So who does your MP represent? The answer is not as obvious as it seems. If you are a Conservative voter you might claim that Sarah Newton or Derek Thomas does indeed represent you, your values and your aspirations. But dig a little deeper and you will find widespread dissatisfaction even among Conservative voters about whether their MP actually represents or listens to their concerns. And if we look at the larger picture, the overwhelming majority of people in Cornwall are not represented at all – not just those who voted for different parties but those who have ceased to vote at all, see no point and have no hope.
A key problem is the nature of politics today. It is strongly party political, top down and tribal. Party membership is about electioneering and selling party messages crafted at Westminster. Elections themselves are run as marketing campaigns, a form of retail politics where we as passive consumers must choose from a remarkably restricted range of political goods. And that is no small thanks to a grossly distorting First Past The Post election system that awards disproportionate power to the winning party based on a minority of votes.
But the biggest problem is Westminster. The UK is one of the most centralised states in the developed world. Westminster rules. This is not just in terms of the party political command-and-control structures but also through the network of think tanks, interest groups and business lobbyists who inhabit its corridors, committee rooms and gentlemens clubs within its environs. Westminster is better seen not as the seat of democracy but as the centre of a colonising power whose MPs are outposts, here to sell the party message and champion special interests. They are mere foot soldiers who do their masters bidding, not our representatives.
Our democracy is bankrupt. We need to find a way back to a place where people and communities count, not political parties, lobby groups or corporations. And there is no better place to start here, where you live. This is why I and David Levine our chair, have worked to create a draft Local Constituency Compact which we have shared with a small group to get feedback. We stress that this is a working draft which will likely change over time.
We have called it Penwith Pact because its initial target is the St Ives-Penzance constituency, and it seeks to do three things:
The first is to change the relationship between MP and constituent and build a stronger, more accountable relationship.
The second is to address the profound imbalance in power between Westminster and the regions. Those furthest from Westminster are often those most disempowered and disconnected from the political decisions that shape their lives – Cornwall especially.
The third is to distribute power and to put an end to single party rule based on a minority of votes, at both the local and national level.