On demonstrations near Parliament
I find that arguments have a bit more authority if they were made in advance of a particular issue being current. For example, regular readers will know that I oppose referendums — when readers claim it is Brexit-driven conversion, it helps me to point to a old blog-post. This one is from an now-archived blog-post dated Monday, June 25, 2007. It has had a few irrelevant topical asides and some crudely juvenile language removed, but otherwise, this is what was posted twelve years ago on the subject of demonstrations near Westminster (particularly those involving the late Brian Haw, an anti-war activist who camped outside of Parliament for a very long period).
As regular visitors may know, I have a template that I use to determine my position on almost everything; In a nutshell, if you continually improve the quality of representative democracy, all other aspects of public policy will improve by themselves.
So, applying it, I think that there is a case to be made for treating Parliament more like a court of law than we have done in the past. The nature of representative democracy in this country is like lots of other aspects of the unwritten constitution — a bit ambiguous.
We have over-powerful political parties, pressure groups, journalists and bureaucrats because we use imperfect means of electing politicians, and imperfect means of influencing them once they are elected.
So, we should elect people who have personal qualities that appeal to us, instead of attempting to imagine how their manifestos will translate into action. In my case, I’d always vote for someone who generally understands democratic socialism and is at least lukewarm towards it. The warmest candidate gets my vote, but you can chose your own yardstick, whatever it may be — don’t let me stop you.
Once elected, all lobbying should be conversational. The rest of us have a duty to support MPs by providing conversational forums that they can eavesdrop upon. Their actual decisions, however, are their business.
In this sense, I think that MPs should be treated bit like jurors. They should be constantly invited to use their skill and judgement to spot the interests of the nation as a whole. And as jurors, they should conduct their deliberations free from the harassment of people with megaphones and personal shanty towns.
This position is, of course, open to the criticism of being based upon an unattainable ideal. MPs aren’t jurors at all. They are, for the most part, unimaginative middlebrow party bureaucrats who want a combination of a quiet life, local celebrity, career advancement and some of the social perks of high office.
I would reply that any form of political campaigning that doesn’t pressurise MPs to behave like jurors — and that doesn’t oppose the rivals that MPs have in seeking to tilt the playing field in their favour (lobbyists, journos, bureaucrats etc) is ultimately an attempt to damage democracy. Someone has to make the first move, and this is one responsibility that the voters should shoulder.
So, returning to my template, I should add that it’s not one that should be over-simplified. For example, I’m in favour of public protests in general, mainly because they backfire and undermine the case that they purport so support. Under normal circumstances, I’m all in favour of helping Brian Haw to weave whatever length of rope that he needs to hang his own brand of pacifism with. But Parliament Square is the one place that he shouldn’t be allowed to do it on.