Westminster system: Who represents districts for cabinet secretaries?

The UK elections reminded me of something I, an American, found confusing about the Westminster parliamentary system. Since cabinet secretaries are (mostly) also Members of Parliament, who does the work of representing the district while the secretary is in the cabinet? Aren’t they both full-time jobs? Does an MP in cabinet lean more heavily on their two sets of staff? Web searches were not helpful so far.

The Cabinet Minister still represents his constiuents in Parliment by voting, just like a back-bencher would. I suspect there’s political staff for constiuent services, but that the minister still does surgeries Surgery (politics) - Wikipedia - but I’m not positive.

That’s how it works here in Canada, where our system is based on the UK system. Cabinet ministers continue to represent their ridings, as well as doing their ministerial work.

Each member has a constituency office (or offices, for the far-flung rural ridings), and does constituency work.

I live not too far from the constituency office of an MP named Andrew Scheer, who at one point was the Leader of the Opposition and potential Prime Minister. He still did constituency work. That’s all funded by the public, separate from their ministerial budgets. (MP work comes out of the legislative branch’s budget. Ministerial work comes out of the executive branch budget.)

This is the local aspect of MPs in the Westminster system that people may feel would be lost if there were a switch to PR.

There are PR systems that retain, or even intensify, the local aspect of an MP’s role — e.g. in Ireland.

Yes, I’m aware of that. But I think advocates of switching from a FPTP post system have an uphill climb to persuade people to switch to PR.

I think av or ranked choice voting is an easier sell.

And those offices have substantial staff. I’ve dealt with the constituency offices of both my federal MP and provincial MPP. Both were very helpful, and in both cases everything was handled by staff; I never met either politician and I’m sure neither of them ever heard about my problems.

Sure, but having an emphasis on good constituency work is itself a measure of the success of those members, even if the member isn’t personally involved.

And it can happen that the member is personally involved. I remember one very successful provincial politician who was regularly elected from a riding that was not traditionally friendly to his party. The explanation I heard was that he could be counted on to come to community events, funerals, and other matters in his constituency, and ran a good constituency office.

The ministers including the PM still have to represent their constituencies. There are many amusing tales of PMs coming back from high level summits with the US president, the leader of the USSR, etc. deciding the future of the geopolitical world, to immediately have to do to an MPs “surgery” in their constituency, and hear complaints about the potholes on Clapham street.

I once met a provincial cabinet member at a public event on a Friday afternoon. In idle chit chat I asked if he would be staying over the weekend, since the legislature was sitting and he would be back in the house on Monday.

He replied that he was hitting the road for his constituency in another city as soon as the event was over, because a weekend away from his constituency was time wasted, when he could be serving his constituents.

He was regularly re-elected.

Worth pointing out that in the Westminster system it’s almost always the case that anyone appointed to a ministerial position has been a backbench MP for a signficant period of time already, and has already been doing constituency work, and it’s obviously not something they are very bad at, or have an invincible repugnance for, or they wouldn’t have been re-elected/wouldn’t have sought re-election. So the challenge for them is not “how do I do constituency work?” but “how do I change the way I do constituency work so as to accommodate my new responsibilities?”

Practical details will vary from country to country but I suspect that quite often an MP appointed to a ministerial position gets extra resources for constituency work, over and above what he got as a backbencher. It’s very much not in the governing party’s interest that his constituents’ interests should be less well-represented because he is now a minister.

I can see that my comment could be misread as “the constituency office solved my problem, the politician had nothing to do with it”. That’s not how I meant it. I completely agree that the quality of the constituency office and its services reflect the politician that runs it. I only meant that it’s possible for a Cabinet member to serve their constituency because he or she has substantial staff.

As a side note, it’s marvelous when you get your MP or MPP involved in making something happen that some civil servant has informed you is “impossible”. Suddenly, it’s not only possible, it’s done! Our American friends often have the same experience with their Congress critters, at least the more competent ones.

I’ve never heard of that. The constituency work funding comes from the legislative branch budget and is only for constituency work. The ministerial funding comes from the executive branch budget, and is for ministerial work.

Government MPs shouldn’t get extra funding for their constituency work. That would give them an unfair funding advantage, and would feed the idea that voters should vote for the government candidate to get better constituency service.

Great answers, everyone - thanks! Ignorance fought! MPs in cabinet must have it especially tough.

Today, the world; tomorrow, Clapham Street!

Maybe I’m missing something, but why would a MP have anything to do with potholes on a street? Wouldn’t that be the responsibility of the local council or county or some other lower tier of government?

I’m just imagining even a state legislator here in the US getting involved with potholes on municipal roads, and it’s not computing. That’s the city or county’s problem and responsibility, and the higher levels of government aren’t even empowered to do anything about it. The state or Feds would only get involved if there was some need for more funding to replace them, or if there was widespread malfeasance or something like that needing intervention.

To be fair, @griffin1977 said that the MPs “hear complaints” about potholes. I can tell you for a certainty that here in America as well most people make absolutely no differentiation among representatives at the various levels of government and their responsibilities. A Congressman holding a town hall is going to get an earful about the stoplight at State and Main, and he can’t very well respond, “That’s not my problem.” However, they’re usually pretty good about bringing the issue to the attention of the proper authority.

The “surgery” that griffin1977 mentioned is sort of an open meeting for constituents to meet with their MP. Some MP’s have walk-in surgeries so anyone who wants to report an issue can do so, even if it’s not an issue the MP can deal with directly. How the MP responds depends on the issue and his connections. The MP might know the right person at the local council to call to get the pothole fixed. Or he might refer the pothole to a civil servant at the Department for Transport who could then contact the local council. Or he might promise to have someone look into it - possibly resulting in the person who looked into it emailing or texting the constituent a link to the council’s website for reporting potholes.

Our local MP used to go to the same church I do. After church one day, he was walking down the street to his car and one of the other congregants pointed to a badly decaying patch of the sidewalk and said that it was a tripping hazard.

The MP agreed, and said he would make a call.

Later that week a city crew was out repairing it.

The federal MP doesn’t have anything to do with city sidewalks, but he’d been in politics for years locally, and knew who to call directly.

Politicians from the same area do that sort of thing all the time, because they know each other, even at different levels of government, and will refer issues that their constituents bring to them, to the appropriate level of government.

A lot depends on how they choose to run their constituency office. The budgets for what they can claim are at Annex A in this PDF. It appears that in recent years Rishi Sunak has been claiming about £200k a year for office staffing, but my own MP (back-bench opposition) around £7.5k.

They could have their staff or an elected councillor from their party attending surgeries or bouncing complaints and queries to the proper office, or sending out standard responses to people sounding off about some policy issue. And/or they could pick up on what might be a sign of a major policy issue, say, why hasn’t the council got enough money to deal with potholes, how many other people have been waiting for [whatever department/service] to deal with users’ problems. The MP might just do one surgery a month, or one a week in different parts of the constituency - but it’s up to them to take their chances with the voters’ perception of their diligence.

The point is an MPs “surgery” is the chance for the MPs constituents to talk to their local MP who is meant to represent their interests. In most cases their concerns have absolutely nothing to do with the MP’s parliamentary business as with the pot holes. I’m sure the standard response to such things is “rt hon Joe Bloggs shares your concerns and will be contacting the council to emphasize how important it is those potholes are fixed”