Right of Reply: Caroline Flint

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The Independent Culture
The Labour MP for Don Valley answers Michael Brown's criticisms of backbenchers

LABOUR BACKBENCHERS have a sorry existence, we're told. Nothing to do. Rarely in the Chamber. Given five days' constituency leave for the well-behaved. Complete tosh.

Thank goodness that the real choice isn't between obedience, sycophancy, glorified social work and vociferous eccentricity, as some would have us believe.

Rarely in the Chamber? I've spoken in eight debates and made numerous interventions, usually informed by constituents who attend one of my eight- monthly surgeries. Bringing constituents' experience to bear on legislation or Government policy is critical. We shouldn't hark back to the days when MPs rarely visited the constituency. An MP cannot hold government to account without their feet on the ground in their constituency.

And perhaps the system should deal efficiently with drains, child-support payments, TV licences and anti-social neighbours. And there should be no war or poverty either. But real life ain't like that. Sometimes, people need someone on their side to give the bureaucracy a kick, get the system moving, be it Benefits Agency or local council. Or one could spout spurious points of order, insult ministers or the Tories, or become a rent-a-gob MP. The only achievement would be self-publicity.

The best backbenchers are not self-opinionated; nor are they headline grabbers. They are good advocates for their constituents - lobbying Ministers and using the Commons Chamber where appropriate. I'll settle for a secure colliery, a few thousand airport jobs, protected moorlands and the opening of South Yorkshire's biggest tourist attraction (Earth Centre), over pantomime Commons bolshevism. This backbencher is happy for others to grab the headlines.