On my doorstep stood the chimp and his trainer, asking for my vote. What issues were of concern to me? A referendum on the EU, I said (this was 2010). We had a referendum in 1975, said Bonzo. No! I replied, that was the EEC and we were told it was about trade. The Labour minder’s face – she was obviously the brains of the outfit - betrayed amusement at his ineptitude (Mark McCormack was right: always go into a meeting alone).
This was the first time in twenty years anyone from any party had called in person. Prior to 1997 I had been represented by a Labour grandee and the only time I saw or heard him was when he toured the constituency in a tannoy car to say so long and thanks for all the fish. Then the boundaries were redrawn and the (still rock-solid Red) seat was gifted to a London-based nebbish - even now I have had to Google to get his name.
All went well for the heir, even in 2001, by which time my feelings about Blair had hardened into certainty: Smiler was dangerously mad and so I protest-voted Tory for the first time in my life, not that it was going to make the slightest difference.
Some commenters on my last piece deplored British political tribalism and warned against PR because it breaks the link between an MP and his constituents. I completely agree – and yet, what link? No wonder I went by the headquarters organ-grinder: I never saw the monkey.
Until 2010: another Boundary Commission Etch-A-Sketch job and Lucky Boy was no longer in charge of me. So now a LibDem candidate turned up too, contemplating me owlishly. Issues? Europe: I sensed a sag, a weary contempt. But he got in, and when I emailed him in 2011 about sovereignty he replied ‘The EU has no power over parliament. In fact the Lisbon Treaty included a change for a provision to leave the EU. Parliament can simply refuse to incorporate EU law and in my view should be a bit more critical.’ I look forward to expert comment on that.
Aaand… back to the idea of service to constituents. In 2012 I tried to get him to ask a question at PMQs, about restoring public access to NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificates. At this time I was still an IFA and was concerned that one of the first acts of a new “Conservative”-led coalition government was to pave the way for rogering the people’s money with inflation – which they did, as you will have seen since (only global recession has stopped it really taking off, to date).
Commenters talk about the electoral system being unfit for purpose. It’s worse than that: never mind the promotion, look at the product. The MP’s first response was to recast the query as an official letter, and the Treasury Lord who responded gave me two pages of what-we-are doing-for-savers guff that absolutely did not address the question. I responded, “It is not at all up to the standard that I would expect from a Treasury mind; in fact, it is little short of a disgrace,” and pressed for an oral question.
Well! Would you believe how hard it was to get a Tam Dalyell-type gimlet thrust at a Minister in the debating chamber? The correspondence ground on and almost a year later the MP’s researcher had drafted the following - I think it’s worth recording for posterity:
'To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken or plans to undertake to maintain the value of savings against increased inflation or devaluations of the pound, if he has given thought to the taxation of savings by the Exchequer in various forms putting off individuals from saving some of their earned income by eroding the investments value, if he shares a concern that efforts to tax the small scale saved income of individuals to rescue financial institutions, such as measures debated by the Cypriot Parliament recently as part of the European Union’s and International Monetary Funds’ bailout terms undermine general confidence and what measures he can or will take to reassure individual savers that their investment will not be used to rescue institutions which have grossly mismanaged their affairs and thus be penalised, via the reduction of the value of their savings, for the mistakes of risk takers on a systemic financial level.’
Most amusing. Of course, it never happened and was never going to, though my representative was happy enough to ask other questions of interest to him and to strain Parliamentary privilege while he was about it. I suppose he was reluctant to sow discord in the Con-LibDem love-match then ongoing.
Let’s face it, whoever you get and however you get them (AV is my preference), who are they going to listen to: an electorate misinformed and manipulated once every five years, or the bosses and buddies they encounter every working day in Westminster?
I do like the suggestion of MP recall – perhaps an ‘annual performance examination (APE)’?
Meanwhile, good luck selecting your own!