Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I’ve just heard that there’s going to be another election. We’re going to vote twice in the space of four weeks. Some people complain about too many elections. I can hear their voices all around me sometimes. Some people say they’re more confused than ever, and some people have given up on the whole thing. They think that all politicians are the same – venal, uncaring, and out to grab what they can.
Personally, I don’t think this is entirely true. Most politicians, I suspect, are rather like us. Their jobs and their positions in the pecking order are never assured. A lot depends on how comfortable they are in their constituencies. If you have a huge majority, like ours, you know you would practically have to commit multiple murders to get voted out, so there’s less pressure to actually do anything.
There is no job description
Of course, this doesn’t reflect the job description very well. But there is no job description, apart from getting elected every few years. Some constituencies line up easily, and others are less well-defined. It depends on the make-up of the population and how comfortable or threatened they feel. As far as the day-to-day activities are concerned, if you’re not under pressure, all you have to do is turn up to vote reasonably often, and appear regularly in the local papers and at public events.
There are other aspects of being an MP that might be regarded as important. Once you’re elected, you’re supposed to represent every person in your constituency, whether they voted for you or not. This becomes hard work and adds difficulty to the job, because a large number of people seek out their MP to badger them with their pet subjects and complaints. If you want to be loved as an MP, you have to spend a lot of time and trouble bothering yourself with their concerns, and representing these in Parliament.
The oil that keeps the wheels of democracy turning
Such work isn’t always appreciated, but it’s part of the oil that keeps the wheels of democracy turning. And it can be dangerous. Jo Cox was MP for Batley before the last election, and was gunned down in the street before attending a local surgery in her constituency. I doubt there’s a single MP who hasn’t been threatened or at least come close to assault or worse. And then there are the opposition parties, seeking to undermine them, and all sorts of journalists, looking for any kind of story. It’s not an easy life.
All MPs have to struggle with often-conflicting forces, often between demands placed on them that clash with their personal beliefs and their reasons for running in the first place. They all have to be driven in some way. Some, no doubt, want as much power as they can get, either because they like it or because they want very much to do things with it. Some want influence, or money, and their path is simply that of climbing as far up the ladder as they can. Our problem is that they don’t wear badges to tell us what kind of politician they are. That would make deciding who to vote for so much easier.
You’re bound to give the party your support
There are difficulties for them with the voting too. If you join a political party, there’s a deal already in place. They help you get elected, and you pin their colours to your lapel, which undoubtedly makes it easier, unless you’re standing for a seat that always elects the other side. Once you win, you’re bound to give the party your support, even if you disagree. MPs constantly have to decide whether to stick with the party line or to become rebels.
Being a rebel means it’s much harder to advance through the ranks, and consequently your chances of making significant changes are diminished. You might as well join a minority party with hardly any chance of getting elected at all, or stand as an Independent, in which case your chances are very slim indeed, unless you’re famous or attach yourself to a popular local cause. Voters don’t usually like Independents.
Say something memorable at a moment’s notice
You also have to be very good at making speeches, and being interviewed. You need to be able to say something memorable at a moment’s notice, about anything that might happen. Some MPs are better than others at this, of course, and some like media attention a lot more than others. There are chances to do good work in the House of Commons, by getting on committees and steering groups and scrutiny panels, and various other commissions. But these don’t usually gather much attention.
There are only 650 MPs in the country, so they’re quite a select group. Just being an MP will open a myriad of doors and opportunities in public life as well as on the other side. It’s interesting how many get fantastic jobs and lots of money on the basis of being an MP, or, even better, a Cabinet Minister. It’s like a golden key, that grows larger and shinier as you rise up the ladder. It’s rather like a fairy story. As the rewards get greater, so the temptations to bend the rules and force your way in put ever-greater pressure on those principles you might have had at the beginning of your career progression.
You’re going to be on the road a lot
Then there’s the travelling. If you represent Islington, or Westminster, you can walk to work, but if your constituency is an island off the coast of Scotland you’re going to be on the road a lot, and you’ll need two homes and lots of expenses. As any businessperson knows, where there are rules, there are advisers who can tempt you into ways of bending those rules to maximise your income. And our MPs aren’t the best-paid in Europe. They weren’t originally meant to be paid at all, because they all used to be either wealthy or had very well-paid jobs.
So when you approach this next election, spare a thought for those hard-working MPs, and decide for yourself whether your incumbent is pulling his or her weight. Take a look at the other candidates too, because some of them might look more promising. Just because you’ve always voted one way or another doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind. After all, lots of these politicians stand up and make speeches about things they’ll never do, and then they do them anyway. You might decide that they probably toed the party line out of necessity, or they might do it so often that nobody believes them any more.
Most of them will be defeated by the end of Election Day
I want to declare my support for all the candidates in this election. They’re all volunteering for endless hours, hard work without thanks, an uncertain future, huge amounts of drudgery, and a mountain of pain and anxiety and frustration. Most of them believe that they’re going to be doing some good, and only some of them are just out to grab power or money or influence. But the plain truth is that most of them will be defeated by the end of Election Day.
These candidates are heroic, and for me, they’re the true embodiment of the democratic process. Every citizen has the right to stand. None of them should be ridiculed or treated with contempt. They’re all doing something none of us want to do, and they’re all sticking their heads up above the parapet, like the ducks in the fairground shooting range. They all have to work harder than the incumbent, or the representative of the party that usually wins, because they’re unknown, and they’re asking you to trust them to work hard on your behalf.
I don’t think it happens enough
I know that candidates are usually elected because of the great mass of voters doing the usual thing. Occasionally an outsider makes such an impact that they upset the expected result, and I love that. I don’t think it happens enough. A lot of MPs will win comfortably even though they don’t deserve to, and plenty of fantastic candidates will lose for the same reasons. Politics is part of Life, and as we know, Life isn’t fair.
What I would love to see would be an election in which the majority of voters looked long and hard at the candidates, rather than the parties, and voted with their hearts, or their consciences, or whatever they call it, for the candidate they trusted most, as a person. Democracy isn’t perfect, and ours is surely not any more perfect than any other. I’m glad we don’t live in Russia or Turkey, where democracy is plainly fiddled with, or in other countries where corruption is so much a way of life that democracy is a complete sham.
Our children will have to live with the consequences
We’re at something of a crossroads today. An unelected Prime Minister is asking us to give her a mandate to negotiate our exit from Europe and lay down the foundations for our future as a country and a society. Her party hasn’t shown itself to be on the side of the people very much lately. We might decide, with our hearts and our heads, that we think this is what we deserve. Or we may make some other judgement.
Whatever we do decide in June, I just hope that we won’t be wringing our hands in a few years, wishing we had decided the other way. And I hope that our children, and all those who aren’t allowed to vote yet, don’t come to blame us, because they will have to live with the consequences. Please, vote wisely.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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