Tuesday, 8 May 2012
The Case For Political Change
The following article was written for Your Thurrock but has yet to be added so, despite the fact that it may infuriate my boss at YT, here it is.
Before I start this month, I would like to warn anyone with a politically closed mind just to pass on by. If you have an open mind and can actually think for yourself, welcome.
I also have one final initial warning before I plough on – if you are a particularly ideologically imprisoned individual with strong affiliations to a political party, you will probably be offended because I will be sticking it to politicians of all parties including our beloved MPs Jackie Doyle-Price and Stephen Metcalfe. You have been warned!
Several things have happened or come to light since the General Election that have demonstrated the need for political change and not just a change of administration but a change in who can and should represent us.
Let us begin with a look at the leadership of the parties…
The leaders of the big three political parties have not only become increasingly divorced from their supporters but from the real world of the people they represent. Yes, politicians have always been rather isolated from reality but it has now truly become an impenetrable bubble. It was revealed recently that the three leaders have the lowest approval ratings for quite a time and voters have become so disaffected with them that the repugnant George Galloway actually won a seat in the Bradford West by-election. Is it any wonder that voters are so disaffected? Ed Miliband has shown himself to be a rudderless, ineffectual leader with the charisma of a soggy dishrag, certainly no competition for his brother David who should clearly have been the one of the two brothers to have won the leadership contest. David ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron is a smarmy millionaire who is married to a millionaire, already divorced from the real world by the privilege such riches provide; beyond that fact, he has shown himself to be a leader who either could not control his party members, like Andrew Lansley, or simply did not know the plans Lansley was working on which is just as bad. Cameron certainly seemed surprised at the extent of the measures in the NHS Reform Bill when it was presented and such wide-ranging reforms were not in the Conservative Manifesto; yet Cameron pushed on ahead, illegally, some would say, implementing actions to prepare the way for the main reforms before any of them had gained Royal Ascent and passed into law. Then we turn our attention to Nick Clegg, a verminous individual who had in his hands the balance of power, the gift of bestowing the ability of one major party or the other to form a Government, but sold his soul and that of his party to obtain a scintilla of power that amounts to almost nothing. Yes, joining with Labour may not have been enough to have formed a full Government, but it would have led to the Conservatives having a minority administration; surely a better guarantee of slowing the Tory agenda than capitulating to the weight of numbers and selling their principles down the river for a taste of power. How could anyone truly respect these men? The disaffection of the voters was surely an inevitability.
The recession that ended Labour’s stranglehold on Government, caused by the worldwide banking crisis and Labour’s deregulation of the banking sector, certainly left a financial mess to clean up. This situation made worse by the extremely high levels of public spending and years of Blair’s ‘Thatcherism Lite’, Labour having thrown off its socialist garments to stand, diluted of identity, as followers of a true child of Thatcher. And when the public could take no more, they turned back to the Conservatives under Cameron and his “compassionate Conservatism” only to be betrayed as the austerity measures they implemented saw the poorest, the disabled and most vulnerable hit the hardest whilst the rich found themselves better off, especially those who manage to avoid paying the various taxes. The divide between rich and poor widens whilst the current Government looks on, its members unaffected, and Labour denies its role in the disaster. The Liberal Democrats stand by idly watching, professing to act helping the poor, but are on the whole, ineffectual in their minor Coalition role.
It seems as though there is no one to speak for the common man in a world entirely hostile to him. National Government is the province of the ‘professional’ politician, individuals so far out of touch with the real world that they may as well come from a different planet. So, how can the common man take back some modicum of control over the Government? By instigating three simple changes – 1) replace all ‘professional’ career politicians with non-partisan representatives who are willing to work together for the betterment of all and supported by knowledgeable non-partisan advisors, 2) scrap the current wage structure for MPs and instead cover the elected representative’s modest living expenses – being an elected representative should be seen as a public service, not a money-spinner – although the members of the Cabinet will obviously get more so they ‘look the part’ on the international stage, and 3) any hint of impropriety, wrong-doing or scandal from any elected representative that is found to be true will result in their immediate removal and a lifetime ban from standing for office again – our elected representatives should act as an example of integrity.
