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Do politicians represent the views of their constituents or do constituents vote for someone to think for them?

It is something that has been crossing my mind recently the idea of whether we elect people to represent our thoughts or whether we elect someone to think for us. If an MP is lobbied by the majority of his or her constituents to vote for something which goes against their own personal viewpoint then what should they do?

It come to a prominent part of my mind last week during the debate on the amendment brought forward by Nadine Dorries. I would probably hazard a guess that if you balloted every single voter in the land that they would welcome Nadine’s amendment that independent counselling be offered to every person considering an abortion. On a personal level I wasn’t as radically against compared to most of twitter who think that if Nadine Dorries said that giving free education to all it would suddenly become a bad thing. I know Nadine is pretty awful in terms of her politics but this wasn’t the worst thing she has ever suggested – not by a long shot.

Having said that I was happy the amendment didn’t go through because I’m very much from a ‘if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it’ mindset and I don’t think the system is broken. I can’t see how charities would cajole women into having abortions that they didn’t really want just to earn a few quid. I happen to not think that these people are evil monsters and if they were doing that then that is exactly what they would be.

Locally there is an issue in Southend that has been rumbling on long before I first descended into this town – that of Southend Airport. I know some Lib Dems have campaigned on a pro-airport stance and some anti-airport depending on where they are campaigning. I have no doubt the other parties do the same but I don’t have first hand knowledge of this so I can’t say for sure but it would make sense. So it seems perfectly acceptable for prospective politicians to tailor their campaigns for the audience that they are trying to be embraced by whether or not that is their real thoughts on an issue.

This in a way troubles me. I would like all politicians on all levels to be totally open and up front about everything. Say what they are staunchly for and against and then have the topics that they can have debates about and act in the best interests of the people that they represent. Whether this happens or whether this will ever happen I don’t know but it seems to me as though you are at times asked to falsely represent yourself in order to get votes and if you don’t then the likelihood is lowered that you’ll win a particular seat.

So I suppose it comes down to how many white lies are acceptable in a political campaign? At what point is it acceptable to use your own PoV above the PoV of the people you represent? If you get elected in a constituency that gets inundated with non-natives and the natives are all xenophobes but you yourself are pro-immigration then how do you vote on issues regarding immigration? Do you vote with what you think is right or do you do what the people that voted for you want?

I don’t know the right answer but it is a quandary. I know what my instincts say but I genuinely have no idea what people think on this issue.

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Published inPolitics

One Comment

  1. Jon Jon

    A few thoughts:

    Dorries wasn’t proposing independent counselling. She was proposing women be exposed to advocacy groups with a particular point of view, and slapping deliberately misleading language on top. That means diverting public money to push a particular moral viewpoint (with long term consequences) onto women at a extremely vulnerable moment. That really does sound like one of the worst things she has ever suggested.

    Regarding your headline, it is a false dichotomy. I expect politicians to do both as best they can.

    One way to think of it is as being a chairman with a casting vote. You might variously set the agenda, guide the discussion, request further information, decide the outcome if views are balanced, and lay down boundaries. For instance, human rights set a limit even on majority decisions.

    Nonetheless you are obliged to represent the considered opinion of the group, and over-ruling it for no reason other than a personal viewpoint would be an unprincipled indulgence. As would undermining it by giving your preferences prominence undue attention.

    That isn’t to say a principled stand isn’t possible. Part of representative democracy necessarily involves granting the elected politician room to use their judgement; another part is people standing for office to change public opinion on important issues. That’s where judgement and character come into play, and there are no simple, clear rules.

    Going back to Dorries, she seems to me to lack the judgement necessary to exercise her power wisely. Hence the concern about her actions as an MP.

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