May has sought to make this election a presidential contest but the vote for local members of parliament is the heart of our democratic system
If you’re already sick of the election then please bear with me for this election is about something bigger than whether you rate Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn or neither of them. In essence, this is an election about the very heart of our democratic system.
In short, will our democracy at Parliamentary level be functioning from June 9th!
Two things are obvious. The first is that Theresa May has sought successfully so far to make the election a presidential contest. From the very beginning it was all about “her”. She talked about votes for “me” and even started to suggest that any kind of Parliamentary opposition in either the Commons or the Lords, was somehow unpatriotic. As though she (Theresa) was the embodiment of Britain and that getting in her way was tantamount to being “the enemy within”, to coin a phrase from the 1980s.
The second issue springs directly from the first. Namely, presenting this general election as though you the voter is not casting your vote for a constituency MP to represent you in Parliament but rather that this is a contest purely between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn – with a passing nod to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Now I’m not daft enough nor naive in believing that people do not make judgements in relation to the leader of political parties. Of course you do. It is why after the general election, win or lose, all political parties will expect their leader to be accountable, to answer for success or failure.
But in our democracy, Parliament functions because men and women vote for someone who they identify as representing their area. It is one of the strengths of the first past the post voting system. On 9th June you will know who the person is who represents you, who to hold to account and who to go to with your problems, your ideas or your complaints about what the government are up to.
This ensures that voices are heard from every part of the country. We don’t have a list system where the only thing that matters is what’s happening in London. Speaking out for you and the place you live in and understanding your pain, your concerns and the state of public services you rely on, is a crucial part of our democratic process.
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Backbenchers of all political parties have a duty to speak out, to hold the government to account and not to be told that once the election is over their job is purely to behave like nodding dogs.
Challenging the government may be painful for prime ministers and as I know, for those carrying cabinet responsibility but it’s an essential part of making the system work.
That is why we need a government that does not believe that having a majority in the Commons justifies doing anything they like how they like.
A healthy and functioning democracy requires a listening government and a strong opposition. So, to cut to the chase and address the reality of current opinion polls about the state of the political parties, I have a simple message.
If you’re thinking of voting Conservative or abstaining because you’re worried about Jeremy Corbyn, close your eyes, take three deep breaths and think again.
There are hundreds of decent, hard-working Labour candidates who are in tune with you, in touch locally, and determined to make Labour electable. Not only do they deserve your support but we need them there in the House of Commons to make our democracy work.
When the Tories are out of power, they still have the powerful, the wealthy and the privileged batting on their behalf in all sorts of ways and in all parts of our country. When Labour is out of power, the rich and powerful team up with the rich and powerful.
So forget Theresa May’s rhetoric. To protect our education service from Draconian cuts, or care of the elderly from continuing to disintegrate, you need a Labour voice where it matters.
Oh, and just one further thought. Yes, we had in the last century examples of people flocking to strong leaders, good and bad. But it was the quiet determination of Prime Minister Clem Attlee from 1945 that achieved some of our greatest and most lasting strides in the improvement of the life chances of all of us today. Forget the bombast’s of left or right and vote instead for your local candidate who will stand up for you.