This is how Government should be run so that the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the privileged few and the current culture of scapegoating and fear mongering that dwells at the black heart of the world of politics is forever banished. Representatives, in this form of Government, may not always do what people want or find palatable but it will always be done in the interests of all.
This method is easily adopted at a Local Government level as well; it certainly needs as much reforming as National Government as it too suffers from the tribalism of partisan politics, an evil neither level of Government can afford to live with.
We now come to two examples that form the case for change in our political system – local MPs, Jackie Doyle-Price and Stephen Metcalfe. In building this case, I have consulted three prominent websites – http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ (which contains “Hansard and official reports for the UK Parliament”), http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/ (which contains the voting records for all MPs and Lords) and Wikipedia (for the General Election 2010 results). I already knew Ms Doyle-Price’s record from a previous piece I wrote about her but, in the hopes that she had reformed and to make this piece as up-to-date as possible, I accessed They Work For You and The Public Whip websites on Tuesday 17th April, taking the liberty to check Mr Metcalfe’s record as well. I was desperate to find out that I was wrong about them, especially Mr Metcalfe following his speech about assisted suicide, a subject very close to my heart. Unfortunately, Mr Metcalfe’s voting record is even more horrifying than Ms Doyle-Price’s record. I am, however, getting a little ahead of myself but these opening remarks had to be covered prior to the case being laid before you.
Firstly, both our local MPs are supposed to be representing the residents of Thurrock (and
South Basildon, in the case of Mr Metcalfe); this is their duty and beyond dispute.
Secondly, we have to examine whether either individual represents a true majority of their constituents; to do this I accessed the voter numbers for both areas, voter turnout and the number of votes cast for each candidate at the 2010 General Election on Wikipedia (accessed on Wednesday 18th April) and then calculated each candidate’s percentage of the votes, both as a percentage of voter turnout and as a percentage of the total electorate. The statistics are both interesting and rather damning of our ‘first-past-the-post’ system whilst calling into doubt the legitimacy of both MP’s claims to represent the views of the majority of their constituents, let alone the entire population of their areas.
Amazingly, the voter turnout was higher than I expected to find with 45822 casting their vote in Thurrock, which represents 59% (rounded up) of the total electorate, and 44735 casting their votes in South Basildon & East Thurrock, which represents 62.3% (rounded up) of the total electorate. As a percentage of votes cast, Jackie Doyle-Price gained 36.8% of the votes in
Thurrock whilst Stephen Metcalfe gained 43.9% of the votes cast in South Basildon & East Thurrock. Not bad you may think as both successful candidates gained between one third and a half of the votes; however, when we look at the results as a percentage of the total electorate of each area, the results are poor to say the least – 21.7% in Thurrock and 27.3% in South Basildon & East Thurrock. Therefore, the successful candidates actually represent significantly less than one third of their constituents, assuming they ignored the views of those who either did not vote at all or voted for someone else. Yes, that does seem like a huge assumption to make but I will back up that assumption in a moment. On these figures, it hardly seems representative, does it?
It is not my intention to place the blame for this terrible, undemocratic system on Ms Doyle-Price or Mr Metcalfe for we have had this system since time immemorial and, for some reason, the electorate have accepted it to the point that, when given a chance to change it, the chance was not taken. Every MP, however, is a beneficiary of this system, one that is held up as a sign of a democratic electoral system but results in the few dictating to the many who will lead the country.
The case for change now rests on whether our elected representatives actually represent the views of their constituents despite their minority support shown by the statistics. To do this, we must look at the voting records (I bet you had thought that I had forgotten about those) of both individuals who I have taken as my examples in favour of the case for political change.
The voting record of an MP gives a good indication of how their thought processes work, where their allegiances are and how willing they are to represent the views of constituents who have opposing views. Oh dear, things do not look good when you look at our local MP’s voting records.
Taking Jackie Doyle-Price first, as she is ‘my’ representative, we find that They Work For You says that she “hardly ever rebels against their party in the parliament”. A good sign you may believe…until you actually look at the full record of the votes she actually attended. To her credit, Ms Doyle-Price attended 456 votes out of 508 (89.8%), according to The Public Whip; this is described by They Work For You as “well above average amongst MPs”. However, of the votes she attended, she has rebelled on only four votes (0.9%). These votes must be on subjects of vital importance for so loyal a Conservative MP to rebel against her party thusly – the reforms to the NHS and the benefits system or, perhaps, ‘workfare’. You would be making a grave error in thinking Ms Doyle-Price had that kind of integrity. The rebellions of which ‘my’ beloved representative is guilty of all took place on a single day (20th January 2012) on the vital subject of the Daylight Saving Bill.
