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The East Dulwich Forum
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messageDo you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Marmora Man 23 May, 2010 14:55

Since the coalition took power there has been criticism of the make up of both the government and the Houses of Parliament for being unrepresentative. The theme has been taken up in this weekend's papers too. There appears to be a strong strand of opinion that in order to be representative any organisation should reflect the the balance of the country. That is in Parliament the 652 MPs should be 51% women, 49% men, 14% ethnic minorities, < 1% old Etonians, 24% working class, 71% middle class, 5% upper class, 0.03% transgender, 8% homosexual, 1% millionaires and 99% struggling to get by on their salary - or something similar.

I find the argument unpersuasive. Individual MPs represent wildly varying numbers of people in their constituency - and cannot, by definition, be representative of the constituency's make up. It's the calibre of the individual MP that counts, not their background. Think Tony Benn - hardly a horny handed man of toil yet a more committed socialist champion would be hard to find. Our own local MP - Ms Harriet Harman MP QC is hardly representative of inner city London yet, illogically, she is a flag waver for the representative argument.

I would prefer my MP to be an honest, intelligent, well read, socially aware, caring and committed person that understands how the Houses of Parliament works and how to wield influence in the corridors of power - that person could be male or female, an ex coal miner or an old Etonian, child of an immigrant or an heir to a baronetcy dating from 1066.

The proposition is therefore: "This house believes that it is not necessary to be representative in order to represent effectively"

Supplementary "This house believes that quotas and positive discrimination are not good for parliament, government or business"

Discuss

Edited for clarity



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit was 2010:05:23:17:47:28 by Marmora Man.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Brendan 23 May, 2010 18:21

Very good question.

I don’t think the leadership or as I prefer to think of it the administration needs to be representative necessarily. That can end up just being impractical. What they need to be to properly represent is be accountable to the people they represent.

The sticky issue comes in when you start talking about the practicalities of equal opportunity and how that is reflected in government.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by citizenED 23 May, 2010 19:47

I think it is an inherent problem of our system that the general election ended up delivering a parliament with such a socially skewed membership. Frankly, it reflects very badly on our political system.

I agree that I would like my MP "...to be an honest, intelligent, well read, socially aware, caring and committed person that understands how the Houses of Parliament works and how to wield influence in the corridors of power." I don't think it would very difficult to find 652 women in this country who fit that bill - it wouldn't be difficult to find that number of black people who would fit that bill - but I can have a guess at the reation if the country returned a parliament with a majority female or black cohort.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Loz 23 May, 2010 21:23

I generally agree with both your statements MM.

But, if you are going to try and change things for one demographic (as parliament - and Mad Hattie especially - has been trying to do with the imposition of all-women shortlists) then you have to start looking at all demographics. You can't only balance things partially.

Quote:
Brendon
The sticky issue comes in when you start talking about the practicalities of equal opportunity and how that is reflected in government.

There is a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. If you take a good look at the system and establish that male, female, black, white, asian, whatever all have the same opportunity to run for office then you have equal opportunity. You don't actually need 51% female, etc, etc. That is equality of outcome - and is generally a bad thing as it leads to accusations of tokenism.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by HAL9000 24 May, 2010 00:50

Is the Legal Profession Over Represented in Parliament?

Two issues regarding MPs who are also lawyers - as many of them are - are presented below.

Example: Ms Harriet Harman MP QC one time Solicitor General and Minister of State in the Department for Constitutional Affairs with responsibilities including constitutional reform, legal aid and court processes.

Professionals are entitled to many privileges including being above and beyond the law regarding the practice of their professions. Solicitors and barristers in particular are required to operate within certain ethical guidelines. For example, two important such principles are:

1. Do not bring the law into disrepute.
2. Do not undermine public confidence in law and order.

Their Codes of Ethics include a general disinclination to impugn the reputation of or to criticise the opinion of a fellow or senior professional.

Problems can and do arise when a constituent approaches a Lawyer-MP for assistance in cases involving, for example, negligence, corruption, mis/malfeasance or malpractice involving police, medical practitioners (regarded as fellow professionals), solicitors, barristers, judges or other members of the legal establishment - the problems are obvious.

