Opinion: An MP who takes me for granted has left me feeling disenfranchised

Confession time. I’m a political activist and I’m not currently registered to vote. I have dropped off thanks to individual voter registration and I haven’t sought to redress it.

This is something which I find reprehensible, yet I am lacking the motivation to correct it.

I live in Esher and Walton which since 1906 has only ever returned a conservative MP. The lowest majority was in the 1930s, it was 16%. Dominic Raab got 58% of the vote in 2010, a majority of around 18,000.

I’ve written to Raab on a number of occasions and always got a reply. Often quite half hearted but it’s always come.

Do I feel represented? No. Regardless of party affiliation, he isn’t a particularly good MP. He was not really on local election literature, I’ve had nothing from him since I moved in 3 years ago and I’ve not once been canvassed.

Compare this to my parents in Havant, also a seat where the Conservative gets over 50% of the vote. David Willetts does not have to campaign as if his seat was marginal yet you always get an annual report, canvassing at local elections and a very heartfelt casework service (in fact I would go so far as to say the best of any MP I’ve come across, including worked for). Despite it being a safe seat, I was always compelled to vote, I felt it mattered.

Why the difference?

The answer is clear- it lies in the willing of local parties to engage with the electorate. Despite Havant being true blue Willetts clearly sees the importance of talking to his electorate.

It strikes me however that when someone as politically engaged as myself is left feeling disengaged by the state of my local politics, how must others feel? It comes as little surprise to me that many feel politicians don’t care when I know they do, yet at home I still feel like this.

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33 Comments

  • Every vote counts, particularly for Lib Dems. So, if you don’t register and can’t vote, your voice will never be heard. I understand fully what you say, but too many women fought and died for the right to vote that I believe it is import that right is excercised. If nothing else, register and vote. Don’t abandon those who went through force feeding in prison, public ridicule or even death to bring women’s suffrage about.

  • Scott Berry 8th Feb '15 - 10:41am

    I agree completely this is a massive issue (TBH I’m not sure you’ll find anyone here who doesn’t). Even still I think you register and vote, if nothing else it’s another vote to add to the statistics that show how ludicrous our voting system is (x party, normally Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP etc getting far less representation than their percentage of the votes deserves).

  • Flo, I’ve voted in every election I’ve been eligible for so I undoubtedly will correct this, for the reasons you had said., fear not! In truth though my vote won’t count and that’s my issue.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Feb '15 - 2:11pm

    William Hobhouse – But I don’t think that’s the author’s complaint. I see no reason why PR will somehow automatically result in more, ‘virtuous,’ or, ‘hard-working,’ MPs getting elected. Plenty of FPTP elected people work hard, that author mentions one. I want STV, but we should never get too rose-tinted about it.

    Ms Miller – I don’t know if you wrote the headline, but I fail to see how you are being taken for granted if you never voted for this MP. Decisions are made by people who show up, as they say in the US.

    More generally, I’m not totally sure that I understand what your complaint is here. MPs are not elected to run a sort of citizen’s advice bureau (or at least I don’t think they should be). There are more channels than ever before where you and others can find out what MPs are doing. Frankly I don’t particularly want MPs imposing themselves onto me in the way you seem to suggest.

    You talk about the importance of local parties engaging with the electorate – given that this person got 58% of the vote I assume that someone, somewhere has had some engagement and has a good word to say. Just that person isn’t you. I don’t feel particularly as if my Lib Dem council engages me, but ultimately I have to respect that it isn’t all about me.

    In your article I sense some frustration, but can you be a bit more specific about what it is that you think this MP should be actually doing, and what that would make better?

  • Samuel Griffiths 8th Feb '15 - 2:22pm

    Completelty understand you here, Roisin. I am in a very similar position. I have so far not registered either. Will I? I’m actually not sure yet. Regardless of how I look at the British political climate I can’t help but see a picture where nothing changes, regardless of who I vote for. No one seems serious about anti-austerity, or social justice, leaving me with a choice of the Green party or no party at all. My ideological differences with the Green’s aside, the “safe seat” nature of PFTP seems to suggest that it’s only marginal seats where voting will have any actual impact. You really hit the nail on the head in terms of MP’s taking you for granted. But, in a system that allows them to do so, why should they? – It’s a worrying thought.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Feb '15 - 2:26pm

    @Colin :

    “. I’m one of those people who totally understand what Russel Brand is saying. ”

    Do you have the simultaneous translation app? 😉

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Feb '15 - 3:21pm

    Colin – ‘then Blundell will take my vote and tell the world that I agree with everything she stands for.’

