THE revelation that Tony Blair has the worst voting record in the House of Commons of any prime minister in the past thirty years does not come as a surprise. Assiduous research by Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, shows that while Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major managed to attend between 30 and 40 per cent of votes held during their terms of office, Mr Blair's average is of less than ten per cent. In defence of their man, Labour supporters have pointed out that Mr Blair has been exceptionally busy on the international stage throughout his premiership and, in addition, has had the preoccupations of the Iraq war; they also draw attention to the innovations of Mr Blair's monthly media conferences and regular meetings with chairmen of the Commons' Select Committees. Those less sympathetic to his case say that his failure to vote regularly in the Commons is just part of his generally dismissive attitude towards the importance of the Chamber.
There is another aspect of the matter; voting is not everything. Ministers and MPs can, and many do, sit in the bar or in their offices while debates are in progress and only emerge when the division bells ring. But taking part in the debates, if only by listening to them, should be an obligation of any MP and in this, as the empty green benches so often seen on the BBC Parliament Channel show, there is serious deficit. The Prime Minister cannot be expected to attend every, or even many, debates but he might have a better feeling for the mood of the people's representatives if he were to put in an occasional appearance beyond that of his weekly Question Time.