So what does an MEP actually do?

European_Parliament_vote_in_Strasbourg_in_2010

My recent spat with Lib-Dem Bill Newton Dunn over voting rates (covered in BBC Political Correspondent John Hess’ blog) has attracted some comment on Twitter, and I’m particularly concerned by the mistaken assumptions and, frankly, the ignorance of the comments with regard to the work which an MEP actually does.  At least @LorraineJohnson was courteous about it: Curious to know how you do spend your time if its not in the voting chamber?”.  I replied “Too long for a Tweet — see my April Newsletter”.  She came back “Will you tweet a link?”.  Lorraine — this is for you.

@PSPLeeWoods, on the other hand, went straight for (what he thought was) the jugular.  “Let’s be honest, a real job requires 100% attendance! You’re overpaid and both lazy. No excuses”.  Actually, Lee, I’m paid less as an MEP than when I had a proper job — I took a salary cut when I was elected — and I don’t think I’ve ever worked quite so hard in a fifty-year career.  But don’t play the violins for me.  I enjoy it.

Of course voting is important, which is why I prioritise it, with a participation rate well above average.  That said, it is only one aspect of a complex and multi-facetted job.  Other things are important too, and MEPs (like MPs) often have appointments three-deep and can only attend one at a time.

In the case of euro-sceptics, we can rarely overturn the in-built majority of Europhiles in the parliament, so arguably voting should have less priority in our work, and indeed a number of my colleagues believe they can do more for the interests of their constituents by campaigning and educating the public in their regions than by voting in Strasbourg.

I pointed out to Lee that although Nick Clegg attacked Nigel Farage’s voting rate, his own is only half of Farage’s.  Lee replied: “Does that make it okay to have a poor attendance? because Clegg has a poorer attendance record? Unbelievable”.  No Lee.  My point was simply that party leaders have other calls on their time, and that applies to Farage as it does to Clegg.  Or Cameron, whose rate is 17%.  But he comes back again: Voting is a big part of it and an 88% attendance level is poor, REAL workers have to give 100% or face the sack”.  OK Lee.  And ignore the other parts of the job?

I was amused to note that despite Newton Dunn’s wholly specious criticism of my voting rate (which is way above average), I have made more than three times as many speeches in plenary as he has (37 against 11).  And I’ve tabled 102 parliamentary questions against his 71.  Neither statistic is a better measure of overall work rate than voting participation, but maybe he ought to bear them in mind.  This comment elicited a new voice in the debate, Matteo Adduci, who said “You also drafted 0 reports & 0 opinions in 5 years.  What a performance!”.

OK Matteo.  But as eurosceptics are in a structural minority, you can guarantee that any report I might write would be gutted and filleted in committee by the pro-Brussels majority to the point I’d be ashamed to have my name on it — so why start?  We have a better chance to achieve change by voting on amendments than by drafting reports for the majority to bowdlerise.

If you’ve followed me this far, you may be asking “OK, so what do you do?”.

Following committees, speaking and voting, and following some pieces of legislation.  I’m on the Industry/Energy Committee and on Unemployment, but I freely admit that as UKIP Energy spokesman I focus on Energy, and rarely attend Unemployment.  As energy spokesman, I also cooperate with the Whips on voting lists for relevant reports.

Meeting constituents and industry and constituency groups: This last week, for example, I met a representative of the Thalidomide Trust concerned at the lack of compensation for victims, and a representative of the BMA, to talk about the impact of some aspects of EU regulation on the medical profession and on healthcare in Britain.  These are issues which are of obvious concern to constituents.

Attending briefings and conferences: This week I attended one of our periodic Coal Round Tables, which bring MEPs and the Industry together.  I also attended a briefing on the Commission’s new energy proposals for 2030 (and spoke to the Commission in my capacity as UKIP Energy Spokesman)   I attended a Financial Services lunch debate chaired by Vicky Ford MEP.  And I attended and addressed the EU-Ukraine Business Council, following the Crimea referendum, and set out our view of the issue.  I frequently attend meetings and briefings organised by the European Energy Forum, where I have learned a huge amount about the industry, and had the opportunity to work with other MEPs from other groups interested in Energy.  (Bill Newton Dunn says “UKIP MEPs never work with others to achieve their objectives”.  But the trouble with Bill is that be believes his own propaganda).

Relations with third countries: I received an up-date on the situation in Bangla Desh from the Ambassador of that country.  I also regularly attend meetings of the Korea Interparliamentary Delegation (having worked in Korea for several years in the early ‘90s).

Media:  I do frequent media events.  This week I gave an extended video interview to two media studies students from Southampton, who needed it for their project.  I participated in the BBC Sunday Politics debate pre-record, which led to the spat with Bill Newton Dunn (who casually arrived 50 minutes late, keeping three MEPs, several staffers, a video team and the studio waiting).  This morning, back in the UK, I visited BBC Radio Lincs and did an extended interview on a number of topics.

Communications generally:  MEPs are frequently criticised for failing to inform voters about what they do.  But we have a Press Office, issuing releases that frequently achieve coverage.  We write letters to the press. We provide articles and op-ed pieces as required.   I have a web-site, www.rogerhelmer.com, and this blog.  I use Twitter intensively @RogerHelmerMEP, currently with 5000+ followers.  I do a monthly electronic newsletter (send me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list) and I talk to interested citizens and voters when invited to do so.  Last night I did a public meeting in Derby (straight from the airport) and at 8:45 this morning I was at Christ’s HospitalSchool in Lincoln to speak to (and take questions from) sixty or so young people.

