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News From Westminster- By David Warburton MP

Talking to Ken Clarke the other day rammed it home.

Things have changed. As an MP from June 1970, he has the longest continuous length of service and so – though he doesn’t like the title – he’s the Father of the House. Back in the early 1970s it was all rather different.

Two things have made the difference: rolling 24 hour news coverage and the Internet. When the news is always on, it is a roving beast, flicking its tongue into corners and under the furniture, always hungry and determined to be fed. Tony Blair described the beast as ‘feral’. Little has changed, other than perhaps the attitude of the watching public: we now not only expect the beast to play its game, we demand it as our right.

With the Internet comes the convenience of email. Forty-eight years ago, an MP would get a postbag of perhaps twenty letters a day. Today, in the run up to Christmas – as we debated the European Withdrawal Bill for more than 90 hours and voted on it more than 60 times (some 18 hours in the voting lobbies) – I was getting around 500 emails per day.

Parliament itself wasn’t broadcast on the radio until the mid-70s and didn’t appear on TV until 1989. Before that, should you wish to see what was going on, you had to subscribe to Hansard – the written printed record of every word spoken – and wait for the post to bring it. Today you can hear and see every speech and question as it happens, and Hansard appears online within minutes of an utterance. And with no social media either, MPs in the past led a very different life. Today we are fully connected. Not only digitally or virtually, but also in our constituencies. In a manual from 1849, MPs are advised to ‘visit their constituencies at least once a year’.

I hope, now as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Education, I’ll be able to address more closely the concerns and needs of our part of Somerset. Much remains to be done. And the world is watching.

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