Although Parliament is supposed to act as the prime legislator, and therefore, an obvious beneficiary of qualified legal expertise, those constituents who happen to have a Lawyer for an MP may find their representative conflicted when called upon to deal with sensitive issues identified herein. Similar arguments apply to other professionals.

Another issue is that, as prime legislators, lawyer-MPs are sitting in their own causes – they can hardly be described as being disinterested when formulating laws and policies that represent their industry’s commercial bread and butter.

Therefore: should practicing professionals be banned from standing for Parliament?

If no, should they at least be 'defrocked/deregistered' while in office?

If yes, MPs do not have to be lawyers per se: independent academic lawyers could be retained to advise lay MPs on legal matters.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:05:24:02:02:07 by HAL9000.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by DaveR 24 May, 2010 01:56

HAL9000, where do you get your ideas from? Are you seriously suggesting that a lawyer MP is 'conflicted' if a constituent complains about a doctor, because of some kind of 'code of professionals'?

The Bar Code of Conduct is a public document:

here

as is the Solicitors' Code:

here

It's all there.

Lawyers are not above the law, and have no duty (ethical or otherwise) not to undermine public confidence in law and order. The idea that a lawyer MP is not going to be interested in a complaint about the police is crazy, given that plenty of lawyers spend most of their working lives arguing that their clients should be acquitted because the police are lying, incompetent and/or corrupt.

I'm not sure I understand your second point - a lawyer MP might have a commercial interest in legislation or policy that affected the way lawyers are paid, but equally an MP who has a retail business has an interest in the level of VAT, an MP who owns an off licence (there may be one!) has an interest in levels of excise duty, and so on. Why is a lawyer more likely to be conflicted than any other?

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Brendan 24 May, 2010 09:32

To not bring the law into disrepute and not undermining public confidence in law and order are matters of professional conduct which is regulated through the professional bodies like the Law Society or Bar Council through their regulation authorities/standards boards.

These are not public bodies, although they do have a certain duty of care to society. But ultimately the rules would have to be made by a consensus of the very professionals they apply to.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:05:24:09:32:54 by Brendan.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Brendan 24 May, 2010 09:37

Oh as DaveR pointed out above.

Sorry Dave I normally skip over your posts this early in the morning for fear that they contain some sort of inflammatory right-wing balls that will inevitable set me off. winking smiley

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 24 May, 2010 10:31

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:04:59:54 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Brendan 24 May, 2010 11:07

Now there you touch on a good point. Should people be excluded from representing others if they are self-serving, bullying bastards with no concept of the conditions in which their constituents have to live? The fact that these sort of people are over represented in the laws may be a persuasive argument for excluding lawyers from office. By that reasoning it would also be a persuasive argument for excluding all of our current Conservative and Labour MPs from office. And where would that leave us?

Do self-serving, bullying bastards deserve representative representation for that matter?

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Keef 24 May, 2010 12:04

You don't need to be representative, you just need to be honest, and honourable. Willing to carry a message, without altering it to your own ends.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 24 May, 2010 15:37

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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:00:43 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 25 May, 2010 17:03

In defence of MPs or local councillors, it's worth noting that all of them are restricted by resources: whether time, money or support staff.

In the UK the average constituency size is 100,000 people. In practice this means on average they each have 14,000 people living below the poverty line and 1,500 illegal immigrants or asylum seekers, let alone those troubled by healthcare or policing injustices.

MP's are hypothetically funded to have three full time staff each. Not many.

This situation rather creates a requirement for prioritization.

It means that even the most well-meaning MP cannot serve everyone. It would be easy to understand that this could be characterised by those that feel neglected as being arrongance or disinterest.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 25 May, 2010 19:33

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:02:02 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Marmora Man 26 May, 2010 06:27

Karrie - you express a commonly held misbelief that has, regrettably over the course of perhaps 30 years, become almost fact.

