Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cynicism in Politics.

Occasionally, I'm asked a question which really makes me sit up. It happened last night. I met Llangynog Community Council to discuss issues of significance in their area. The main issue of contention was the absence of a mobile signal - an issue that has the capacity to split communities. But the question in question was more a personal one.
"If we elected you to be our Member of Parliament, would you be your own man, or would you be more interested in just doing what your party wants, and not what we might want."

Tough question. I thought about it before answering, and answered honestly. In fact, I've already discussed this with the Conservative Party's Chief Whip. My answer went something like this. During the 8 years that I served as an Assembly Member, I did not once vote against the party 'whip'. In part this was because there were not many votes in the Assembly which really made a difference - but it was also because I know that ignoring the 'whip' creates instability and even chaos. But what I won't do is lie about what I believe. If I disagree with my party, I would want the right to argue my case within the party, and I would let my constituents know that I disagreed. And most importantly, I would not say one thing to my constituents and another at Westminster. Nothing brings politics so quickly into public contempt.

This is why I feel so disappointed by the behavior of many Labour MPs who voted against the Conservative Motion in the House of Commons today to suspend the post office closure programme. Its not the decision by Labour MPs to vote in favour of the Labour Government's closure programme that shocks me. Its that many of them have been campaigning to save post offices from closure in their own constituencies - and travelling up to Westminster and voting in favour of closure - or at least for not suspending the closure programme. This is hypocrisy of a high order. I heard one Labour MP trying to justify herself on the radio today. She just sounded unbelievable. And we wonder why young people are so disengaged with politics!

14 comments:

eric said...

didn't a lot of labour mps vote against the government, there own whip too glyn, voting for the interests of their constituents.
This question is a huge issue for me as I vote for the person and not the party. The whip system is very poor. You should vote for the interests of the people you represent. I would encourage hidden votes in Parliament and the Assembly. Remeber Trrweryn,

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

In the matter of 'being your own man'.

Take Peter Black, a clearly hardworking Lib-Dem AM and Lib-Dem councilor.

Don't know if 'they' got to Peter, but the way his blog has lost its edge certainly seems to speak to that.

Perhaps "that leaflet" had a downhill side to it.

Poor Peter.

http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/politics-news/2007/12/06/am-silent-over-leaflet-poking-fun-at-colleague-91466-20209619/

Glyn Davies said...

eric - Don't know the exact figures, but I think about 20 did, while I read reports that nearer 90 were campaigning against cuts locally.
I share your instinct, but our political system would collapse, if everyone behaved as if they were independent.

I'm not in favour of any secret votes. But I am in favour of more 'free' votes.

Tryweryn is a good point to raise - because at Westminster, I'm sure there would be issues where conscience would prevail (as well as the free vote issues like abortion etc). Where I would be particularly resistant to whip pressure would be where we had made a promise to the voters.

Christopher - Perhaps he's preparing the ground for his leadership bid! He's still one of my daily reads

Left Field said...

I did not once vote against the party 'whip'....but it was also because I know that ignoring the 'whip' creates instability and even chaos. But what I won't do is lie about what I believe. If I disagree with my party, I would want the right to argue my case within the party, and I would let my constituents know that I disagreed. And most importantly, I would not say one thing to my constituents and another at Westminster.

But you would still not vote against the whip because this creates "instability and chaos" ?

So if the situation yesterday were reversed then you would argue against post office closures but vote with the government?

If so you can hardly critisise Labour MPs who appear to have done exactly that.

Frank H Little said...

"Party is organized opinion" (Disraeli). We have been in a period where the opinion has been subservient to the organisation, but there are signs that the latter is being loosened. (Proportional representation would speed the process, of course.)

But have the Conservatives really changed their minds about post offices, or was last night's motion purely political opportunism? It was John Major's government which initiated mass closure of post offices.

Glyn Davies said...

Left field - I would have made it absolutely clear to consituents which way I would vote. I have no issue with Labour MPs who have been making representations on behalf of their local post offices, or offering advice in how to object - but they cannot call for the closure programme to be stopped in their constituencies, or sign petitions to that effect unless they are prepared to vote accordingly.

Frank - last night's vote was to suspend the closure programme to allow more time for consultation, as I understand it. I suspect that some closures are inevitable, but not 3,000 of them in one fell swoop. This closure programme has not been properly thought through, and its obvious that ne discussion has taken place with local authorities because several are looking at ways of saving them.

Southpaw Grammar said...

Glyn,

I am confused, so please can you clarify.

Your approach would have been to tell your constituents you disagree with the policy, but not vote against your party?

The only difference i can forsee in your approach, indeed if there actually one, is that you would NOT sign any petitions?

My MP is a minister, and he will often be candid to constituencts about his own views on policies that he doesnt necessarily agree with, and indeed Private Members Bills he agrees with but cannot sign.

I am still at a loss to explain your position...

What i believe your saying is as long as you tell both your constituents and your party your views honestly, then your decision to vote is irrelevant.

My MP has made clear that he believes that some post offices should be closed, that he will make representations and help with proposals but he will be voting for the measures.

Your position is no different.

Left Field said...

But you wrote the following:

If I disagree with my party, I would want the right to argue my case within the party, and I would let my constituents know that I disagreed.

So if you were to disagree with your party, would you vote against the whip, or would you just let your constituents know that you disagreed, but tell them as a loyal MP you would nevertheless have to go against your beliefs and vote with the party ?

The latter being what most Labour MPs seem to have done.

Glyn Davies said...

Southpaw - without knowing the specifics, its difficult to comment on one particular example, but if your MP made clear to constituents that he was going to vote for the proposals, he seems to me to be taking a sensible and correct approach.

left field - its not possible to give a simple Yes/No answer to this. The key is to be honest with constituents. In general, I would vote in accordance with the 'whip' - but there could be issues where that would not be possible. I would always vote for reducing the age limit where abortions are allowed for example. On the post offices issue, where Labour MPs made it clear to constituents that they would not vote in favour of suspending the closure programme, they would have been in order in my book.

Che Grav-ara said...

Have to say Glyn that I don't think you have made a good point here. If you are saying you will tell the electorate you are disagreeing with the issue but voting for it none the less so that you are a loyal MP then what is the difference between you and the Labour MP's that voted against this Tory motion. Other than the fact that at least you will be forthcoming with your hipocrasy.

I hope i have misread you on this.

Glyn Davies said...

che - I've covered this above. The reason I posted on this in the first place is because I find it a difficult issue. No MP or AM can be entirely free to vote as they please - much as we might like that. Government just could not function. Most MPs and AMs are elected because voters are supporting their parties. Sometimes an issue is of such importance to an elected representative that they cannot support their party, a position that can lead to resignation from the top team or even deselection. I think you use the term hypocrisy too lightly.

Anonymous said...

In fact, I've already discussed this with the Conservative Party's Chief Whip.

I wonder what he thinks of your present difficulties

Glyn Davies said...

I've heard nothing to date.

eric said...

Glyn, you suspect it wouldn't work, unless we tried how could we know?
It may mean weaker government etc, but much stronger democracy for sure. Is strong Government always a good thing? and would politicians actually voting for their beliefs actually make for a weak government?