English MP = American _______?
September 19, 2019 3:57 PM   Subscribe

If I'm reading an English mystery and there's a reference to an MP, how can I relate to that as an American? I just need a vague sense of how significant that person would be, nationally. Are they all household names? Or do people just know their local ones? (Do they even know their local ones?)
posted by The corpse in the library to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
They aren't all household names, but some of them certainly are. Congressperson would be the rough equivalent.
posted by pompomtom at 4:02 PM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


There are 650 MPs, so you would likely know your local one and a number of powerful ones (leader of the opposition, etc), but most of them would be unknown to you.

They would be roughly equivalent to Representatives in the US.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


There are 650 MPs. Most are pretty obscure, even to their constituents, although a fair few are present or past ministers, senior opposition figures or popular tv talking heads. But a generic backbench MP is basically only known to their local area, and even then I don’t think many people follow what they’re doing very closely.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 4:05 PM on September 19, 2019


There is cachet that comes with it, of course, even if the only thing you know about someone is that they are an MP.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 4:07 PM on September 19, 2019


There are about 650 MPs, so an MP is more like a congressional representative (435) than a senator (100), but with a couple of exceptions.

One: the most prominent MPs are also members of the executive branch (i.e. members of cabinet), with a correspondingly high media profile and practical responsibilities. You can assume a particular MP does not fall into this category unless whatever you're reading says otherwise.

Two: representatives stand for reelection every two years, while MPs stand for re-election every 4-5ish years, so the median MP tends to be a bit better known by virtue of doing the job longer (and also by virtue of the slightly more nationally coherent news media market that exists in the UK than does in the US).
posted by caek at 4:08 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Most people will have a reasonable idea about who their local MP is, as they tend to appear in local media, on local news, campaigning for local issues and so on. They will generally have a reasonable local and perhaps regional profile, depending on what they get involved in. Some will be better-known because they are cabinet or shadow cabinet members, so will make it to the national news media. Some will be renegade and rebels and will make lots of noise and most of the public will know them. I'm hoping the MMDP household's own brilliant, mouthy MP gets to be much better known in the future.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:13 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


There is a difference in scale. A UK MP generally represents a constituency of 56,000-72,000 people, with a few exceptions. Most US congressional representatives represent districts of around 750,000 people, also with a few exceptions.
posted by zachlipton at 4:19 PM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]


Two: representatives stand for reelection every two years, while MPs stand for re-election every 4-5ish years, so the median MP tends to be a bit better known by virtue of doing the job longer (and also by virtue of the slightly more nationally coherent news media market that exists in the UK than does in the US).

True, however, there are no term limits for congressional representative (unlike the President, for example) and incumbancy is a huge thing. Some representatives have held their roles for DECADES. Sensenbrenner recently just announced that he's not seeking re-election after holding the position since 1979. 40 solid years. He has made his name on the national stage doing such things as introducing the Patriot Act into Congress. VERY well known locally (I grew up in his district) but also known outside of it.
posted by acidnova at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2019


Parliament and the business of Parliament take place in London but all MPs have an office in the constituency that elected them where they hold regular surgeries, and any constituent can make an appointment to see them. This actually makes them pretty vulnerable to bad actors (though this sort of thing is very very rare) but access to one's MP, one's political representative, is seen as how democracy is supposed to work.

Constituents can also ask for their MP's help: "MPs can assist their constituents in a variety of ways, from making private enquiries on your behalf, to raising matters publicly in the House of Commons.
First steps:
Keeping the issue private, your MP might write to the relevant department or official, send a letter to the appropriate Minister or make a personal appointment to discuss the issue. These steps can often go a long way to providing a solution.
Making the issue public: Your MP may decide to make the issue public by raising it in the House of Commons, where it will be officially recorded, and could potentially come to the attention of the press and public.
Outside Parliament, and at the discretion of the individual MP, you could request that your MP speak at an event concerning the issue, pledge their support to a campaign or write to the local media on your behalf."


Some of them are better than others at this. Those who are engaged with and supportive of local issues and local people will have a reputation as a good constituency MP and they will be familiar locally (they'll be mentioned in local media a lot.) Some people who seem utterly undistinguished nationally may be well known, liked and respected in their constituencies, and of course vice versa is also true.

It's not at all rare to have contacted your local MP, though I don't want to say why I contacted mine because it's private.
posted by glasseyes at 4:53 PM on September 19, 2019


all MPs have an office in the constituency that elected them where they hold regular surgeries, and any constituent can make an appointment to see them

American Congresspeople also keep offices in their district and generally have constituent services staffs that perform similar services, though I've never ever gotten used to the term "surgeries."
posted by praemunire at 10:12 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's drift but the difference in scale is really amazing. US citizens DO reach out to their House rep sometimes, but it's much harder given the fact that a US House rep has about 10x the constituents that a UK MP does.

It seems like contacting one's MP would be a much more common thing, and much more likely to result in real aid, than me contacting my House rep.

(For my part, I'm virtually certain Dan Crenshaw would gleefully ignore me. I'm in the liberal part of his district, which is egregiously gerrmandered to reduce the impact of the heavily-Democratic "gayborhood" in which I live.)
posted by uberchet at 8:33 AM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Do they even know their local ones?)

I'd say it's going to depend on how contemporary the novel is, and how embedded in their local community the MP and the "they" in question are.

Right now, because politics has become so fraught here, I not only know my MP's name but have written to her several times. I've also been present in two gatherings that she's addressed.

In the Before-Brexit times, however, I was not politically engaged beyond putting an X in a box at the general election every few years. I've also moved around a lot. While I always knew which party my local MP belonged to (not a challenge: I've always lived in the English countryside, so everywhere I've lived has had a Conservative MP), at most times I could not have told you with any confidence what his name was, only that he was white and male. I certainly couldn't have picked him out in a crowd. And while I knew in principle that I could contact my MP, I couldn't have given you an example of a situation in which I might wish to do so. Along with the Citizens' Advice Bureau, the Jobcentre, the police, the ambulance service, my own household insurance and so on and so forth, my local MP was a resource I knew was available to me, and I didn't really feel the need to know anything more. I know I'm not alone in that, or in having become much more engaged in recent times.

It's perhaps helpful also to point out that constituencies are small. As I say, I've always lived in the countryside; but I've always worked in cities (with commutes of 5 to 45 miles), so the place where I've spent most of my waking hours has never been in the constituency where I live, and very few of my colleagues have had the same local MP as me, ruling out "how good a job is he/she doing?" as a topic of casual conversation/complaint.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:29 AM on September 22, 2019


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