Originally MPs were elected to represent their constituency - not as a delegate to "protect" or "defend" the area and its people but as the person from that area who would take part in the framing of legislation and the management of parliamentary affairs. Many MPs barely visited their constituency and focused their life upon parliament. Since sometime around the 60's as actual government has become more centralised, presidential and less open to parliamenatary scrutiny, MPs have become more of a form of superior social worker.

They are now expected to work on behalf of the constituents when other avenues have failed - much of the time this involves them in either some form of pork barrel politics - trying to obtain grants and projects in their area or in writing, on behalf of disgruntled constituents, to various government departments in the hope that a letter signed by an MP will move the hearts of some monolithic gov't office.

The former role is a more honourable one - the latter fills the time of backbenchers that have little else to do but be lobby fodder.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 26 May, 2010 07:27

Sorry Karrie, but Marmora Man is right.

MPs are essentially there to help frame legislation as a representative of the majority population of their constituency. It is only if your particular case is an illustration of a legislative folly that they may be willing (not obliged) to take an interest. They'll be heavily incentivised if its a popular cause and attracts local votes.

Similarly local councillors are really only there to oversee the appropriate disbursement of funds allocated to local councils. Once again if your case helps illustrate a larger point, if it's an example of a larger problem, or if it enthuses or empowers the local community then it may attract interest. Local councillors are not paid, they do a day job.

Welfare and support services that have some kind of constitutional obligation to help you include social services like the Pensions, Disability and Carers Service, the Child Support Agency, healthcare, education, police and the judiciary.

Neither MPs nor local councillors can formally dictate the activities of these services beyond policy or legislation.

They can't tell them to help you, nor how to do it.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 26 May, 2010 07:44

"by not being represented appropriately by MPs, this possibly means that there is no point being a law abiding citizen and no point in saving or no point paying taxes, nor any point being part of a community".

This sounds like some sort of argument for the overthrow of a local Mafia Don.

Being a law abiding citizen has nothing to do with you giving an MP ten percent of your orange grove proceeds each year. You're a law abiding citizen because it makes sense to have a society that competes in a non-violent, transparent and accountable way.

It's a contract with your neighbours, not with your MP!

Your taxes pay for community services that include healthcare, education, welfare, national infrastructure, defence etc.

These are all set up with a majority interest in mind and delivered by civil servants.

These are also contracts with your neighbours, not with your MP!

In order to change these policies you need to petition a majority of your neighbours to elect someone that supports the policies you prefer.

What you do with your savings is entirely up to you. There would be no need to consult your neighbours unless you wanted to use them to set up something that might impose upon them, like a chemical factory or an ugly twelve storey extension to your house.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 27 May, 2010 18:30

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:02:34 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Marmora Man 27 May, 2010 18:44

Karrie,

you have been very coy about the actual problem you belive your MP and others are not helping you with. I can think of very few problems that cannot be, if not solved, at least alleviated, through good advice and support from the right quarter. As Hugenot and I have said an MP is not elected to be a social worker / counsellor/ citizens advice centre, despite the fact that, on occassions they fulfill all these roles.

This forum has a very wide range of readers with a wide range of life and knowledge of many areas. If you feel able to describe your problem you may be surprised by the knowledge base that can be applied to it by EDF members.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by nashoi 27 May, 2010 21:04

Don't you think it is important for the institutions of state to be not just democratic, but seen to be democratic? It doesn't matter if it's your MP or not, but if there is no-one in Parliament who you feel is representative of your "tribe" a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement will surely grow. It's also easy to underestimate the influence of role models if you're a white, middle class male.

As for the supplementary, if you think a society has a moral obligation to try and rid itself of prejudice then positive discrimination is the only thing that works. Market forces clearly don't work as prejudice and free markets have happily co-existed since the invention of markets.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 28 May, 2010 20:04

All great points nashoi, but pragmatically you're making a pitch for PR.

The downside of PR is the dislocation between a constituency and government.

To be honest, I haven't got a clue on that one. I've though really hard about it, and I prefer STV as it biases to the centre ground in local representation, but beyond that I'm not sure.

