The legacy of David Cameron may be as the Prime Minister who inadvertently led Britain out of the EU but, for the people of Witney, his constituency for the past 16 years, his resignation may have less of an impact. Although he put a great deal of initial effort into nursing his candidacy by attending a number of high profile social events after winning the nomination as Conservative candidate for the area in April 2000, his attention over the last few years has been, at best, ‘distracted’. Obviously, between attending economic summits and playing table tennis with Barack Obama he has spared a thought for the need for a new community centre in Charlbury but, generally, he has had more weighty matters to deal with on a day-to-day basis until recently.
So, what sort of representation in Parliament has the electorate of Witney been receiving for the last 16 years? Has Dave’s weekly audience with Her Maj the Q featured regular updates on the pot-holes on the Eynsham by-pass and, if not, how comes a constituency can elect a parliamentary representative who spends his entire political life sorting out international affairs that have no bearing on, and maybe no interest to, the electors who put him there in the first place?
This is not a 21st century problem. In fact, in 1774, Edmund Burke addressed electors of Bristol on this very subject. His point was that serving his or her constituency should be seen as the greatest possible honour for a member of parliament, and that representing them and their interests was of paramount importance. Indeed, he went on, your representatives owe you not only their hard work, but also their unbiased opinion and judgement. Not only that, if your MP abandons their opinion in favour of (say) yours, they are actually betraying the faith you have put in them. Your opinion matters, and should always be seriously considered, but it should not amount to an INSTRUCTION and will never bind your MP to obey, vote or argue for anything in which he or she does not necessarily believe in.
In other words, once you choose an MP, you are not electing somebody to go along to Westminster to represent your ‘point of view’, but have chosen somebody to represent their opinion of what is in your best interests. If this happens to agree with your view it is a happy coincidence but, as Burke put it, ‘Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests.’ In other words, it would be pointless for our MP’s to simply stubbornly argue the local purposes and prejudices of their of constituents among one another when the purpose of a deliberative assembly is to serve the nation as a whole.
So, when the people of Witney go to the polls on October 20th, don’t expect that the local issues, on which the prospective candidates are likely to stand, will hold much ultimate importance to the victor. Look into their eyes and ask who you would trust to represent your best interests.
Scary isn’t it?