Parliament of the People?
Every day we hear stories of anger and despair, people destitute, dying, as a result of governments refusing to address the ever widening rift between the rich, and the rest of us, with the numbers falling into deep poverty rising alarmingly. Whether we classify ourselves as working class, middle-class, or just ordinary people, there is no doubt that in comparison with periods in history, the collective people have found a voice. Education, science and technology have provided us with tools of communication never seen before.
There are a number of ways we can make our opinions and needs understood today. We can communicate around the world in seconds. Tweeters, bloggers, marchers – we can all make our voices heard. We can write to newspapers who may decide to publish. The BBC may be selective in what is broadcast, but in comparison with agricultural workers or the factory workers in towns in the nineteenth century, people have higher levels of literacy and the means to communicate instantly around the world today.
Yet while communication today has increased,
power has diminished considerably.
The working class found a voice through the Labour movement and trade unionism, giving some influence and power to workers and founding a Labour Party which sought to being about change. How representative is the Labour Party today? How representative is parliament?
Government policies have led to a plutocracy, billionaires and corporations holding power over people as long as they hold a tight grasp on the very basic needs of water, food and energy. So many politicians today, obstentiously elected to represent people in parliament actually represent the interests of those who funded their election, who seek influence under the auspices of some Think Tank or collective groups.
If any one company has played a decisive role in the destruction of the NHS, it is the consultancy giant McKinsey. Partners and other McKinsey staff regularly senior take jobs inside goverment. Dr David Bennett, a former senior partner, became chief of policy and strategy for the Labour goverment from 2005 to 2007. Dr Bennett is now chairman and acting CE of Monitor, which regulate the new Health Care market and play a crucial role in offering NHS business to private companies.
Dr Penny Dash was the Department of Health’s head of strategy from 2000. Dr Dash was a key author of the NHS plan which set in train Labour’s privatisation agenda. She subsequently became a McKinsey partner and played a role in producing the Labour goverment’s two Darzi report, the first of which sought to radically restrict levels of provision and staffing in London. The second envisaged a system of private owned polyclinics across the nation.
Red Pepper (1)
Similarly, it is well known that the interests of the Insurance company Unum, are central to the controversial Welfare Reform Bill 2), and evidence of their involvement was documented as early as 1995. Policy and power no longer rests with our elected representatives , but with Think Tanks which seem to be ubiquitous these days and decide everything. ( see The Lost Democracy and the Role of Think Tanks 3. ). In this scenario, there is little point of having a parliament at all. Certainly, they do not formulate policies or strategies. Parliament is not the debating chamber as intended.
Recently we even heard that the Prime Minister declined to answer questions at Prime Minister Question Time (4) . The shift of role of our elected representatives from policy makers to tacticians is acknowledged by one of Margaret Thatcher’s own team , now in The House of Lords.
The Thatcherite former chief whip Richard Ryder (now a Tory Lord in the House of Lords) summed up this state of affairs when he said that “George Osborne isn’t a strategist at all, he is a tactician”. In other words, Tory economic strategy is all narrative and no substance.(Another Angry Voice 5. )
How much experience do MPs have of the lives of ordinary people? What understanding do the majority of the Cabinet have problems working class people face every day, most of them having been privately educated and many behind the isolated, protected gates of Eton?
Ed Miliband,while still under pressure from Blairites on the right of the Labour Party (especially Progress which is separately funded 6.) , is acutely aware of the need to change the demographic make-up of a party founded to represent the working class:
It was heartening to hear Labour leader Ed Miliband admit there is an urgent need for more MPs from working-class backgrounds in Parliament.
Miliband was answering a question from Lachlan Morrison, a 23-year-old plasterer from Nottingham, at a Q&A at the party conference.
He praised Morrison, a Ucatt member, for his work as a Labour councillor and said: “We need more workers in Parliament. We need to have a more diverse Parliament, particularly in terms of ethnic minorities and working-class backgrounds – we have a responsibility to ensure not just people from middle-class backgrounds get into the election contest.”
Miliband also suggested that 50 per cent of MPs should be women, and conference passed a rule-change that requires selection panels to take class into consideration in the same way they already do for race and gender.
Morrison hopes this spells a new direction for the Labour Party. Report, Morning Star (7.)
Think Left’s analysis of the social make up of MPs, (Becoming a Member of Parliament, 9 ) took into account secondary and tertiary education, gender, and experience as council representatives, and unsurprisingly demonstrated how our representatives in The House of Commons has little “in common” with those they purport to represent.
A very high proportion of Conservative MPs have been educated privately , followed by Oxbridge. While it is important for some of those with power and influence to have technical and scientific knowledge, how many have any awareness at all of people’s lives which qualifies them to govern? Why, when most people are female is our parliament overwhelmingly male? What is liberal about a Liberal Democrat party, which is exclusively white?
We may make our voices heard, but who is listening? Have today’s politicians chosen a career or a vocation? Are they driven by a desire to change the world or themselves? Do they follow in the steps of Aneurin Bevan? Cameron knows and fears the truth might just come out if there were more MPs like Dennis Skinner. When he speaks against the Prime Minister in parliament, out come the jibes. And insults.
Regaining our democracy and attaining true and fair representation for the people is essential if we are to redress the imbalance in society. Apathy is not the answer, cynicism is understandable yet ineffective.
In order to convince people to use the vote so many fought hard for, then they have to be convinced that parliament can really be representative, and just.
Parliament needs committed representatives not careerists.
Parliament needs a greater voice for women.
Parliament needs more working class representatives
Parliament should ensure need a much fairer funding for political parties
Parliament must not permit lobbyists and Think Tanks to be invisible.
The idea of a parliament of the people and for the people might be an old cliche, but it is about time it was enshrined in fact.
References and Further Reading:
1. Red Pepper McKinsey’s Unhealthy Profits (Hat Tip, Paul Bowler)
9. With : Video Link :