Well, it’s certainly been an odd week. I started out blogging a photograph I took on my phone at the weekend, and ended up at twenty to seven this morning on BBC Essex talking to James Whale. It even reached LabourList, my old haunt at Political Scrapbook, and even the BBC News website.
Hardly your average week.
James Duddridge’s “Halifax customers only” community surgery seems, at first glance, like a fairly trivial issue. But really it goes to the heart of the idea of representation. With concerns about corporate and large scale lobbying diluting the access of voters to their MPs, Mr Duddridge putting himself in a position where he seems to be turning his representation into a service for sale to corporations looks about as wise and well informed as Grant Shapps’ latest Twitter campaign.
I was a little gratified that James Whale’s coverage opened with a series of vox pops apparently recorded on Thursday in Southend high street. And they were all of the same opinion as me; that the exclusivity went against the spirit of democratic representation.
Now, I must highlight: I have absolutely no problem with the location. In fact, I encourage James and all MPs, of all parties, to go and speak to constituents wherever they can. My problem is, and always has been with the idea that it was only for a certain sector of his constituents.
Mr Duddridge’s own excuse for the whole mess was this:
“…the only reason this [surgery] was for Halifax customers is simply Halifax didn’t have very much space and were a bit worried that if it received a lot of publicity the banking hall would be crowded out full of people for myself.“
I’m not sure that a crowded out bank is really terribly likely due to a surgery by James Duddridge MP, but I could be wrong. Also, Halifax in Southend isn’t that small. I’m sure that they could have accommodated those customers banking on a Friday morning as well as whoever wanted to talk to Mr Duddridge. But whatever.
I don’t think there’s any particular malice here, just a sizable lapse in judgement. As with the aforementioned “bingo and beer” poster debacle, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how things look, a high-handed and irreverent attitude towards transparency and fairness. Whether or not Mr Duddridge did anything wrong, he created an impression of something amiss, which can only serve to drive a deeper wedge between MP and electorate.