We seem to have reached a point in our political setting that was anticipated but which has occurred quicker than I had expected a few weeks or even days ago. I wrote a piece last week which called for our MPs here in Sussex and more widely to be accountable, because most of them were elected through a manifesto that referred to accountability. It included the phrase “People must have an accountable local leader delivering on their priorities who they can vote out”. So one of the very clear priorities from local people across our region, particularly in Sussex which emerged several years ago came when the numbers of unaccompanied children seeking asylum reaching Europe from the Middle East began to grow significantly. Their needs were raised in a series of high profile calls by Alf Dubs, who is a member of the House of Lords. Alf had left Prague at the age of 6 with a group of other children under the care of Nicholas Winton. Like many of those children he was from a Jewish family that was under immense threat of violence and even death. I recall being part of a committee in Brighton and Hove at the time when the offers from local residents began to respond to the call from Alf Dubs to provide accommodation, as the Government had initially refused to engage with the call. The responses came at a far higher level than the Council had expected and it was clear then as it is now that many people across our region, not just in Brighton and Hove saw this a vital way of responding to the impact of war and conflict from a part of the world that has once again reached the headlines of our national media.
Last week there was an amendment proposed as part of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill which was set out to ensure that irrespective of our departure agreement that arrangements would be made to ensure we address the need for unaccompanied children seeking asylum. This was not the only amendment that local MPs should have supported if they were to deliver on the priorities of our local residents as their manifesto demanded. Another vote related to the Erasmus arrangements, there were two that related to the security of the Northern Ireland relationship and then one that related to the protection of our workers rights, something that the Conservative Party claimed was acceptable before the General Election. Yet with the notable exception of the three Brighton and Hove MPs, all the other Sussex MPs and indeed all but one of the Kent and Surrey MPs chose to vote against these amendments. So the question which must be raised is what can we do to make our MPs accountable, given that they are ignoring the very clear principle enshrined in their own manifesto that was published less than three months ago and which led to their election.
Even if some of these matters are not serious enough, then there is another one that is at least as serious but which is taking place outside of the House of Commons and which MPs will need to deal with in a more proactive way than simply walking through the lobby that their party whips are demanding. As we seek to leave the EU the prospect of our new relationships will extend far beyond Europe, but in reality even within Europe there will be a great number of discussions to take place. One of these which emerged in the last few days arose from Tim Montgomerie who is now working for the Government bizarrely as their social justice adviser. His discussion was with senior members of the Hungarian Government and it indicates that he believes that the relationship with Hungary is as important as with the French Government in the future. The problem we face is that the Hungarian Prime Minister has been challenged by the EU over a number of its approaches, but of course once we have left the EU our lines will become a great deal less certain. The Hungarian Prime Minister has a record of anti-Semitism, has referred to “Muslim invaders” and made claims that migrants are “poison”. This may be a one off problem which we will be facing or it may be a much more significant one depending on how such matters emerge. The question is will our Sussex MPs be capable or willing to stand up and challenge their party leadership over such matters? Just before Christmas George Monbiot wrote a helpful article in the Guardian setting out some ideas regarding how we could reform or perhaps bring revolution to our democracy. This is something we may become more focused on over the next few weeks if our MPs ignore these matters.