by Martin Roche
Last month The Canterbury Journal exclusively broke the story that our MP Rosie Duffield was facing a “motion of censure” tabled by some members of the Canterbury and Whitstable Labour Party.
Just 24 hours later the motion was withdrawn. The event has left its mark on Ms Duffield, who indicated after the dust had settled that she was leaving her options open about standing again for parliament.
Her experience made think more deeply about the roles and responsibilities of MPs than I have since being a student of politics and international relations nearly 40 years ago.
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How individual character and personality affects and moulds the behaviour of politicians is of critical importance.
Politics is of course about policy and ideology, but is essentially about human beings making human decisions and human judgements.
The character and personality of our leaders matters. When we vote we are as much making a judgement about the character of those we vote for as we are making a decision about supporting a party or a set of politics.
I grew up in a political household. My dad was a lifelong Tory, my mother a Liberal and one of my uncles, later a judge, was a leading figure in establishing the Scottish National Party at Glasgow University.
MPs of Labour, Liberal and Conservative came to visit.
Political conversation was a normal part of daily life and political events discussed and argued over.
Until the 1980s, politics in Britain was not simply a way of deciding how to deliver public services and foreign policy, but a matter of passionate and intensive debate and deeply held convictions.
Two camps of two vastly different ideologies. The Conservatives and capitalism, Labour and socialism.
The politics of ideology took a back seat after the triumph of Margaret Thatcher’s free-market ideology.
Heavy manufacturing industry and the working class towns that sustained working class socialism went into decline.
So too did the trades union movement. Millions of working class households moved up into property ownership and in so doing became middle class.
At the other end of the wealth scale, vast fortunes were accumulated by the masters of the universe in finance, computing, IT and mobile phones.
Tony Blair’s Labour party found a halfway house between Thatcherism and Socialism that voters seemed to like. It was sometimes difficult to see what divided Blair’s Labour from Cameron’s Tories. Ideology appeared to evaporate from mainstream British politics.
Not any more. We are back in the world of my childhood.
On one side the hard right of Jacob Rees-Mogg and on the other the hard Left of Jeremy Corbyn.
It so happens that I’m not attracted to the ideologies of either of these men, but I’d be stupid not to recognise that the face of British politics has and will continue to change dramatically.
There’s talk of a general election in the air. Whether we have one before the due date of 2022 time will tell.
But the high temperature of British politics prompted me to think about the qualities I’d expect to find in someone aiming to be my MP and seeking my vote. So, here you have my five core wants.
- Independence of mind: I don’t want a puppet or a clone. I want someone who stands up and speaks out for what they believe in their conscience is right, even if it might clash with party policy.
- Personal integrity: We all carry baggage from our past. To have no baggage is hardly to be human. But our leaders have to be held to a higher standard when we elect them to public office. I would want to think that the MP I elect is not only financially honest and open, but also has a moral code that means their behaviour stands up to public scrutiny.
- A straight talker: How refreshing it would be if our leaders answered the questions asked. It is a rare quality. I can think of only a tiny handful from any of the parties who’ve have that ability. These days, it appears rarer than finding a barracuda in the Stour.
- Country first: Winston Churchill said the duty of an MP is first to the country, secondly to the constituency and thirdly to the party. There are too many highly educated, intelligent and clever MPs who seem to think that loyalty to party is their first duty. That’s not for me. I’m with Churchill. I might strongly disagree with what my MP thinks is right for the country but will give them the credit of behaving in a way they think right.
- Know their history: To understand how we got to where we are today and the great forces that shaped our land and our world it really does help to have some serious knowledge of history. I am appalled at the lack of historical understanding of many of today’s MPs. Their ignorance of our country’s past – not only of the two great wars, but of Empire, of Ireland, of our ties with Europe, our social history, of religion and, above all, our constitution, is truly shocking. Since the EU referendum, I’ve heard some of the most highly educated people in the House of Commons talk absolute drivel about the constitution. If MPs want to be trusted by the voters they should know their business and a big part of that business is knowing a bit about history and the constitution.
The candidates for all the parties asking for the votes of the people of the Canterbury constituency at the next general election really should be expected know the basic history of the place: from the Romans to becoming the seat of English Christianity, from being a region dependent on agriculture, mining and shipping to becoming a centre of learning and a major tourism destination.
What forged this place made it the place it is today. If you don’t know your history of Canterbury how can you know Canterbury? I’m an incomer of 17 years, so I’m still learning.
I’ve laid out here the the top five qualities I want to see in MPs. What are yours?
Martin Roche is a business consultant and government adviser who lives just outside Canterbury. He writes regularly for African Leadership Magazine.