Britain is a democratic country but a lot of people don’t feel that parliament represents them as an individual or as a community. A lot of that is down to our system of democracy. For example, at the moment we have a Conservative government that was only supported by 37% of the people who voted in last year’s election. What’s worse, no matter how circumstances change or our opinions change, we’re probably stuck with that government for five long years.* Your MP is supposed to represent you but he or she mainly represents the party that they’re a member of – that’s why I suggest that the whipping system in parliament (i.e. MPs being forced to vote the way their leader wants them to) needs a radical overhaul.
So of course we feel more than a little powerless, and that’s why the referendum was about a whole lot more than what was on the ballot paper. One sad thing about Brexit is that what we really need is a more representative democracy in this country, but through the Brexit vote theestablishment have contrived to give themselves even more power than they had before.
Anyway, what I really wanted to discuss, briefly, is the connection between voter and MP. MPs have as many as five opinions at once on any given subject:
- their own point of view
- their party’s policy
- the point of view of other organisations that they support (especially if that organisation pays them to represent it!)
- their constituents’ point of view, and
- a forming, or potential, opinion being shaped by events and information.
Our job, as voters, is to get our MPs to go with #4 or maybe #5. There’s a great website, They Work For You, that can tell you lots of things about your MP’s opinions. The question is, how to change their opinions, or to get them to vote more closely in line with their constituents’ views. (The latter is especially a problem in those places where the MP got less than 50% of the vote.) One very good way is actually to write to them.** There’s a handy form for this purpose at the Write To Them website. And you can follow up their reply (or non-reply). If you ask them nicely, they will also ask a question in parliament on your behalf.
Now, you may ask, is there any point in this? Aren’t they just going to ignore me? Well, yes, that’s a possibility, but remember that representing you IS THEIR JOB so they should at least be able to give a good reason for ignoring you. If they can’t, there is an ombudsman who will take up your case. Whatever happens, it’s vital that voters hold their MPs to account, not just at the ballotbox on election day, but in the long years inbetween.
THIS IS YOUR DEMOCRACY – USE IT!
*Of course, at the moment there is the possibility that parliament might agree to an earlier general election, but that would be an unusual thing to happen.
**Or you can write to the government, or even the prime minister.