If the constituency MP is already so separate from the constituency, then who cares? But I'm not sure that the real truth is absentee MPs, I think that maybe they work pretty hard (within limitations) to defend minority rights AND look after their constituency.

I'm not sure this would happen under PR.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Brendan 30 May, 2010 17:53

That is a poser about PR. Ideally you want an MP who is part of or is at least connected to the issues of the constituency they represent so that their activities in Westminster are not just towing the party line but take some cognisance of how things will trickle down to the people. Which is one of the arguments against PR. But then you get the situation in the safest seats where the party that holds sway parachute a candidate in because they have a plan for that person in central government or somesuch. These sort of people may not know or care about the things like local discrimination against homosexuals, how a gang culture developed, who should traditionally open the summer fete or the drainage in the lower fields and you oddly end up with the situation where the most loyal to a party are the ones being short changed by them.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:05:30:18:00:38 by Brendan.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 31 May, 2010 11:54

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:03:01 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 31 May, 2010 16:13

They're all good points.

The challenge is that MPs don't spend government money, they spend other people's.

If other people don't want to pay more tax, then there are no additional services. It doesn't matter how much serving an MP is inclined to do.

It's this challenge that underpins government spending initiatives.

An MP must juggle the expenditure around the wants and needs of the whole electorate, not just the 'most needy'.

I think the idea that all the government money is being 'wasted' is not true: I think you'll find that most cash is very tightly earmarked, and that in fact there's very little flexibility at all.

If you don't agree, why don't you take a much closer interest?

Here's a great exercise in environmental stability. You play the Prime Minister and try to balance the books.

Remember that if you try and reduce manufacturing or consumption by much you'll end up with strikes, riots and a recession winking smiley

It's very very difficult!

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 02 June, 2010 09:22

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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:03:28 by Karrie.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Huguenot 03 June, 2010 07:12

You may be right Karrie, but I don't think it's the homeless that are running gang culture at all.

I don't think the kids in gangs are lacking shelter, food or clothing. I think that's, for want of a better word, bullshit.

I don't think the squitty little idiots stopping me a few years back on East Dulwich Road to steal my watch were doing it in some Robin Hood food for the poor act of altruism.

In fact, quite the opposite. I think they were greedy, arrogant and over-indulged. I think they were spoilt and thick.

They didn't avoid going to school because there weren't places for them or they were eating cardboard. They didn't go to school because it was too much like hard work when they could gang up and steal whatever they wanted. They probably had rubbish parents, not poor ones. The government can't replace the parents, and giving them more money isn't going to make them less rubbish.

It may well be that duck house buyers are on a different planet, but it's also pointlessly inaccurate to suggest that 'general society' is made up of the starving poor with fingernails bleeding on their outstretched hands.

General society is more like the ED massive - well meaning slightly left-of centre family types who work hard, pay off the mortgage, tend the garden, have well-behaved if mischievous kids, and save up enough every few months for the odd treat.

These are the guys that government represent. Their core voter base. The majority. The ones who don't shout loudly at all, but just get on the best they can.

Genuinely, Karrie, I think your viewpoint is clouded. Government legislates, councils oversee. Both of these have set up institutions that help the impoverished to the benefit of all society. These institutions cover everything from the welfare state, healthcare to council housing. It's to these you must focus your lobbying. They're absolutely great, amazing, really WOW, if not perfect.

In creating them, the government and the councils have achieved something absolutely incredible, worthy of an ovation.

However, none of these institutions are there as angelic philanthropists. They're there paid for by you and your neighbours, and they have limited budgets accordingly.

When you talk about trashing the system because its not serving you, then just like any greedy ingrate you're proposing killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Whilst I accept that there are some people outside the system, I believe there's a far larger majority that should stop asking what everyone else (not government) can do for them, and instead ask what they can do for everyone else.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit was 2010:06:03:07:52:11 by Huguenot.

messageRe: Do you have to be "representative" to represent?
Posted by Karrie 08 June, 2010 11:40

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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit was 2010:09:06:05:04:14 by Karrie.


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