    Nonsense. MPs are there to represent your INTERESTS, not your IDEOLOGY. The role of politics is not to indulge your prejudices and legislate for your whims. If you think that the candidate you vote for is going to be some sort of purist reflection you your way of thinking then you ask to be deceived.

    For my part, in my 20 voting years I have voted, for various reasons in various places at various times for candidates from all three main parties and one Green. I don’t think that on any occasion I have voted for someone thinking that they were some sort of ideological kindred spirit.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 8th Feb '15 - 3:42pm

    This, to me, exemplifies why our electoral system needs a radical overhaul. I too live in a safe seat (my mp got over 50% of the votes cast last time) and feel disenfranchised but, I will still vote because I feel it’s important to do so. There are still so many people worldwide who don’t get any say in their government, I couldn’t look them in the face if I didn’t at least exercise my right to vote.

  • Alex Sabine 8th Feb '15 - 6:11pm

    @ LJP
    “Nonsense. MPs arethere to represent your INTERESTS, not your IDEOLOGY.”
    I agree in this sense: once an MP is elected, (s)he represents all constituents and not just those who voted for him/her or those who share the MP’s policy positions or ideological sympathies. But MPs also need to exercise their own judgement on the issues that come before Parliament. In our system they are representatives, or trustees, not delegates.

    As Edmund Burke put it: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interest each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation.”

    As you rightly pointed out, MPs should not simply be glorified social workers. Their opinions, judgement and, yes, ideology will inform their decisions. But it should not prevent them from representing their constituents as a whole.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '15 - 10:12am

    I can understand why Roisin is so fed up with living in an area with a useless Tory MP. I have lived in several seats like that – safe, true blue, with an MP that lives in London and doesn’t care about representing the local population.

    However, this fact gives even more reason to register to vote, not less. The motivation is to try to expose MPs like Raab locally and not let him continue to take the electorate for granted.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '15 - 10:34am

    If we had the Alternative Vote system, then there would be a solution. If it is felt the MP of the dominant party is not doing a good job, and the dominant party is being too complacent about that because people in that place do mostly support their point of view, then AV makes it open for someone else who also supports that point of view but offers to be a better constituency MP to put themselves forward as an alternative candidate – without the “split the vote and let in the less popular party” argument that can be used against doing that under the current electoral system. Not only that. but under the current electoral system there is a huge barrier against doing this – it is only worthwhile if the independent really can get together enough support to look like having a chance of winning. Under AV, if the independent is just doing it as a token to voice concerns, people can still choose to join in with those concerns and use their second preference for the complacent party MP, so they needn’t feel they have to weigh up doing so with practical considerations about whether many other people will feel strongly enough to support the independent.

    But the people of this country voted against AV, by two-to-one. In doing so, they voted against giving themselves the power to do what I have mentioned above.

    Please note, just because I argue the case for AV against FPTP here does NOT mean I think AV is the possible system. I don’t, STV would be much better. The rather simple point that one may think AV better than FPTP but not better than other possible systems seems to have escaped a large number of people who use the support for AV given by the Liberal Democrats in 2011 as a “nah nah nah nah nah” point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '15 - 10:47am

    Alex Sabine

    I agree in this sense: once an MP is elected, (s)he represents all constituents and not just those who voted for him/her or those who share the MP’s policy positions or ideological sympathies

    Legally, yes. But how can an MP whose views are the opposite of mine represent me? Sure, if I had a local issue which did not have big ideological implications, that MP may very well do a good job at representing me. But what if I want someone who is going to speak up for my point of view on issues which definitely are ideological? If, for example, I believe that taxes should be increased to enable better provision of state services, how is an MP whose main view is that cutting taxes is a good thing because that helps business and business makes money we all enjoy going to “represent” me, unless he or she twists my view so much that it becomes the opposite of what it really is?

    I don’t necessarily think someone who is closer to my ideological viewpoint but represents a constituency far away from where I live is going to do a good job at representing me either. What if my viewpoint is very much influenced by geographical matters? What if a core part of what I am saying comes from my experience of being a poor person living in a wealthy area? Or a wealthy person living in an area where most people are poor and so hate my guts for who I am?

    That is why I think the idea of purely geographical representation is wrong. Whether FPTP or AV, it says that only the majority view in an area gets a voice.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '15 - 11:04am

    Colin

    If I were to vote for the new LD candidate for this year’s election, Kelly-Marie Blundell then I would be the brother of a Turkey voting for Christas despite knowing full well what happened to my brother last Christmas.

