Thursday, 12 July 2012

MP Rejected by Hedge End Resigns from Government

2003 Town Council Election Result 
Conservative 'A-Lister' and Bournemouth MP Conor Burns - who has resigned from a junior post in the Government due to his opposition to the Coalition's plans to make the House of Lords (a little bit) more democratic - knows something about rejection by the electorate.

Elected to Southampton City Council in 1999, he stood in Eastleigh in the 2001 General Election but lost to David Chidgey.  He was rejected by the voters in Southampton's Basset Ward in 2002, failed to get elected to Hedge End Town Council in 2003 and then lost again in the 2005 General Election, this time to Chris Huhne.

His A-List status then got him the safe Tory seat of Bournemouth West, which has dutifully returned Conservatives for the last sixty years.  In fact his two predecessors were MPs for 29 years and 17 years respectively - a security of tenure that exceeds even the 15 year terms proposed by Nick Clegg for the reformed House of Lords.  Conor has yet to reach his 40th birthday, so has every chance of sitting on the back benches for a decade or two.

Point of Principle

He hardly needs the additional job security that a House of Lords by appointment provides for retired and defeated MPs, so he must have given up the post of PPS in the Northern Ireland Office because of a deeply held and genuine principle, and that is to be admired

It contrasts with Lib Dem MPs who have traded principle for power in their U-turns on student tuition fees, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and dismantling the NHS and welfare state, and no longer have a moral leg to stand on when berating either their rebellious coalition colleagues or the Labour Party leadership (who are doing both what the opposition are there to do, and arguing for their own manifesto commitment - which was for a referendum on Lords reform).

In common with many of the Labour and Conservative rebel MPs who voted against the bill's second reading this week, Conor claims to be in favour of reforming the House of Lords, but against this particular reform - an argument that has held up progressive and democratic reform for decades, if not centuries.   His argument for keeping democracy out of the second chamber of our legislature is simply that it works.

Unfortunately (even if you believe the assertion that it works) it is not democratic, and that is the fundamental reason why it should be reformed.  The last two decades have seen movements for increased democracy in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and even Libya, but the cronies and fogies of the British establishment seem intent on blocking democratic reform in the UK.

A Step in the Right Direction

Nick Clegg's proposals are far from perfect.  15 years is far too long a term (although under the current system The 6th Baron Carrington has been a member of the House of Lords since 1945 without once being elected!).  The proposed system of election by party lists still puts too much power in the hands of the political party leaders and is likely to discourage genuinely independent candidates whose expertise is needed in parliament.  And why stop at 80% elected members?  If the principle of a democratically elected second chamber is accepted, why not 100%?

Imperfect and flawed as they are, the Lib Dem proposals are better, and more democratic than what we have at the moment.  Democratic reform can come suddenly or gradually.  Britain tends to prefer the gradual approach, and the current bill is a step in the right direction.

Five Questions to Ask Powerful People

Tony Benn regularly sums up what makes a democracy:

"If one meets a powerful person .. ask them five questions: 'What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?'  If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system."

Oh by the way, whatever happened to Nick Clegg's promised "right to recall" for constituents found guilty of serious wrongdoing?


  1. I ddn't know Conr Burn even failed to get onto HETC We've already discussed him on this blog in your post re Jerry Hall pointing out Burn blamed Ukip for splitting his vote.

    He may have given up his PPS this time but he voted against the EU referendum - having previously championed it - so perhaps his principles too are somewhat elastic.

    I'm sure that Benn quote was made regarding the EU in support of the NO2EU campaign in the last euro elections.

  2. The Tony Benn quote is one he uses regularly, not just against the EU. One of his last House of Commons speeches included:

    Furthermore, nowadays, Parliament representing the will of the people has to cope with many extra-parliamentary forces—very threatening extra-parliamentary forces. I refer not to demonstrations, but to the power of the media, the power of the multinationals, the power of Brussels and the power of the World Trade Organisation—all wholly unelected people.

    The House will forgive me for quoting myself, but in the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person—Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates—ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?" If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.