Imagine getting a letter like this from your boss:
Please be transparent about how you're planning to spend your time away from work this summer by filling in this survey.
I hope you'll be using the break to focus on other parts of your job. I am concerned though that some people may use the time to take excessively long holidays and work on extremely well paid second jobs.
Please fill in this survey to reassure me.
I'm asking you to complete the survey because I think we have a right to know what you are doing in your private life. Please let me know if you disagree and explain your reasons why.
How would you feel? Aggrieved, I would think. An unacceptable invasion of privacy? In the words of Big from Sex and the City, absof******lutely.
The above is an only slightly adapted version of an e-mail that a new organisation called 38 Degrees wants us all to send to our MPs. Heaven knows I have very little time for Jim Devine, my MP, but I adapted it slightly - I told him that I didn't think I had the right to know what he was doing for the entire Summer, and that I was horrified by the campaign. I also pointed out the huge irony of the website - the way it's set up, I couldn't actually find a way to access the survey I was supposed to be sending him to fill in. That's right - a campaign which is supposed to be demanding openness and transparency from MPs isn't open enough and transparent enough to do me the courtesy of letting me see what I'm sending mine. I hope at least it makes him or his staff laugh when he reads it.
While I doubt Mr Devine will be any more use to me during the Summer recess than he is for the rest of the year - how do you think I feel about having an MP who voted to deny the Gurkhas the right to live here? - I guess that even if he spent from now until October 12th drinking cocktails on a beach and reading trashy novels, he still wouldn't have got back the time he'd worked over and above most people's normal working week.
Most MPs I know will be spending the Summer, this year the same as every year, taking the chance to meet as many people as they possibly can in the constituency, getting to go to events that they don't get the chance to during the Parliamentary "term". Many of them have Summer tours, where they visit every nook and cranny of their constituency. All of them will spend lots of time knocking on doors. They'll also work on casework and make plans for the next few months when they do go back to Parliament. It's a chance for them to catch up on stuff that they don't have time to do when the Commons is sitting. In fact, getting your average livewire Lib Dem MP to slow down at all is no mean feat. Thank heavens that most of them have partners who force them to take a couple of weeks off, otherwise some might not take holidays at all.
What might change is that sometimes they'll only work from 9-5. They might actually get to go home and put their feet up.
I think it's fair enough for people to know what their MPs are doing in the constituency over the recess. To be honest, most of them will happily tell them. What I don't think is on is for people, whether they be constituents or journalists, to think they have the right to know where their MP is going on holiday, for how long and when. Everyone has the right to a private life.
I'm really angry to see from this report in the Telegraph that people are being urged to send in photos of holidaying MPs. Sorry, but that's harassment. The thing about that is that the more well known MPs, whose constituents recognise them because they do work hard, are going to be the ones who are more vulnerable to this sort of carry on.
Frankly, I hope that all MPs boycott this sort of grossly intrusive, and mildly threatening sort of campaign. They should all just get out there on the ground and work hard. Ultimately, I want them to go back to Parliament refreshed, relaxed and ready for the challenges of holding the Government to account, so it's important that they do get a meaningful holiday in there too.