My Letter to Lisa Nandy MP: May I Count on Your Support for the Kyle-Wilson Amendment?

official_portrait_of_lisa_nandy_crop_2Lisa Nandy is the Labour Member of Parliament for Wigan and former Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.  

If you agree with the points I have raised in this letter, I encourage you to copy the text and use it as the basis for a letter to your own MP.

Dear Lisa,

I write as a concerned constituent, having read your recent piece in the Guardian: ‘A flawed second referendum could break our democracy’ and the arguments it puts forward to support the position.

I understand your discomfort at dealing with the legacy of divisive, binary choices and your concerns of holding Yes/No referenda on deeply nuanced matters.  These are uncomfortable times which seem to be filled with binary choices to navigate a way safely onwards.

The piece suggests you have accepted that the moral rather than the ideological imperative renders the ‘No Deal’ outcome unsupportable, particularly with regard to protecting the peace process in Northern Ireland.  For this reason and all the concerns about protecting health and prosperity that you have cited, it would indeed be an act of gross negligence to facilitate our withdrawal from the EU without an agreed structure.  There’s nothing wrong with removing an unacceptable outcome – but it does have the effect of increasing the probability of a further binary choice to come.

By your own admission, this morally unacceptable outcome is one which polls suggest around a quarter of the public would support – logically, around half those who wish the UK to Leave.  Unfortunately, this presents you with another binary choice: simply ‘respect’ the most recent democratically-expressed view of the electorate or explain the consequences of blindly following a potentially self-destructive path before we all have to follow it, knowing the proportion who favour an unworkable solution.

Given the unhealthy closeness of the June 2016 vote, the changes in the demography of the UK in the two and a half years since then, the huge gulf between what was promised by Leave and what we now know may be possible to negotiate (and the fact that some promises were demonstrably untrue), it’s impossible to claim there is insufficient evidence to re-evaluate the whole issue.

Consider also the fact that the last major poll that indicated a Leave majority was conducted a year ago and in recent weeks, the continuing impasse in the Commons has led to a slew of polls showing mounting concern for the current trajectory of the country and growing support for another referendum.  As you can see, I’m using the same source for these polls that you used in your article.

The argument against a second referendum cannot, in any sense, be that it is “anti-democratic”.  Disobeying a referendum would be anti-democratic.  By definition, asking people to vote again is the very essence of trust in democracy.  Those who would have you believe otherwise must be viewed suspiciously in only asserting so because they feel they have something to lose.

Obviously, such opponents of a 2nd Referendum are likely to be the evangelical Brexiteers, those who believe they “won” and have now been granted a mandate to pursue EU withdrawal with barely-limited gusto, based on a tiny majority, zealously guarding the interests of “17.4 million” by seemingly seeing fit to ignore completely the expressed view of 16.1 million fellow citizens.

There are other opponents: Remain-leaning MPs of all hues who sit in strongly pro-Leave seats, whose vacillation may potentially be influenced by the fact that publicly disagreeing with a majority of their constituents may not be the most advantageous career move.  Such a description may or may not apply to a number of Tory back-benchers who can find comfort in diligently obeying the whip and conveniently avoiding a confrontation with their own voters.  On the Labour benches, the Member for Don Valley seems to be the most notable example for such a potential conflict of interest.

Finally, of course, there are the stealth Brexiteers, those who secretly always wanted out but who sit back and allow events to take their course with a suitable amount of shoulder-shrugging and token opposition around the margins of the debate to be seen to have done just enough not to have exposed their own duplicity.  I speak, of course, of your own Leader and much of his inner coterie.

This week, following the 230-vote defeat of ‘The Meaningful Vote’ and the 149-vote defeat of ‘Meaningful Vote II’, there is, we are informed, likely to be a third attempt for the Prime Minister to scrape her ill-conceived, ill-begotten, ill-starred deal into UK policy – I’d like this one to be called ‘Meaningful Vote – With A Vengeance’.  Among the amendments it will face, we expect the Kyle-Wilson Amendment to be debated, in which May’s faltering, diluted position, if passed, must be put to the people as a “confirmatory referendum” and against which the option to Remain must feature.

As a concerned constituent, someone who has met you, has always found you to act very impressively and who has always been proud to say that you are my MP, I implore you to abandon the position in your Guardian piece, of hand-wringing deference to a single vote on a once-in-a-lifetime issue, in the name of ‘protecting democracy’.

This decision must be guided by the most fundamental principles of parliamentary representation – with which I trust you will be more than familiar.  I won’t insult you by quoting Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill at you but I think it’s fair to ask that, given the clear distinction between ‘representative’ and ‘delegate’, your vote for Kyle-Wilson demonstrates your willingness to provide representation for all the constituents of Wigan, not simply act in delegation of its (suspected) majority.

