Saturday, December 05, 2015

Deselection of MPs should be allowed - but only in very rare cases

I have been following the "debate" (if that's what it is) about deselection of Labour MPs by their Constituency parties from the City that once was Leningrad! Appropriate because there is a 1984 element to it all and Orwell's chilling satire was all about the need for conformity of thought. That, for 70 years was the Soviet way - to the Gulag (or worse) for those who disagree.

The idea that Members of Parliament should be accountable to their constituents is uncontroversial, and right. The notion that this means that local Parties should tell them how to vote and think is unconstitutional and wrong. Offensively so. If an MP is corrupt or incompetent there should be a process to deselect him or her. But if an MPs only "offence" is that they differ in their views of policy from the Party leadership then that is not a reason to remove them. (It is sad that this very obvious democratic principle needs restating, but it does).

MPs are not delegates mandated to do in Parliament exactly what they are told - by anybody! The whipping system is perhaps necessary to make democracy function - but to punish a Member for voting against a three-line-whip strikes me as very much a last resort. And to deselect them for being a serial rebel ? Well Jeremy Corbyn would long since have been booted out of the House if that had been the way!

Political opinions are disconnected at their core from Parties. Take Kate Hoey. She is a Eurosceptic in a Party that mostly isn't. Or Ken Clarke. He is a Europhile in a Party that mostly isn't. They both provide challenges to the mainstream and add value by doing so. There are hundreds of other examples. Some Tories spoke against the bombing of Syria, some Labour members supported the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tax Credits. And so on. They were pursuing the long established (and very British) principle that nobody tells them what to think !

We the people elect our members of Parliament and if it turns out we've elected a crook we should be able to kick them out. But if an MPs views and voting behaviour are contrary to my views or to how I would vote is that grounds for concern? Not at all. At the next election I can put my cross against somebody else. But for now let's celebrate the awkward squad, the dissidents, the doubters, the sceptics and the rest. Democracies need them - indeed often they are the only Agents of change we have. 


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