Who Represents You?
“…there is more nobility in representing working people than you will ever find under the ermine in the House of Lords.” John Edmonds 2003
In turning down, for the second time, ‘recognition’ via the honours system, John Edmonds brought into focus the potential virtue of the representative role. At a time when the MP’s role as a representative of their constituents is considered secondary to their responsibility to prop up their party’s leadership it is pertinent to question the purpose of representation.
Concerned theorists have, for centuries, debated the role of the MP either as a representative of their constituents or guardian of their political interests. Distinct in the current political framework is the multiplicity of those claiming the title of representative combined with the apparent lack of representation for millions in society.
If MPs no longer regard their constituents as integral to their role aside from one particular Thursday every four or so years, who then is the voice of the people? The media often proclaim their right to this mantle, but given the circulation of the national press and the viewing/listening figures to broadcast news this claim seems to lack any real credibility. The media act as a huge two way filter, spinning the actions of those who govern in whatever way seems most likely to get a response (usually from other journalists or politicians) and reporting the reactions of the populous to the issues that have been spun. As politicians appear to regard the public as irritating, imbecilic inconveniences, they regard the media filter as a useful cushion to contain democracy in a manageable form. The most recent events surrounding Dossiergate and the BBC have, if nothing else, shown how important and interdependent the relationship is between the media and politicians and the lengths those involved go to in order to protect a particular assertion of truth.
Still without a representative voice from the establishment, Joe Public could then turn to a lobby group to voice their views. Most however, have a very limited focus, useful if you want to stop a bypass but not likely to improve your state pension provision. Lobbyists are, it has to be said, a varied breed encompassing everything from a residents group campaigning for a local bus service to international organisations such as Amnesty. Laudable thought many of these groups are, and successful in their aims, these cannot be said to represent anything other than specific interests of a public and representative democracy such as the UK model demands more than this. Not that this is always apparent, it could be said that faith in the conventional representative system is so low that some electorates are prepared to focus all their democratic might on one issue and, for example, elect an independent candidate with one sole commitment to save a hospital. Given the self-evident strength of feeling about this particular hospital, why were the traditional candidates for the representative role not able to respond to their potential constituents’ demand? Although this strategy may achieve the explicit aim, what happens to the other needs of the constituents: the education provision, social services, transport issues - surely they cannot all have miraculously vanished because the hospital was saved.
If effective representative government is so hard to find, then what can be done in the interim? The answer lies in the determination and cooperation evident in the local pressure groups that secure children’s play areas and get pelican crossings erected. Where it is clear a job isn’t being done, a point isn’t being made or a group aren’t being accurately portrayed – then do we not all, both as individuals and in groups, have an obligation to act? Commentators bemoan the low turnout in elections, but there should be more concern about what people are doing during the far greater time when there isn’t a ballot paper to mark. The nobility of which John Edmonds spoke comes from an appreciation that his purpose was to represent those who elected him, not to accept anachronistic plaudits from an establishment that, at best, can be described as remote. Of course the merit of Edmonds as a representative is a matter for those who elected him, but fundamentally the trade union movement is built on individuals standing up for themselves and those around them, not distant representation by someone who has no idea they exist.
So why not tell your MP you exist? Tell them what matters to you, join with others who share your aims, justify your position and make others justify theirs, if you think others are being treated badly, stand with them. Don’t just sit there and say “no one represents me”, make yourself heard, and who knows, you might change something that will improve your life and the lives of those around you. There’s little to lose by making your voice heard, but there maybe a huge amount to lose by saying nothing.
“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” Pastor Niemoller 1945
See you on the 27th September 2003 in London to march against the US-UK occupation of Iraq. Maybe no one will listen, but while there’s a chance I’m not prepared to sit back and shirk my responsibility to represent my views alongside those who share them.