I trust you to put clearly-delineated national interest above those even of most of your voters.  I trust you to disobey your party whips if the country’s future depends on it and, just as Jess Phillips has already stated, I trust you to have the integrity to accept that in doing so, you accept all consequences that your most noble actions may invite, should the majority of the people of Wigan then disagree.

Yes, it’s a binary choice but leadership often requires the conviction to make a choice and argue for it – and it’s disingenuous in the extreme to ignore that inconvenient truth and continue to act as a leader of the constituency you represent.

I wish you well this week and I hope you can be part of the change that sees this whole ghastly mess turned around, allowing the whole country to concentrate once again on the real problems it faces.  I also believe that, in due course, the failure of both front benches over the last three dismal years will be corrected and younger, more reasonable, more resonant voices such as yours may be heard, from positions of greater seniority.  I’d very much like one day to claim that I’m proud of you not just as my MP, but as the holder as one of the Great Offices of State.

Please seize this opportunity to better define the future for us all.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Bentham

2015 Election Pt I: Suffering for Suffrage’s Sake

Here we go again…

It’s General Election time and once again, a bunch of people I’d normally cross the street to avoid are all suddenly intent on ‘engaging’ with me and ‘gaining’ my vote. To be honest, I’d rather they all leave me alone and let me find out for myself what I do and don’t like about what they stand for – but then I do have to accept that if they did, it wouldn’t be much of a demonstration of willing from anyone looking to achieve a mandate to run the country.

Portillo loses to Twigg
For many, the best part of the whole process: watching the mighty fall

And so, the whole dreary process rolls inevitably down the hillside of the next six or seven weeks, promising only a modicum of voyeuristic entertainment when the debris lands as it finally crashes to a halt.  Who can forget such classics as Portillo v Twigg (pictured) and Hamilton v Bell?

Having been through this rather ludicrous affair five times before, I am tempted to wonder why I’m doing this again? Not the voting bit itself – I’m not that cynical that I don’t believe the right to vote, paid for with millions of lives, should be relinquished or squandered lightly. What I’m questioning is my complete immersion in the canvassing and pre-election process, as a responsible voter.

From a pragmatic point of view, there’s really no need to bother: I could agonise over every line of every manifesto, I could flip a coin or I could just ‘vote with my conscience’ and it would make no difference to the outcome. Cue horrified cries of “every vote counts” and “well, if everyone thought like that..” so let me clarify things a little. I live in the Wigan constituency, a dyed-in-the-wool Labour stronghold since 1918. It has for almost a century been the very definition of a seat where the proverbial ‘pig in a red rosette’ would expect to win – and in all probability, a couple have, over the years.

Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy: Whatever happens, she’s going to be the MP for Wigan after May 7th

The current incumbent, Lisa Nandy, most recently the shadow Junior Education Minister, is a highly-rated young parliamentarian and is certainly no proverbial ‘pig’.  The combination of her capability and her seat’s geography means that she must be one of the Labour candidates most likely to be working in Westminster for at least the next five years. In fact, for her not to be returned as the member for Wigan during the next parliament, Jeremy Vine’s swing-o-meter would probably have to point almost due east. In short, she really doesn’t need my vote, whether she gets it or not.

This is the situation, then: I’ve decided that I’m definitely going to vote for someone, that I shouldn’t disrespect the process so much that I’m not just going to vote for anyone, but also in the realisation that after doing all that and then casting my vote, not one iota of difference will have been made. So the question ‘why am I doing all this?’ is, I think, a reasonable one.

The best answer I can muster is that, if nothing else, I feel I need to cast my vote and be accountable to myself. Will I be able to look my future self in the eye (if that’s possible to imagine) and say that, whoever wins and whatever happens in the next four or five years, I contributed my voice responsibly? If the country is well served by the next Government, I accept I’ll have either the satisfaction for having backed them or the nagging guilt of overlooking their potential? Conversely, if the next lot cock things up, for four or five years, I know I’ll either inhabit the moral high ground for having tried to stop them or a kind of ‘naughty step’ for being partly responsible.  I want to feel I can always assure myself that I made the right choice – and that doesn’t change whether you live in a marginal constituency or a ‘shoo-in’, like Wigan.

That, to me, is the essence of democracy and the value of the franchise.  In lots of ways, the whole ridiculous charade is flawed, often seriously (I could go on, and I probably will at some point) but it’s important in the same rather old-fashioned way that might compel you to drive slowly past a funeral cortège: you know you don’t have to, but it’s a standard to which one holds oneself for no other reason than one’s own sense of propriety.

I accept it’s not the same for everyone – elections often bring into the spotlight a very strange ensemble of ‘characters’ with a wide variety of contributions to the process – but I think mine is probably not far from the same position that most people have.  The phrase about of one’s voting preference being ‘between me and the ballot box’ is not just an assertion of privacy, it’s a secret pact that each of us and the ‘box’ have, to do our bit to guide the country through the waters of the next few years, even though it’s just a tick in the box when all is said and done.