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Opinion: Democracy Should Count Nationally and Locally

Published on: 3 Sep, 2013
Updated on: 3 Sep, 2013

democracyBy Martin Giles

International politics are not normally closely linked to those of Guildford but currently there are a couple of connections worthy of mention.

The first is the position of our MP Anne Milton. The government whips seem to be in the firing line in the wake of last week’s debacle, the vote on military action in Syria.

George Younger’s position as Chief Whip is said to be at risk in a re-shuffle expected soon. But will Anne Milton’s position also be threatened? Ironically, other female whips are tipped for promotion if David Cameron tries to increase the female component of his cabinet.

Anne Milton MP

Anne Milton MP

Ms Milton’s move, last September, from her ministerial post, responsible for public health, must have hurt. Anyone who has spoken to her could not fail to detect her vocation like motivation, fuelled by her years as a nurse, to improve health services. She was one of those instrumental in ensuring that the Royal Surrey County Hospital was not closed.

It might be unfair to blame the whips at all. A bigger question might be why it was decided to recall parliament? Surely it was necessary to, at least, await the UN inspectors’ report? As we now know, the Americans have decided to do just that, as well as consult their congress.

And then there is the role of public opinion in political decisions.

Whatever your view on the complex situation in Syria and the Middle East, it does seem clear that parliament did reflect the view of the public when members defeated the government motion. In a democracy surely that is a good thing.

Too many politicians, from all parts of the political spectrum, seem to feel it is their primary duty to lead rather than represent their constituents’ views. They refer to polls when it suits, but still feel free to ignore them when it conflicts with their own beliefs or their party’s political position.

The same applies at local level. Surrey County and Borough Councils can take decisions that fly in the face of public opinion while voters often fail to understand the constraints under which councils operate.

There is no guarantee that popular views are correct but in a democracy they should be the ones that count. After all, ministers MPs and councillors have no monopoly on wisdom and, in any case, they are frequently whipped or pressurised to vote a certain way.

Of course, it would not be practical to refer every decision to a referendum but on major policy decisions public opinion, fickle though it can be, should carry decisive weight.

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