At the end of last week one of the themes that was debated and voted on in the House of Commons was handled very badly by most Sussex MPs. We clearly need some changes to our democracy if we are going to improve our society and hopefully the MPs will be more responsive to their constituents and local communities where issues such as poverty for young people is very significant. It is clear that we as taxpayers and voters need to have some way of influencing future decision making that will protect local residents on a range of themes. Another less acute but equally important issue is how can we persuade Westminster to register and count every MP’s vote or abstention, particularly for critical cases such as the vote for school holiday food provision for low income families. One option to consider is whether Parliament should adopt the approach taken in nations like Switzerland to give residents a regular opportunity to put forward their views on a wide range of issues. It is certainly clear that some of the recent Governmental decisions are not fit for purpose and there is a real risk that by comparison to Scotland, where we need to be much better connected, that our Government is much lower in respect terms than their SNP leadership. This is particularly concerning as they begin to explore their own independence. Their five tier system for COVID is a classic example of how we could benefit from their expansion of our own arrangements.
It is very clear that our recent e-petitions and the needs for families on low incomes are being ignored by most of the Sussex Conservative MPs currently, in order to maintain their association with the leadership of their party. It may be the case that if the Labour Party was running the nation that our lack of respect for them would arise and our appreciation for the Conservatives would gain some ground. However the current challenge is directed at the Sussex Conservative MPs, some of whom are, or in one case, was, part of the Government until last week. It is clear that Caroline Ansell has gained a significant amount of support for her decision to resign as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to enable her to vote against the Government’s decision to ignore poor children’s needs. Another Conservative MP who did not vote was Tim Loughton and he was supportive of a recent petition so perhaps he also deserves our appreciation. Of course we have no way of knowing if his lack of vote was because he was paired with someone who was not in Parliament or because he was abstaining. This is why the current Parliamentary voting arrangement is not fit for purpose. Caroline Lucas used Facebook to explain that she did not vote because she was prevented from speaking in Parliament and that London is in Tier 2 which made remaining in Brighton more sensible. However this meant she needed to pair her voting with a backbench Conservative. This arrangement makes it hard to know the views of nearly 70 MPs in our Nation whose votes or lack of votes were not recorded. Jacob Rees-Mogg is opposed to a digital voting system, but we clearly need this to be overruled and for every MP in Parliament to get a reliable and public voting arrangement. After all if everyone in the UK had paired up with people over the 2016 Referendum we would only have had about 1.27 million votes and whilst they would all have been for our departure from the EU, the number would have looked very questionable.
As for the speeches that were able to be made on Thursday, we clearly need to find a way to challenge some of the comments that took place. There was a claim by Gavin Williamson that “[I am] highlighting another Government initiative— FareShare receives considerable support from the Government”. It is certainly true that any charity funding deserves appreciation, but to claim that charities are their initiative is nonsense. I do recall the initiative of Sussex FareShare in 2002 with the initiative funding and organisational plans from Crisis. I recall how in that year, it distributed 30 tonnes of food to around 15 charities. The year that ended in April saw 23 times as much (675 tonnes) distributed to 10 times as many charities. Caroline Lucas has visited it on several occasions as indeed has Councillors. FareShare works with foodbanks all over Sussex that are assisting many communities; I recall how around 10 years ago the Conservative Party refused to communicate with foodbanks because they claimed that they were Labour supporting. The provision from this Government and our Sussex MPs needs to go well beyond a modest release of taxation funding for a few significant charities.