    Right, so thanks in part to you, a Conservative MP is likely to get elected, in a place where the Liberal Democrats once had such a serious chance that actually they won.

    Multiply this by several dozen other such places across the south. Suppose in May 2010 there had been 50 more LibDem MPs and 50 less Conservative MPs. Do you think things would have worked out exactly the same as they have? Do you think a coalition of 257 Conservative MPs and 107 LibDem MPs would have been no different from one with 307 Conservative MPs and 57 LibDem MPs? Bear in mind this would have meant a Labour-LibDem coalition would have been viable, so giving the LibDems much more negotiating strength than they had when it wasn’t.

    Of course it is in the interests of the Labour Party to put out the message “nah nah nah nah nah, dirty rotten LibDems put the Tories in” and to ignore the fact that what actually put the Tories in was the electoral system, which Labour supports on the grounds that they think it’s good to prop up the biggest party and weaken third parties. Anyone who votes Labour votes for the electoral system which Labour supports, the one which so weakened the LibDems and strengthened the Tories that it gave us the coalition we have had in the last 5 years.

  • Little Jackie Paper ‘MPsare there to represent your interests not your ideology’. So many of us see them representing their own interests and certainly imposing their own ideology. The NHS reforms are a case in point, ideologically driven and so many MPs with their fingers in the pies/till! This is just one example.

  • Peter Galton 9th Feb '15 - 2:28pm

    I am not sure, but I think other parties may be more active in Havant. We need a different voting system for a start, I want to have some say who my MP will be even if they are not Liberal Democrats. Some MP’S and candidate’s do deserve some support if you feel they are doing a good job.
    With regard to Individual voter registration, I have mixed views as my daughter does not want to do it. All she tells me that I will do it tomorrow, I don’t understand politics, they all the same.

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 5:02pm

    Matthew: If you read my comment as a whole, that was exactly the point I was making. Politics is, in large part, about ideas and ideologies and different ways of seeing the world. To seek to gloss over or circumvent or subsume these differences, or to expect MPs to leave their ideas, attitudes, instincts and beliefs to one side when they are debating, deciding and voting on matters in the House of Commons, is both unrealistic and undesirable. I take it we agree on that?

    That said, I don’t see MPs simply as tribunes for a defined ideological stance, nor as delegates for the sub-section of their constituents who voted for them. Nor are they there simply to implement their party platform, unmodulated by their own views, concerns raised by their constituents or new facts or evidence that may have come to light since their party’s policies or manifesto were drawn up. The Labour Party of old, especially the Bennite wing, used to treat the decisions of its National Executive Committee as synonymous with democracy – when it was no such thing – and saw its role as issuing instructions to the Labour government as to what it should be doing. This form of ‘democratic centralism’ (and its milder modern equivalents) is alien to parliamentary democracy.

    Then there are issues where particular geographic or other factors lead MPs to prioritise their constituents’ interests as they see them over their own ideological leanings or their party line. Often you or I might see this as shallow populism or hypocrisy or selective application of principles or whatever – but it is legitimate all the same.

    For instance, it is not unreasonable for MPs who have been supportive of HS2 but whose constituents live near the line to suggest modifications to the proposed route or to seek better financial compensation for those directly affected. Supporters of major infrastructure projects who despair of the slow-moving UK planning system (I include myself) may roll their eyes at such nimbyism, but it is hard to deny that it is legitimate and appropriate for MPs to represent their constituents’ views and interests about a matter that will directly affect them.

    Perhaps more controversially, consider the London Labour MPs and mayoral candidates who have criticised their national party’s proposed mansion tax. Now, I know you would dispute their interpretation of what standing up for Londoners means in relation to property tax, and for many of us the spectacle of Diane Abbott castigating this supposed Scottish socialist raid on London is  something to behold… Yet the fact is that the position these people are taking is strongly influenced by local interests as they interpret them (the disproportionate share of revenue that would be raised from London but spent elsewhere). Craven hypocrisy? Perhaps. But MPs have always tempered their ideological preferences with calculation of where their constituents’ interests lie. In the same vein one could also cite the campaigns of Scottish Lib Dem MPs for lower fuel duty or tax incentives for the oil industry, etc.

