The last few weeks have been, er, interesting. Perhaps the most significant event was President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning nationals of seven countries from entering the US, and temporarily halting its refugee programme. The fallout from that has been massive, including Angela Merkel reminding Mr Trump of international duties to accept refugees, and a very popular petition against a possible state visit to the UK by Mr Trump. And then there was the Westminster Speaker’s magisterial speech against Mr Trump’s perceived sexism and racism. (I have to admit I nearly cried when I first saw that – I almost felt proud to be British.)
However,I then came across this BBC report on Mr Trump’s phone-call with the Australian Prime Minister. Leaving aside Mr Trump’s part, I learnt (or was reminded?) that Australia’s refugee programme is apparently pretty awful too. So am I a hypocrite indulging in much clicktivism against Mr Trump’s policy but not equally campaigning against Australia’s equivalent? Quite possible, but I hope this post goes some way towards redressing the balance.
Closer to home, those MPs who voted against the Bill enabling the UK to leave the EU have been labelled as traitors to democracy, because they are going against the wishes of UK citizens, and as hypocrites if they voted against their constituencies’ majority views. I could understand that more if every area in the country had voted evenly for Brexit. However, what about MPs whose constituencies voted against Brexit? How should their MPs have voted?
Apparently a certain Mr Churchill had an answer:
The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke’s famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organization or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.
It might also be argued that for items that affect the whole UK, the MP is voting according to how he or she believes best serves both the whole UK and the constituency and the party. If a measure is likely to benefit all of the UK, aren’t those benefits also likely to work for the constituency, and so enhance the party’s reputation? Going a bit further the other way, is it not likely that what is in the world’s enlightened, long-term interest is also likely to benefit the UK? (Two examples that spring to mind are fishing policy and nuclear weapons policy. Over-fishing hurts future economies all over. Nuclear weapons, if used, kill us all. [If not used, they are a waste of money, and cause other countries to waste their money on equally offensive ‘defence’ items.)
So I have very little problem with MPs voting according to how they truly think. This won’t stop me from loathing some policies, but it simply means I/we need to do more to change the ways our representatives think and feel – or vote them out if they continue to offend.