Was subject to forensic refection on what sort of an MP I would make last night - and directly to my face. It began kindly enough, in that it seems I performed my duties during my 8 years as an Assembly Member with an "open mind" and "spoke up for the people". Things went downhill from there. At Westminster, it seems that I will inevitably be subject to pressure from the whips, will do just what I'm instructed to, and will have no influence at all. I've read other similar dismissive comments on the blogosphere. The basis on which these comments are made is that I've said that I cannot envisage a situation in which I would refuse to obey a 3-line whip. Needless to write, I disagree with these assessments of effectiveness. The upshot is that I've been instigated to write this post about how an MP can most effectively represent constituents.
I often read and hear the opinion expressed that voting against the party whip is a demonstration of an independent mind - 'putting principle before party' etc. You know the sort of stuff. Its certainly an effective way of becoming noticed and securing headlines. But it rarely has impact of any significance on Government policy. All it usually does is greatly reduce any influence on policy that the 'rebel' may have had. The only interest it serves is that of the rebels themselves. Personally, I reckon a much more effective way of making a difference is to argue and debate issues within a governing party before policy becomes established - the aim being to secure a 'free vote' or some form of 'policy flexibility', perhaps by building up a body of like minded opinion.
The issue that usually instigates this discussion is my attitude towards devolution, and my opinion that the National Assembly for Wales should be granted law making powers in those policy areas that are devolved. I shout my opinion from the hilltops, hoping for effect. Now, I don't expect our manifesto writers to respond by including a commitment to provide exactly what I want - which would be a pledge to hold an immediate referendum on the transfer of all these law making powers. Might be wrong of course. But I do hope that it will be written in a way which accepts my right to hold and advocate this opinion. By engaging in this debate now, I hope I can make a difference to our policy, which is more than I would ever achieve by voting against a manifesto commitment sometime in the future.
Another way of making a 'difference' rather than a 'noise' is to be in Parliament for important votes, rather than in the constituency chasing the camera. I still recall the huge fuss the two Powys MPs made last year about Post Office closures - and then learning that they both missed the crucial vote in the House of Commons. Iain Dale has posted on another example of this sort of behavior today.
My experience of politics is that too many MPs are too concerned about issuing press releases 'condemning' and 'welcoming' - though we all do this to some extent. None of us can afford to ignore the importance of a media profile. But what really matters for constituents is what difference can be made to promote their interests, rather than how much 'noise' can be made to promote the politician's interest - a point I made rather forcefully last night.