I’m getting rather impressed with my current Conservative MP. I can’t say the same about any of my previous MPs. The first time I ever wrote to one, he sent me a more or less one line reply saying that he didn’t agree with me. And when in 2007 I wrote to my Conservative MP to protest against the newly imposed public smoking ban, she replied dismissively to more or less say “Too Bad.” I had a similar experience with another MP. None of them really wanted to know what I thought. It was what they thought that mattered. And they all seemed to think that they had been elected to personally speak for the country, from out of their own personal knowledge and wisdom and judgment, and nobody else’s. They were, in short, special people. They were anointed people. They were people who counted. Nobody else did.
But my current MP doesn’t seem to think like that. Last year, shortly before the Brexit vote, I listened to him speak to some of his constituents in a town hall. He was in favour of Brexit, but encouraged listeners to voice contrary opinions if they so wished. And several did exactly that. But what impressed me most was something that he let drop midway through the meeting: he said he wanted to represent his constituents. That is of course what MPs are elected to do, but hardly any of them ever seem to do it (as previous dismissive replies from MPs attested). I wasn’t sure whether to believe him.
But I’ve begun to realise that he does exactly what he said he wanted to do: he actually represents his constituents. And every time I have written to him about anything (usually smoking-related) he has replied very promptly and courteously, and said he would take up the matter with the relevant government ministry. And a few weeks later he has sent me a reply that he received.
It’s set me wondering whether the whole trouble with government, more or less everywhere in the world, is that there are far too few of the sort of diligent representatives who see it as their primary duty to represent the people in their constituency or district, and not to just represent themselves. And the result is that government becomes a sort of exclusive social club to which new members are occasionally elected, and who conduct the business of government in a series of transactions inside that exclusive club. The only job of the electorate is to periodically pick a new member for the exclusive club, and then leave them to get on with the job without any further reference to them. And government by such an exclusive club of insiders is one which must become increasingly detached from its electorate, because it will increasingly have its own separate values and beliefs – which are in some cases the exact opposite of those of its electorate.
This is my own feeling about the British political class, and the European political class, and also the US political class: they are all members of a separate, elite class. And they all regard themselves as possessing superior wisdom and judgment than any of the poor, dumbass voters who elected them.
In fact, I found myself thinking that the “Deep State” and even the supposed “New World Order” are the natural outcomes of the emergence of a separate, elite political class which has abandoned the task of representing the people who elected them. They are what happens when people in government come to believe that they, and they alone, know better how to govern than the people who elected them. There’s probably a “Deep State” in every country in the world, filled with people who feel fully entitled to govern those countries. And when these fully entitled people meet up, as they do from time to time at conferences, with other fully entitled people from other countries, they may indeed see themselves as a sort of elite “New World Order”.
And nobody better exemplifies this vast sense of personal entitlement than Hillary Clinton, who – a year after the event – still can’t believe that she wasn’t elected to be President of the United States. And this failure of hers, and of the British government to win the Brexit vote which it confidently expected to win, were perhaps the first flexings of the muscles of electorates who have grown tired of self-important politicians telling them what to do, rather than listening and acting on their behalf. One example of this, in the USA, is Steve Bannon setting out to topple next year as many of the unaccountable Republican representatives and senators as he possibly can. It’s early days, but we may be beginning to witness a global insurrection of electorates everywhere against their own entrenched political classes.
But all this is an aside from the matter at hand, which is the email that I received from my MP yesterday in response to the email I sent him in mid-September about prison smoking bans. And as he had promised, he had taken up the matter with government, and had forwarded to me the rather lengthy response he had received from the Ministry of Justice on the subject of Smoking In Prisons.
I won’t bore you with the contents of the letter from the MoJ, which really only confirmed the government’s plans to continue to roll out smoking bans in UK prisons (apparently about half of them have already got them). I’m still studying the letter, but what struck me as most remarkable was that it only cited health reasons as the justification for these bans. Shouldn’t a letter from the Ministry of Justice have been expected to cite reasons related to justice? For almost the entirety of my case is that these prison smoking bans are highly coercive, and deeply unjust. But reading this letter from the DoJ, you could almost have supposed that it had actually been written by the Department of Health. And perhaps these days all UK government ministries are actually proxies for the DoH. Health is the only thing that matters. Justice be damned.
And quite possibly honesty be damned as well. For in one sentence the author declares that HMPPS fully appreciates how difficult quitting smoking can be for some prisoners. This makes it sound as if the problem is that some prisoners are trying to stop smoking, but have yet to succeed. But I don’t imagine for a moment that this is the case. What is transparently obviously the case is that some prisoners have no wish whatsoever to stop smoking, and they are now being forced to do so against their will. They are being coerced. HMPPS may as well have said that they fully appreciate that some victims of pickpockets have difficulty in being relieved of their wallets, as if they wanted to be relieved of them. No they don’t: they just don’t want to be robbed.
I will be replying to this letter. It will probably take me a few days to formulate a response. But for once in my life I think I have an MP who wants to represent me to the government, whether or not he actually agrees with me. And he’s doing it because that’s what he thinks is his job to do.