Junican reports having a Conservative canvasser come knocking on his door:
I told her that I was not interested in the Tories because I am a persecuted smoker; that I am sick to death of being ripped off by excessive taxes and banned, banned, banned.
I think if I had one come knocking at my door I’d probably say something very similar. And if it was a Labour or a Lib Dem canvasser I’d take great pleasure in telling them that I would never vote Labour or Lib Dem ever again in my entire life, after 90%+ of Labour and Lib Dem MPs voted in 2006 for the smoking ban that came into effect some 18 months later. And I’d tell them that I do have a vote, and I will use it. I may not vote enthusiastically for any other party, but I will certainly vote against them. And then I’d probably slam the door on them.
But in fact I haven’t seen a canvasser from any political party for well over 10 years. The last time I saw one was when I was living in Devon when a Lib Dem canvasser came round, and I ranted on about the smoking ban for about half an hour. He was a large man, and he stood stolidly and impassively listening to me. He neither agreed nor disagreed. In fact he hardly said anything at all. At that time I didn’t know that 95% of Lib Dem MPs had voted for the smoking ban, because if I had I’d have taken pleasure in telling him that I would never, never, never, ever vote Lib Dem again. And up to that time I had been a regular Lib Dem voter, seeing them as a middle way between Conservatives and Labour, and “liberal” in the true J.S. Mill sense. The more fool me: for they had actually become “liberals” in the the illiberal, twisted, perverted sense without me noticing.
But Junican’s canvasser had come round with a survey for him to complete. He didn’t say whether he actually did complete it. It rather sounded like he didn’t. But I would have taken the opportunity to fill in the survey. I would have probably ended up crossing all the questions out, and writing “Down With The Smoking Ban” in big capital letters diagonally across it.
It reminded me that I’ve occasionally thought that, if I was an MP, I would take great interest in my constituents. I’d like to meet as many as I could. I’d like to know what their concerns were. And in fact I’d probably conduct a survey, in which I’d start by saying: “Never mind about what I think: I want to know what you think.” And ask them to list the five main things they were concerned about. Something along those lines. And then go away and see whether they had much in common with each other, whether they had shared concerns. And I’d publish my results in a little local newsletter. And maybe I’d even go so far as to ask people to help out directly with one or two of them, to try to find their lost cats.
I think that if I was an MP, I’d see it as my job to represent my constituents, to the very best of my ability.
But hardly any MPs seem to do this. All they want is your vote, and once they’ve got that you won’t hear from them again until they come back 5 years later looking for your vote again. Most of them would seem to have no idea what their constituents might think about anything. And most of them probably wouldn’t want to know.
It’s not just that they’re not listening to angry smokers like me and Junican. It’s that they’re not listening to anybody. And that means that there are almost certainly any number of festering sores which no politician addresses, because no politician knows anything about any of them. And the more time these politicians spend in Westminster, the less time they have for their constituents. And the more time they spend in Westminster, the more vulnerable they are to lobbyists like ASH and PHE and all the rest of them, and act more on their behalf than on behalf of their constituents. And it’s only when something shocking happens – like everyone voting for Brexit or Donald Trump – that they start waking up and dimly realising that the people are changing in ways that they hadn’t noticed.
And I think that’s the situation in Britain, and throughout Europe, and in the USA, and maybe everywhere else, that there’s a growing chasm growing between the voters and the politicians who are supposed to represent them. And that’s when new “populist” politicians start to emerge, who begin to address some of the festering sores (but only some of them).
And maybe that’s why, when some of these new populist politicians appear, they acquire rapturous audiences (Mussolini, Hitler, come to mind). They do so because they manage to articulate a few genuine concerns. They manage, briefly, to speak for a few people. And those people who have been spoken up for are enraptured: they’re delighted that someone finally listened to them. And, even when these representatives have become dictators, they will follow them to the ends of the earth.
Nor should anyone be surprised. For it’s only very recently that anyone has been able to vote at all. Up until not very long ago, people lived under kings and queens and princes and nobles who in no sense whatsoever represented anybody. Is it very surprising that, when they were replaced by elected representatives, these representatives carried on acting like kings and queens?
Before I forget. What the world was like 60 years ago: