OPINION: Nine to five - what a way to make a living!

You can almost hear the PR industry licking its chops - nay slavering in anticipation - over the idea of representing MPs who are pressing for nine to five office hours for the Commons. What a dream campaign to argue the case for a civilised working day they say. If only MPs would engage us on this noble enterprise. What could be more reasonable than our representatives at Westminster working a sensible shift? And what more fundamental blow could be struck for sex equality than to make Parliament safe for women?

You can almost hear the PR industry licking its chops - nay

slavering in anticipation - over the idea of representing MPs who are

pressing for nine to five office hours for the Commons. What a dream

campaign to argue the case for a civilised working day they say. If only

MPs would engage us on this noble enterprise. What could be more

reasonable than our representatives at Westminster working a sensible

shift? And what more fundamental blow could be struck for sex equality

than to make Parliament safe for women?



After all, Tess Kingham, labour MP for Gloucester and mother of three,

including twins born in January, has decided to step down because of the

long hours. Parliament is certainly not baby friendly. But it isn’t just

women MPs who are bolshie about their working environment, according to

a woman MP quoted by the Express: ’Men, as well as women, and women with

no children or older children as well as those with babies are fed

up.



Sometimes, it would be valuable just to go home in decent time, have a

long bath and then be fresh for the next day’s work.’



Indeed, Labour MP Denis MacShane is going to present to the Commons’

modernisation committee new standing orders banning votes after

10pm.



It is even suggested that if the Government doesn’t respond, Labour

Backbenchers will go on strike. They’ll troop through the voting lobbies

and off home, leaving the green benches to Tories and Lib Dems who might

then have fun with ministers for holding the fort without troops.



This is the sort of campaign with the kind of exciting possibilities

that PROs dream about. But it would not deserve to succeed. Let me

rehearse the arguments that would be advanced against such

’modernisation’. It is unfashionable to say so, but Parliament really

does need MPs with experience of business. Far too many of them have

never been outside a political party. Mornings and lunches ought to be

for discovering the real world and the afternoon and evening for

governance. What’s more, politics is not intended to be an easy

profession. It is a way of life and people are expected to make

sacrifices to follow it.



Politics is also adversarial. It is the clash of ideas and arguments

that refines and improves policy. That is why an opposition’s duty is to

oppose - and oppose vigorously. One of the main complaints during the

1980s and over the last three years is that we haven’t had an effective

opposition. Often an opposition’s only weapon is wearing out a

Government by making it sit all night, every night - or as often as

possible. It may make sense now for Labour to introduce a 10am to 7pm

Parliament. But they might well conclude in opposition that it was one

of the daftest things they ever did. Do you still lust after this brief?



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