Surgery (politics)

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A political surgery (in British politics) or clinic is a series of one-to-one meetings that a Member of Parliament (MP) may have with his or her constituents, at which a constituent may raise issues of local concern. The issues may relate to local issues (street crime, litter, a request for intervention by the MP on behalf of the constituent with local or national government) or it could deal with national policy matters.

It is up to each MP to decide whether they have any surgeries at all or if so, how many and in what locations. MPs often use local party offices, church halls or rooms in public houses as the venues, with a number of surgeries possibly being held at different locations around a constituency. Surgeries are traditionally held on weekends when MPs have returned from sittings of parliament in Westminster.

The number of such meetings can be influenced by whether an MP's seat is considered safe (i.e., in the normal course of events, their party's level of support is such that they cannot lose it in a general election), or marginal (one that can easily be lost). The more marginal the seat, the greater the number of surgeries an MP may choose to have. In addition, how clientelist a political system is impacts on the need for surgeries. The more clientelist a political system (i.e., the more it is based on local representation for constituents as opposed to an MP's participation in national politics) the greater the number of surgeries may be required.

The United Kingdom's First Past the Post electoral system is perceived to be less clientelist than various systems of proportional representation. It also allows for far greater numbers of safe seats than PR systems. Hence British MPs on average do far fewer surgeries than in other states. Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher's Secretary of State for Education, was considered to be a particularly active holder of surgeries. He boasted to Gemma Hussey, the Irish Minister for Education, that he held surgeries once a month. Hussey, who operated in the far more clientelist Single Transferable Vote proportional system, dryly responded that she had to do clinics three days every week to hold on to her seat as a Teachta Dála.