I held my first surgery in Camborne last Saturday morning to meet some of the people who have written to me to ask for help. One of the things that persuaded me to stand for election this year was seeing the work that MPs do in their constituencies to help people deal with specific problems in their daily lives. You can’t always solve the problem, but you can always try, give advice and lend a helping hand. When you do succeed, it makes the job worthwhile.
I think that one of the problems in society today is the relentless growth of bureaucracy in recent decades. It sometimes seems so hard to get apparently simple things done. People find themselves passed from one agency to another; “held in a queue” on the phone; being told they have the wrong form, are in the wrong place or need to call a different number and being told different things by different people. There seems no shortage of ways to lodge a complaint but actually getting things changed is harder. We have all experienced it in our daily lives and it gets very frustrating.
I have heard it argued that such complexity is a fact of modern life and can’t be changed. But why is it? The way people live their lives today is not that different to the way it was in the past. Perhaps we just need to change our mindset and make a conscious effort to reverse the trend because government doesn’t have all the answers.
This was the aim behind many of the announcements in this week’s Queen’s Speech. If we want people to take more responsibility for their lives, their families and their communities then they need to feel that making an effort will make a difference. If people feel that the decisions that affect them have already been taken somewhere else anyway then they won’t bother.
So we need to rebuild local institutions and replace bureaucracy with accountability. For instance by giving parents and local voluntary groups the ability to set up new schools; giving people the ability to elect a Police Commissioner to set priorities for their police force; giving local people the right to take over local facilities like post offices and community centres and getting voluntary groups to step in where government has failed to deal with difficult problems like welfare dependency.
These are potentially bold plans, but they need active people to play their part too. It is likely to be an evolution rather than an overnight revolution because it will take time for people to realise that they can make a difference and get back into the habit of doing their bit. But in the meantime, I will be holding a surgery most weeks to try to help people wade through the treacle of government bureaucracy. So do get in touch!