    The other sense in which I meant that MPs should represent all their constituents was a narrower one about casework, holding surgeries, taking up individual cases with ministers, agencies and so on, what you might call the ‘pastoral’ role of an MP.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Feb '15 - 5:58pm

    It is important to vote but I suspect that many like myself will not be entirely sure whose name we will put our cross against until we are in the voting booth.

    There are some Liberal Democrat PPC’s ( unfortunately not candidates in my area) , who I would still enthusiastically vote for.

  • Dominic Raab 9th Feb '15 - 6:46pm

    I have posted a full response to Roisin Miller’s post on my blog (for the record Liberal Democrat Voice declined to post it):

    http://domraab.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/lib-dem-spin-doctor-feels.html

  • Dominic – Lib Dem Voice did not refuse to post it. You sent it to the personal email address of one of the editors instead of to the voice email address, so it was not picked up for a while.

    As today’s editor I posted it a good 25 minutes before you placed your comment above.

    See https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dem-spin-doctor-feels-disenfranchised-44622.html

  • David Allen 9th Feb '15 - 7:43pm

    I can understand why a non-Tory might feel too “disengaged” to vote, but I can’t see why the Tories should be to blame for that. Roisin Miller praises David Willetts, who she says is a better MP than Dominic Raab, and she says that when she lived in Willetts’s constituency, she always voted. But she doesn’t say whether she voted for Willetts, or against him. Strange.

    Miller just calls herself a “political activist”. Raab tells us that she was in fact a Lib Dem activist. Strange again.

  • Is it just me, or does Mr Raab’s “publish this in under an hour or I claim [falsely] that LDV suppressed it” have a touch of blackmail about it?

  • David Allen 9th Feb '15 - 11:28pm

    Sure, Raab has been stroppy and unreasonable with his peremptory demands. A natural reaction to the underhanded way he was attacked.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '15 - 10:41am

    Roisin Miller

    Do I feel represented? No. Regardless of party affiliation, he isn’t a particularly good MP. He was not really on local election literature, I’ve had nothing from him since I moved in 3 years ago and I’ve not once been canvassed.

    I think criticisms like this are a little unfair, as it is hardly something an MP can do – individually deliver large amounts of literature and canvass a large proportion of the constituents.

    Most ordinary people in this country actually don’t realise that political parties are voluntary organisations, so whatever they do depends on volunteers willing to do it. I have found this in conversations with people who aren’t politically involved – they are often quite astonished to be told that. Somehow they just assume that political parties have large amounts of money they can spend on these things, and seem to see them as somehow a branch of the state with a duty to provide these services.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '15 - 10:56am

    Alex Sabine

    Matthew: If you read my comment as a whole, that was exactly the point I was making. Politics is, in large part, about ideas and ideologies and different ways of seeing the world. To seek to gloss over or circumvent or subsume these differences, or to expect MPs to leave their ideas, attitudes, instincts and beliefs to one side when they are debating, deciding and voting on matters in the House of Commons, is both unrealistic and undesirable. I take it we agree on that?

    Yes, definitely so. That is why my preferred model of politics is the liberal democratic one – we elect a chamber in a way that leads to it being broadly representative of all of us, and then it is up to those elected representative to use their own judgement in coming to decisions. As I’ve said, many times, I disagree with the model of politics that says it;s about parties forming detailed Leninist-style five-year plans, with Parliament just a formalism to rubber-stamp them.

    I’m also very much opposed to the idea that MPs should be “delegates” in the sense that the people who elected them or supported them have a right to dictate how they vote. I do think it should be down to personal judgment. What I want in a representative is someone who thinks as I think and would do what I would do IF I had access to all that he or she has access to in that role and the time to think through it – which is not necessarily the same as what I think is right from my position where I don’t have that access and time and so am inevitably making shallow judgments.

    However, of course that means we need really good mechanisms to ensure that we really do have representative MPs in that sense, and mass membership democratic political parties are key to that. Our political parties are no longer mass membership, and are only partly democratic – note I believe the position of Leader of the Party is NOT one which should be about personal judgment in the way I have written above.

    I do think STV is the way to get the sort of Parliament I think we should have. It means each MP is elected by a quota of voters. I don’t think someone whose position is very different from mine on policy issues can act as a good “pastoral MP”, as you put it. Maybe so on some issues which do not have big policy implications, but no, not on many others. If you are asking someone to take up a case on “pastoral” grounds which is very much not in accord with their personal beliefs, I don’t think that’s fair on either side.

