IT is now the 35th year in which I have represented a Worcestershire seat in Parliament. It is not a bad moment to make a few comparisons.
When I started out there were no personal computers, certainly no internet. By the time I had paid my secretary there was virtually no pay. Being an MP was a vocation, not a trade. It was quite normal to do another job. Weekends were usually comprised of at least four of five formal speeches in the constituency. Being in Parliament was about performing in the chamber.
Importantly, you were an ambassador for the constituency; typically that meant that you needed a house both in London and in Worcestershire; your family lived in both places and the house in Worcestershire was one in which you could welcome visitors to the constituency. Early guests at Cropthorne included the speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, and the Chinese Ambassador.
Nowadays it is all different. Being in Parliament is largely about committee work – some of it to great affect. Much of the time is spent answering the hundreds of letters and e-mails which come in every week. As the Westminster Parliament hands over more and more powers to Europe and devolves many of the others to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so, paradoxically, both the paper and social work mount.
Constituency work these days means meeting regularly small groups of people with special interests and individuals on the doorstep and at ‘interview sessions’, with very few proper speeches. The job is not better or worse than it used to be; it is different and certainly full time.
Personally, my life in Parliament has changed many times. Like everyone else I started as an unknown backbencher; I became more influential as Lady Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party; I was quite prominent as Minister for Aviation (privatising BA and BAA), as Minister of Coal and Electricity (again more privatisation) and then Housing (launched homelessness payments). After this I was in the forefront of the attempt to stop the Maastricht Treaty. By contrast, for the past seven years, I have been chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Party (the 1922 Committee), a position carrying influence behind the scenes.
And so I have been in and out of the public eye and on and off the parliamentary stage. In each contrasting role I have tried to live up to the responsibility placed on me by the electorate at nine general elections.
* Sir Michael Spicer is MP for West Worcestershire.