MPs are more accountable now than they used to be, a Labour veteran has said as he told the story of a Tory member who convinced his Blackpool constituency to re-elect him – despite living in Monte Carlo.
John Cryer, MP for Leyton and Wanstead, said the Conservative MP and theatre impresario Sir Walter de Frece, who represented Blackpool between the two wars, only visited the UK twice a year – once for the Budget speech and again for Ascot
But he managed to convince his electorate that he was representing their interests by signing a stack of House of Commons notepaper every time he returned. His secretary would then write responses to each letter from his constituents on the signed notepaper, making it appear to voters that they had received a personal response.
Mr Cryer told the anecdote during an Opposition Day debate on lobbying in the House of Commons to demonstrate how MPs were now far more accountable than they used to be.
He said most MPs now had advice surgeries which would allow for face-to-face contact with constituents.
Mr Cryer said: “The advice surgeries now are weekly and the days when MPs never went near their constituencies and didn’t regard themselves as constituency members are long gone.
“Although there was once a national MP for Blackpool called Walter de Frece, who despite the fact that he was the member for Blackpool, actually never went near the place.
“In fact he couldn’t find it on a map – he struggled to find Britain on a map because he lived in Monte Carlo and he came to Britain twice a year for the Budget debate and Ascot.
“Yet, he was elected for (seven) years as the member for Blackpool. He was actually regarded as quite a successful constituency MP because while he was here, he would get a pile of House of Commons notepaper, sign the bottom and then his secretary would fill in the rest.
“This sounds extraordinary, but because he managed to reply to a few letters – and it shows you how things have changed, he was regarded as a particularly brilliant constituency MP.”