I finally found my MP in the woodshed

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The Independent Online
Almost five years ago, I moved from east London to rural Northamptonshire. Now, at last, I'm going to vote in my new constituency.

For the first time in my life I am not 100 per cent certain how I will vote. I want the Conservatives out. But I am a feminist socialist - can I bear to vote for New Labour, Tony's smirk and a promise to stick to a Tory budget? Perhaps I should vote for the Liberal Democrats, for more money for education and for some interesting constitutional reforms. I could consider tactical voting, just to get rid of the Tories, but then I must take account of the situation in my present constituency and of the particular candidates.

Snag. I do not know which my constituency is. East Northants, I had believed, but when I consulted a politically informed friend, I was told there was no such Parliamentary seat. I do not know my MP's name either. I am embarrassed - I think of myself as a politically minded sort of person; au fait with current events and moral issues, but I haven't a clue who my MP is. Nor have the ten neighbours I then ask. I bet this is not unique to Northamptonshire (be honest, do you?) but it seems to undermine the argument against proportional representation - that we need a personal local representative.

I went to the public library and found that you can identify an MP by his constituency or a constituency by its member, but it is tricky if you don't know either - especially between the prorogation of Parliament and the official start of an election. The library computer won't be able to tell me what I need to know for another couple of weeks.

So I tried the post office. North Northants, I was told, which sounded right. I went back to the library and looked it up: my MP was Tony Marlow, a well-known hard-right-winger, with a small, indeed possibly defeatable, majority in 1992. Things were looking up.

Except that the information was wrong. The next day tidying up my woodshed I saw a photo of the local MP in a copy of last year's local paper. It wasn't a Mr Marlow. It was a Mr Freeman.

Back to the library. Roger Freeman, "a moderate chartered accountant and merchant banker" was the Conservative MP for Kettering. Kettering used to be in a constituency with Corby, and had returned a Labour member in every election from 1945 to 1979. However, in a boundary change, before 1983, Kettering and Corby were split, and some prosperous rural wards were added from Daventry, to make the new constituency of Kettering a Tory stronghold with a majority of 20.8 per cent in 1992.

He looks pretty safe. So I can't vote tactically just to get the Conservative out. I shall have to think positively about parties and candidates. I shall have to make up my mind. I need to know more about the local branches and the individuals standing. (Would a woman candidate tip the balance? How do I compare positions on Equal Age of Consent, fox-hunting and the divorce law?). But it has taken me so long to get this far that Easter weekend is upon us, and none of the local political parties are answering their phones until Tuesday - when, my search for political information will continue.