Correspondence: We get around a thousand e-mails a week, plus paper mail.  Fortunately my staff can deal with a lot of this, but there’s an irreducible minimum I need to do myself.

Administration/management: Again, my staff handle most of this, but nonetheless I’m responsible for it.  And the bureaucracy in the parliament is certainly time-consuming, if not mind-numbing.

Oh — and of course we also vote!  I find I get rather better pre-vote briefings in UKIP than I recall getting as a Conservative.  All this of course is in addition to oversight of a UK office and UK staff, and my responsibilities for party matters in the East Midlands.

You may well think that the European parliament in general, and MEPs in particular, are useless and not worth the money.  And I might agree with you.  I’d vote the parliament out of existence tomorrow if I could, and my job with it.  But I won’t have either Bill Newton Dunn or Lee Woods telling me I don’t work hard enough.  Judge for yourself.

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14 Responses to So what does an MEP actually do?

  1. David says:

    Well I recon you do work “extremly hard ” Roger, this type of job is not a production line with each task laid out and allowed so many minutes. I suspect some of these critics, may not have a job, or its a very rigidly controlled one where they arrive at 9, leave at 5. I admit i could be wrong about them, lets face it to many generalised assumptions are easily put out on blogs these day.
    Until they do the job of an MEP, or MP, (Im neither) they cannot really know what it involves, obviously a lot of travel time on top of the hard work too. You cant please some people no matter what you do.

    • Roger Helmer MEP says:

      Thanks David. Of course you’re right, and there’s research showing that people who have little control over their time and work schedule (the extreme example is the production line worker who has to fix a widget on a moving belt every twenty seconds) actually become much more stressed than those who have what seem to be more responsible jobs. Being an MEP is hard work, but at least we have a choice of what we want to do and where we want to specialise. I started pursuing climate & energy simply because I found it interesting — and ended up as UKIP energy Spokesman!

  2. frostyface says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Rogers Comments to his critics. Only to be expected at this time of the Season with the EU Elections due in a couple of months….

  3. Thomas Fox says:

    It must be frustrating to sit listening to all the commissions proposals when you know well that our people do not want it ,and some of it utter garbage that will not be implemented by their nations?

    • Roger Helmer MEP says:

      Yes. But by knowing what’s going on, one can alert the public, and argue more effectively against EU membership.

      • Thomas Fox says:

        No one can accuse you of not reporting events in Brussels without this social media we would have no idea about its totalitarian ambitions ,so forward Roger we are with you!

  4. stiggysaurus says:

    Roger, I made a point about you have little interest to vote and also the picture you were sleeping in European parliament – how do you justify that then?

    Yes I may have been slightly off with my comments BUT that doesn’t justify your lack of interest to vote and falling asleep does it?

    Lee

  5. Mike Spilligan says:

    …and I saw you leafletting with the “foot soldiers” in Wigston from early this morning, too, promoting the hustings meeting at The Stage on Thursday evening..

  6. So, all you twit-critics, if this is your first taste of M. Helmer’s blog, I strongly recommend you subscribe to it
    It is a rare island of common sense in an ocean of political absurdity. And he publishes frequently so you will have a very clear window into the Machiavellan machinations of both the EU And UK governments

  7. Stuart Todd says:

    Roger if you concentrated on energy and climate alone I think you would be kept pretty busy.
    I have the utmost respect for you, having had the opportunity to listen to your speeches on a couple of occasions. As a long time contract engineer in the overseas Oil and Gas Industries I know that everything you say especially about Fracking is true. I travelled world wide where Fracking is the norm and the only place I felt a minor earthquake years ago iwas here on the North East coast of the UK. A known geological fault further west ! Incidentally a brief part of my career was spent in the Nuclear Power industries at Nuclear Power Stations at Hartlepool, Heysham and Torness. They continue to give faultless and safe service.
    Ok I drifted off topic but Fracking supported by Nuclear would revive Industry here in the North East. The mighty ICI as was with 36000 employees on Teesside could not compete with the Middle East as fuel prices started to ramp up in the 1970s. Now long gone. I am now retired but I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who deserve a better future. Even Germany is now struggling with high energy costs while our own (Redcar) huge offshore wind farm fails to function effectively. It does not like the sand and salt air. Well as a rotating equipment specialist why am I not surprised

    Stuart Todd Redcar and Cleveland UKIP

  8. Mike Stallard says:

    I think the most important thing you do is this blog which I relish. Thank yo for bothering with people who are not in your magic circle!

    • Roger Helmer MEP says:

      Thanks Mike. But the most common complaint on the doorstep is “You politicians don’t tell us what’s going on, or explain what this European thing is all about”. I usually reply “Well I’m happy to explain. You have half an hour?”. To which the answer is usually “Not right now, thanks, we’re watching Coronation Street”.

  9. DougS says:

    When I vote for a UKIP MEP, I know what I’m getting – at least I hope I do.

    Participating in votes that are foregone conclusions is a waste of time. Holding the anti-democratic troughers’ feet to the fire and showing everyone the reality of the EU shambles is much more useful.

  10. neilfutureboy says:

    I think those who criticise you specifically on your voting record and claim it is “unbelievable” that anybody would think they should criticise Clegg for one specifically half as good, are not exactly motivated by the concerns they claim. Such people can never be placated.

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