It can sometimes seem very difficult to fully understand how people work in settings that we have no personal experience of, but that we have an interest in. This is clearly the case in a range of locations but providing that the employees are given the time and opportunity to explain how they work and assuming that they are competent and willing it is possible to gain a good grasp. When it comes to political settings things can be a lot more challenging than commercial ones, partly because the majority of us have very little direct exposure to the people who formally represent or serve us. Another difference is that in many commercial settings there is a choice available to us so if we don’t get a clear explanation from one location, then we can go elsewhere and seek a better response. This has the benefit that the people who we contact are usually aware that if we get a poor response from them, that they will not gain us as customers. Clearly in the case of MP’s or Councillors, unless we are prepared to move to a different residence, we do not have any real choice until the election happens and even then our vote will represent one digit in a huge number of decision making elements. There are also many factors which influence the way that they work which are very historic and which they may understand and embrace passionately. However unless we get a meaningful chance of studying their background, it can leave many of us unable to understand how the decisions take place and why.
A few days ago I spotted that MPs had voted for a decision regarding the bullying actions of themselves which the Government had determined should be decided by Parliament itself. It is a bit like allowing a group of friends or colleagues to decide whether they have made a mistake and preventing anyone else including the rest of society from intervening and holding them to account. Two MPs argued that along with their colleagues in Parliament that their voters are the people who would hold them to account for any bullying at the next election. Sadly neither Jacob Rees-Mogg nor Edward Leigh considered that for this to be credible that there would need to be a Recall Act so that a bullying MP could be challenged by 10% of their constituents. Thankfully the outcome was amazing, although it deeply frustrated the Government as they have a massive majority in Parliament. The amendment by Chris Bryant to independently assess bullying was won by 4 votes.
A total of 50 Conservative MPs voted to support the amendment and these included Tim Loughton and Huw Merriman. In addition there were several abstentions from Sussex MPs and although most of these were Conservatives, I spotted that this also included Caroline Lucas. Because she is my MP I was able to ask her why she had not voted and she kindly explained what had happened. Because only a limited number of MPs can appear in Parliament each day, when she is not able to participate in a debate, she very wisely remains in Brighton and works from home. This is precisely what the Prime Minister has called on all people to do, that if they can possibly work from home, rather than travelling to work, particularly if this means using public transport. So on the days that she does not travel to Westminster, if a vote is required, Caroline arranges for her vote to be matched with a vote from another MP who takes the opposite point of view to her and neither of them has their vote counted. This arrangement is clearly inadequate as it makes it very difficult for constituents to know why their MP appears to have abstained. However Caroline has recently called on the Government for it to use an e-voting arrangement permanently and sadly on that issue, her vote has not won the decision. Let us hope that this will change in the near future so that we can all determine why there appears to be a large number of abstentions.
In the meantime perhaps Peter Bottomley, Nusrat Ghani, Nick Gibb and Jeremy Quin could all publish whether they abstained because they did not support the opposition to this vital amendment or because they were matching with someone who like Caroline Lucas had intended to vote for the amendment but who was not able or not willing to attend the Palace of Westminster. This then leads to the issue of understanding how our Sussex MPs work and what their priorities are. If I contacted many of them, they would choose to ignore me because I am not their constituent, yet on such an issue it is vital to get an answer.