster is central to the role of MPs, but I view my constituency work as just as important, if not more so. Over the three days I have in Wansbeck, as well as catching up with office work, I attend as many local events as possible.
I am fortunate in having an excellent constituency team supporting me and I am indebted to all of them for ‘minding the shop’ when I am in London or on Party business elsewhere because as Chairman of the Labour Party I also have to attend many events, meetings or conferences.
My team is contacted thousands of times a year by individuals or groups seeking my assistance with problems. Many are dealt with in my office, but I have to be aware of them all and get involved where necessary.
My diary for the next six weeks is full with local engagements, but I also need to find time to meet Wansbeck people to gauge their views on issues, such as the Brexit negotiations, so that I am fully in touch with local opinion.
When we go back to Parliament in September the sessions we will be involved in will surely rank among the most momentous that have ever been dealt with at Westminster. The summer break will give us time to reflect on where we are going with so many issues that are crucial to our future as a country.