    One of my motivations for first getting involved in politics and the Liberal Party was something similar to Roisin’s, growing up in a “true blue”constituency and feeling the MP we had just could not speak for people like my family, could not represent us and our feelings and our needs, regardless of whether or not he would have done a good job on personal casework.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Feb '15 - 3:08pm

    Matthew: I agree with a lot of what you wrote in that last comment – especially on a contest of ideas being the essence of politics; MPs needing to exercise their considered individual judgement in the light of the full facts and evidence; and the role of Parliament not being to rubber-stamp Leninist five-year plans even where these were the product of internal party democracy.

    I would only dissent from your view on the ‘pastoral’ aspect of MPs’ work. For example, an MP could be in favour of a lower level of immigration yet, in good conscience and without any hypocrisy or inconsistency, raise the case of a constituent who might (as happens all too often) have been treated unjustly or shoddily by the immigration authorities.

    On the voting system, I used to defend FPTP because the alternative systems that I was aware of, and which were actively advanced in national political debate (for example, the proposals made by the Jenkins commission in 1998, or the party list forms of PR advocated by some Labour proponents of electoral reform), seemed to me to have defects which were even worse.

    However, as I have learned a bit more about the alphabet soup of different voting systems (definitely not my special subject), I am increasingly convinced that STV is the way to go, certainly for local government elections and probably for Parliament too. I want something that is more representative, though it doesn’t need to be exactly proportional, and which retains the constituency link.

    As you know from our discussions about economic matters, I value competition; that applies to politics too. I don’t like the way FPTP favours incumbents and can encourage complacent ‘one party states’. Moreover, I find it increasingly hard to reconcile our present voting system with the reality of multi-party politics. Something will have to give.

    It will be interesting to see whether a potentially messy, inconclusive and unsatisfactory general election result (unsatisfactory in terms of large shifts of opinion not being reflected in parliamentary representation) will create new momentum for change.

    I’m afraid I did agree with Nick Clegg’s original judgement that AV is ‘a miserable little compromise’. Let’s do voting reform properly, or not at all. Better to start with STV for local elections, or even for an elected second chamber, than a watered-down variant that pleases no one and is a soft target for those with a vested interest in the status quo.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 4:45pm

    Alex Sabine

    I’m afraid I did agree with Nick Clegg’s original judgement that AV is ‘a miserable little compromise’.

    Yes, and I agree with that as well. It’s a measure of how far the Coalition is balanced towards the Conservatives that this, and a mere referendum on it, not actual implementation, was as far as could be obtained. But I felt the attacks that were made on Clegg on this issue were very unfair – he didn’t himself say that he felt AV was the best thing going, although I think (as with much else in the Coalition) he ought to have made it much more clear that it was a compromise between the Liberal Democrat idea and what the Conservatives would concede. So it didn’t mean, as kept being alleged, that he had reversed his previous dismissal of AV.

    Even if it is a compromise, if it is all that is on offer and has some small benefit, then it’s worth taking – that was my position on AV. The fear was always that if it wasn’t accepted, it would be painted as “well, we offered it, and you refused”, and that a referendum rejection would be seen as a rejection of any form of electoral reform. I was absolutely right on this – that is how all commentators that I saw treated it. Nowhere did I see anyone with influence draw the conclusion “The No vote on AV is a rejection of compromise, it means a more radical change to the electoral system should now be offered”.

    There is a long history of this on constitutional issues – rejection of smaller reforms on the ground they aren’t radical enough leads to no reform at all. It happened in the 1920s/30s (I forget which) on the electoral system – those who rejected AV on the grounds they wanted STV ended up leaving us with FPTP. It happened in the 1960s with the House of Lords – proposals to reform it got nowhere because those who wanted more radical reform blocked more modest reform.

    The Tories are not, and never were, going to offer STV for local elections or the second chamber, and neither are Labour. Those two parties will always gang together to stop serious electoral reform due to the way it ends their duopoly. You can be sure that if there had been no referendum on AV but instead a commission on electoral reform, it would have been used by them as a delaying matter to kick the whole idea into the long grass.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 10:33pm

    Colin

    To me it makes absolutely no difference what colour of tie the two candidates here wear. Judging by 2010 I’ll end up with the same policies anyway, regardless of which party wins.

    Fine, you just wait till we have a pure Tory government. If there’s o difference, how come if you look at Tory websites they’re full of moans and anger about how the LibDems are stopping them doing all the thongs they want to do? You think this current government is right-wing? Well, yes, so do I. But I assure you if you look at what the Tories these days really want, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It makes Margaret Thatcher look like a socialist.

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