Most people in answer to that question would probably name a party: “I always vote Conservative”, or they name the leader of a party: “I’m going to vote for Gordon Brown”. However, what we are really voting for is someone who is representing our constituency. Technically, unless you live in Gordon Brown’s / David Cameron’s / Nick Clegg’s constituency it is impossible to vote for these people.
And so I’m wondering whether we should spend more time considering who would be best at representing us (as constituents) rather than which party we would most like to see in Government. This, I suggest, might be a way out of the disillusionment that we currently feel about politics. Everything seems to take place in those closed corridors of power in Westminster. It is easy to feel forgotten when you live in the rural provinces of Britain.
Indeed, sometimes constituents do get stirred up into voting for a person rather than a party, as has been the case with the election of Independent MPs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough. The first past the post system admittedly isn’t the fairest (since a person can be elected by only a small minority of the population) but at least with the constituency system we do have someone that is supposed to represent us – a specific and designated population. This means we are able to hold our MPs to account – it would have been interesting to see how many MPs that were subject to scandal over their expenses who are now standing down would have been returned (think of Neil Hamilton in Tatton).
So I’m urging those of you who are disillusioned with Party politics not to throw away your vote and lose your voice but rather to find out who would best represent you and your constituency. Here are some questions worth asking about your candidates:
- Do they have good local knowledge? – too many Parties are just parachuting in career seeking candidates who have no local knowledge of their area and no real interest in the community they represent.
- Are they passionate and reasoned in their values and principles? – All Parties have different ideas as to what makes a fair and just society but it is important that your MP really believes in making a difference to the lives of the people they represent.
- Do they have experience outside politics? – Experience will always be limited to a set of specific arenas or cultures (no-one can have knowledge of every sphere of society) but with experience and reflection upon this experience comes wisdom.
- Are they honest and hard-working? – the expenses scandal has shown many MPs were neither of these. Look for a candidate with a virtuous character – I’d rather have someone who was straight-talking and admitted to making mistakes and learning from them rather than someone who falls back on sound-bites and stubbornly refuse to say that they were wrong.
If we all voted this way, rather than along Party lines, what would our House of Commons look like? Arguably, it would be a much better, more collegiate, more productive place. Unstable Government? I doubt it. Alex Salmond recently made a very good argument on the benefits of a hung parliament as has been seen in Scotland. People have to make compromises, he said, and this means that there is more reasoned and rational discussion which ultimately leads to better governance.
My final remark is to say that we all need to get out and actually find out about our candidates. We need to vote from an informed position as to who would be represent us and our values, not from one of ignorance and laziness. This is our duty as the electorate.