EVER SINCE I WAS ELECTED AS AN MP, I CAN SAY THAT I AND MANY OF MY COLLEAGUES THINK LONG AND HARD ABOUT OUR WORK AND THE DECISIONS WE HAVE TO MAKE
Most people have heard the famous saying, attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, about how no politician can please all of the people all of the time – although he adapted what was written by a 15th century writer, John Lydgate!
However, I would hazard a guess that fewer have heard of the British politician who, in the century before President Lincoln’s remarks gained currency, wrote a letter to his electors, which has defined the relationship between the Member of Parliament and constituents ever since.
Edmund Burke was standing for Parliament in Bristol, in 1774, when he said: “You choose a Member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not Member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament.”
Edmund Burke’s letter was written at a time when there was impassioned debate about whether a Member of Parliament should be bound to follow the instructions of constituents. Burke wrote:
“ To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of Constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a Representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; Mandates issued, which the Member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience; these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land.”
This is the long-standing convention that a Member of Parliament exercises his or her judgment on behalf of his or her constituents and to give consideration to their views. Parliament cannot function by plebiscite and there are always issues on which MPs vote according to their conscience.
Ever since I was elected as an MP, I can say with truth that I and many of my colleagues think long and hard about our work and the decisions which we have to make. There are sleepless nights on occasions as we weigh issues in the balance. I remember voting reluctantly in favour of military action in Iraq, taking the evidence at its face value, and when history proved the opposite, it became a point of principle to learn from that experience.
Keyboard warriors can sometimes present simplistic choices and the important thing for MPs to do is to weigh the arguments put before us.