Friday, 10 June 2011

British Constitution, Key Stage One (Archbishops begin here)

I've no objection to the Rowan Williams editing the New Statesman or pontificating on any thing that takes his fancy come to that -free speech you know. I think that his willingness to engage with people who he doesn't agree with like Philip Pullman is to his credit. In the past I've quite enjoyed the intervention of clerics-the former Bishop of Durham was always thought provoking. So I do not start from the premise that the man ought to stick to theology and praying, but frankly I would hope that he had brought  the sort of intellectual rigor that so upsets some of his opponents within the Church to the issue of how we form legitimate governments in Britain.
There are various models of democratic government in the western world. Ours is a parliamentary democracy. We elect members to that assembly, it is they that choose the government and approve its programme. It is that assembly that can defeat the government and cause a fresh general election. MPs are there exercise their judgment and to justify their actions to their constituents. This is not the entirety of our democracy we have other institutions some that practice direct democracy, others that like local government and the devolved parliaments and assemblies elect representatives. In other spheres of live we would wish to promote active engagement on a daily basis -in our communities or at work, through pressure groups etc. But the forming and sustaining of a government in this country is done by the House of Commons. A government that can command a majority there for its programme has a legitimate mandate.

I well remember a public meeting held at the Uxbridge by election (held on the same day as Sutton and Cheam) The candidate, Ian Stuart,was asked whether he would vote in parliament in accordance with the views of his constituents . I think the question was from an anti abortionist who suggested the 'most people agreed with her point of view' (polling evidence would suggest that she was in error) and she was seeking to get a pledge from the candidate.  Quick as a flash Jeremy Thorpe was on his feet quoting Edmund Burke on the role of an MP:


........ his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion

Now there is a lot I would wish to see reformed in our democracy but one thing I would not wish to change is the independence of MP's -in fact I would wish to see it strengthened. I would wish to see them hold the Prime Minister and Cabinet far more effectively to account. To do so they cannot be plebiscite driven automatons, they need to use their judgement to act in the way that they believe to be correct and if that includes giving a vote of confidence to a coalition and its programme then there should be no talk of the resulting government not having a mandate. One thing that is for certain is that nobody else has a better mandate. 

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