Each line of the voting record below is in the following format: Subject; whether the MP is in the majority or in the minority; Con vote; MP’s role (either loyal or rebel).
Ms Doyle-Price’s record of rebellion:
1) Daylight Saving Bill – Clause 1 – Report to be prepared on advancing time; minority; aye; Rebel
2) Daylight Saving Bill – Clause 1 – Report to be prepared on advancing time; minority; no; Rebel
3) Daylight Saving Bill – Clause 4 – Power to advance time by one hour for trial period; minority; aye; Rebel
4) Daylight Saving Bill – Clause 4 – Power to advance time by one hour for trial period; minority; no; Rebel
From the evidence we have seen thus far, Ms Doyle-Price seems to be picking a rather minor point on which to rebel against her party so she can say that she does not always blindly follow the party line.
Let us look at some other statistics from They Work For You to get a deeper impression. It is stated that Ms Doyle-Price has: “spoken in 23 debates in the last year – below average amongst MPs”, “received answers to 42 written questions in the last year – average amongst MPs”, and “voted in 89.72% of votes in this Parliament with this affiliation – well above average amongst MPs”. It is also stated that “people have made 0 annotations on this MP’s speeches – well below average amongst MPs”.
From the statistics above, an impression emerges of a person who attends most of the votes she should attend but says little in debates compared with other MPs and says little worth annotating in her speeches. As for attending votes, I would put forward the case that that is her duty. Speaking little in debates could mean that she has little to contribute to the topic; depending on the subject of the debate, that could be positively worrying. Finally, no annotations on her speeches indicates that she makes speeches to audiences who already feel the same way she does and that is a good indication of lack of originality in her thinking. Does any of that make you feel secure in Ms Doyle-Price’s ability to act as your representative?
Let us now look at Mr Metcalfe’s record…
They Work For You states that Mr Metcalfe “hardly ever rebels against their party in the parliament” - already not a good sign. To his credit, Mr Metcalfe attended 453 votes out of 508 (89.2%), according to The Public Whip; this is described by They Work For You as “well above average amongst MPs”. This attendance record is very similar to Ms Doyle-Price’s record. However, of the votes he attended, he has rebelled on only one vote (0.2%). This singular rebellion against his party (7th September 2011) is, however, about an issue that could be considered a matter of conscience. The record follows the same format as for Ms Doyle-Price’s record.
Mr Metcalfe’s record of rebellion:
1) Health and Social Care Bill 2011 – Independent Abortion Advice; minority; no; Rebel
From the evidence we have seen thus far, it appears that there may be hope for Mr Metcalfe as his act of rebellion may have been one solitary incident but it was on a major Bill and on an issue that shows a modicum of conscience.
Let us look at some of Mr Metcalfe’s other statistics from They Work For You to get a sense of his personality. It is stated that he has: “spoken in 45 debates in the last year – above average amongst MPs”, “received answers to 9 written questions in the last year – below average amongst MPs”, “voted in 89.13% of votes in this Parliament with this affiliation – well above average amongst MPs”. It is also stated that “people have made 0 annotations on this MP’s speeches – well below average amongst MPs”.
From the statistics above, an impression emerges of a person who attends most of the votes he should attend, is more vocal in debates compared with other MPs but says little worth annotating in his speeches. Again, I would put forward the case that attending as many votes as possible is his duty. Mr Metcalfe seems to be better value for his constituents with a better than average number of contributions to debates but, like Ms Doyle-Price, no annotations on his speeches indicates that he makes speeches to audiences who already feel the same way he does and that could indicate a similar lack of original thought. How do you feel about Mr Metcalfe’s ability to act as your representative now?
All of this makes me wonder whether either of our ‘representatives’ are actually truly representative of the electorate of their respective areas. Such obedience to their party and a lack of original thought brings to mind the members of other groups, such as cults, religious fundamentalists and the migrant ‘slave’ workers in the garment districts of LA. Can such people find it within themselves to stand up for someone who has opposing views?
