Monday, 17 June 2013

Party Political Sausages

The MP for Argyll and Shite has taken his local council’s motto to heart, ‘Aspiring for mediocrity.’ 

Like so many of his colleagues in the Palace of Varieties that is Westminster, he is comfortable dealing with the non-threatening and unchallenging. However, when constituents contact him to get an explanation as to why he supported the privatisation of the NHS - when it was not in either of the coalition parties manifestos - or in the coalition agreement - he does what so many of his tribe do - he goes to ground. No response. No reply. No comment.

A survey carried out in 2009 produced this little gem of a statistic. 

Supportive letters written to an MP/Minister received 100% responses. 
Critical letters written to an MP/Minister received 20% responses 
  • a further 7% received acknowledgements promising a further response - which never came!

It appears this policy of ignoring difficult questions goes right to the top. Sarah Wollaston, a GP for Dartmoor, who is the Tory MP elected by the voters of Totness, was the first MP to be selected by the Open Primary system for choosing candidates. This happened at the height of the expenses scandal - the previous MP, Anthony Steen had claimed thousands for his mansion and famously derided his critics for being ‘jealous’ when his wrongdoing was exposed by the Telegraph. The Tories made great play of their efforts to ‘clean up politics’ and cited the use of the Open Primary method to select candidates as the way forward. Oh yeah. 

Since then the policy has been quietly dropped. As an MP elected by this method Wollaston feels far more responsible to her constituents than to the party. As such she has asked awkward questions and rebelled against the government on several occasions. In an article in the Observer yesterday, she detailed her frustration at the way politics works in the Commons.

“When she heard that the government was dropping plans for minimum pricing for alcohol, she asked for a meeting with Cameron at prime minister's questions. But she says his office have ignored her emails and cancelled meetings. "I have phoned repeatedly and emailed – that is just the way it is. Sometimes they come back, and then it has been cancelled.

She can hardly believe that she – like someone invited to a party but then snubbed by the host – is being cast as a rebel for doing what she was elected to do. "I do regret that a lot of my colleagues now view me as being awkward because I am genuinely not trying to be awkward. I try to do things through what are beautifully known here as the 'usual channels' but the reality is that you can go through the 'usual channels' and you do not get any response at all.”

"The frustrating thing as someone who comes in from outside is that you realise that people who come through the political sausage machine are like fish in water here.
"From day one they arrive understanding how the system works, whereas someone like me spends a lot of time banging their heads against the wall and soon you just realise that a lot of things that happen here happen in rooms to which you are not invited. That is the issue. I think it is part of the way that women here tend to get overlooked because the system is kind of blind to the way these networks work." Observer 16/6/13

Clearly the way we do politics in the UK is at a crisis point. MPs on the take, Lobbyists circumventing the will of the people, the revolving door between Ministries and big business, a massive disconnect between the elite and the electorate and above all the feeling that everything is being done to facilitate the ease and comfort of the very wealthy. Deeply unfair and democratically dangerous.

For a start we need many more Wollastons and a lot less sausages.

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