We approach the end of a year in which the British people used a general election to unleash extraordinary convulsions within our political system.
The election of a Conservative government with a small majority, the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, the triumph of the SNP in Scotland, and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. If you had bet on any of these outcomes this time last year, you would have received eye-watering odds – and quite possibly a visit from the men in white coats.
Yet while the surface of politics is turbulent and full of surprising currents, some things remain constant underneath. It is easy to take our system of parliamentary constituencies, in which each MP is elected by people in a particular area of the country to be their sole representative in the House of Commons, for granted. But the members of many parliaments and legislatures around the world are elected according to proportional representation on the basis of party lists and lack any connection to specific people in a specific place. In some ways it probably makes their lives easier. But it leaves them dangerously out of touch.
Most Friday evenings, and some Saturday mornings, I hold surgeries in Stamford, Grantham or Bourne. And while they can sometimes be quite taxing, I always learn something valuable. Sometimes I learn about the practical effects of government policies: it was when I met several mothers, combining a part-time job with bringing up small children on their own, that I realised they faced the loss of a significant proportion of their income through the proposed changes to tax credits. It was because my experience was shared by so many MPs of all parties that the Chancellor decided to take advantage of the strength of the British economy and avoid the proposed cuts. On other occasions, I learn about the lives of my constituents and witness the strength of character that so many British people display in the face of adversity. There is rarely a surgery in which I am not at some point awestruck by the courage, or determination, or generosity of one of my constituents. So although I am sometimes shouted at, and on occasion find myself the captive audience of an incorrigible pub bore, I always head back to Westminster on Monday with the conversations with my constituents ringing in my ears, and a better idea of how the decisions we make in Parliament affect people’s daily lives.
Please keep coming in 2016. And happy Christmas to you all.