The case for political change is almost complete and you may be thinking that I have been unduly harsh on our local MPs. Perhaps I have. I have taken them as examples simply because they are local but I believe that there are many other MPs in Parliament who are similarly lacking.
I have, however, two more pieces of evidence to present, a piece that is exclusively about Ms Doyle-Price. I have built, in my opinion, a fairly solid case against our local MPs as being unfit to represent the views of the entire electorate of their respective areas. The following pieces of evidence seals the deal for Ms Doyle-Price.
First of all, during the run up to the referendum on the Alternative Vote system, Ms Doyle-Price wrote a piece for her column in the Thurrock Gazette about why the Alternative Vote was a bad idea and why she was not in favour of a change in the voting system. For someone in her position to voice that opinion prior to the referendum was unacceptable as some voters may have read that piece and interpreted it as the authoritative position on the subject. If Ms Doyle-Price was a freethinker, she should have presented the arguments for and against the Alternative Voting system so that her constituents could have made their own choice in an informed way. If her thought processes were anything but drone-like and subordinate to the Conservative hierarchy, she would have kept her own views on the issue to herself, holding as she does a position of authority in the community. She did not and may have unduly influenced the local outcome of the referendum as a result. I hold no position of authority in the community but I do hold a minor position in the public arena and I kept my views on the Alternative Vote to myself until the referendum was over. I am obviously much more professional in my amateur journalistic career than Ms Doyle-Price is.
Some readers may believe that I am attaching too much power to Ms Doyle-Price’s column concerning its ability to influence the result of the referendum. Possibly. However, I make this point – people who vote normally vote the same way as their family has done for years; they do this because their parents have a position of authority within their lives and therefore act in a similar fashion. Such is the power of authority. Ms Doyle-Price has a position of authority and her opinion therefore carries with it the authority of that position whether she is right or wrong.
The last piece of evidence is regarding a request from myself asking Ms Doyle-Price to support the case for releasing the Transitional Risk Register (TRR) on the then proposed NHS reforms. As ‘my’ representative, and that of every other voter in the
Thurrock constituency, she should have honoured that request, even though it was against her own opinion on the matter. I am not suggesting that my request was any more important than any other requests she receives. I am suggesting that, as the NHS reforms were a potentially explosive issue and one that I would not be alone in worrying about, she should have seen the wisdom in having the TRR published. In my last column, I included extracts from Ms Doyle-Price’s reply to my request and extracts from the Tribunal’s judgement on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for the TRR to be released which concluded that the Government had a duty in the public interest to publish the TRR. It seems that she follows the party line unquestionably.
I think I have shown that there is, indeed, a need for political change, a change from the tribalism of partisan politics to a non-partisan representation in Government and a change in who can and should represent us. The world is changing and so is society therefore it only makes sense that the political system changes too.
I know I may have been a little harsh on our local MPs; however, my comments are not aimed against the people but against their thought processes. I have no doubt that Ms Doyle-Price and Mr Metcalfe are delightful company and are good people. They just need to show that they are willing to put the views they may not agree with forward as forcefully as they do the ones they do agree with. They need to prove to that they are in Parliament to represent the full range of views of their constituents, fairly and without bias.
If there is any phrase that sums up my “dark philosophy”, as one particularly uninformed commentator called it, it has to be this – let us all just get along, cut out the tribalism and work together to build a society we can be proud of for generations to come, built on the principles of integrity, equality and fairness. I was going to go for “Truth, justice and the British way” but that seemed a little on the nose.
Until next time…
If you would like to comment on any of my columns, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out my personal blogs at http://valen1971.webs.com/ or http://valen1971.blogspot.com. You can also find me on Twitter (@valen1971).
http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?id=uk.org.publicwhip/member/40607&showall=yes#divisions (accessed 17 April 2012)
http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?id=uk.org.publicwhip/member/40540&showall=yes#divisions (accessed 17 April 2012)
2010 General Election results
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thurrock_(UK_Parliament_constituency) (accessed 18 April 2012)
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Basildon_and_East_Thurrock_(UK_Parliament_constituency) (accessed 18 April 2012)