When MPs won’t talk.

No doubt this return to blogging will be brief and quickly fade away again – I simply struggle to make the time to read newspapers, relax, do my degree and then find time to write as well. But there are a few issues recently that it’s worth posting about.

I tried to book in to see my MP down here in Oxford (a new Tory backbencher, Miss Nicola Blackwood) so that I could discuss her continued support for the coalition’s austerity policy. I received the following response from her assistant:

As mentioned on her website, Nicola encourages constituents to write in regarding policy matters as surgery places are reserved for those with pressing personal issues where possible. By doing so, you would still receive a full response from Nicola.

I replied:

[D]oes this mean there is no feasible way for my MP to discuss national issues with her constituents in person?

The assistant again:

Yes, it is possible if there’s space at surgery but we prioritise people with personal concerns when allocating spaces.

If there is space in surgery after that then we have people with policy issues come in. However, it is just as quick and practical to get a response by writing in and often Nicola will tell people in surgery who come in about policy issues to write in to clarify their views anyway.

Me again:

In that case, please put me indefinitely on the list of people desiring space at surgery to discuss national issues, if all ‘personal concerns’ have been prioritised and space remains. Alternatively, may I ask if concerns about austerity causing a tough jobs climate counts as a ‘personal concern’, given I will be seeking employment soon, and so this ‘national’ issues will in fact unsurprisingly have real life effects? If so, may I request a surgery appointment to discuss this personal issue with Nicola? Or do you consider unemployment an abstract, impersonal issue?

Now, a friend deemed this slightly unfair on my part. Obviously, politicians cannot spend their lives listening to every constituent’s opinion on why their positions are flawed, and it’s thus unreasonable for me to expect in-person time and treatment.

There’s a sense in which I agree with this, and thus don’t resent the assistant’s attempt to filter me out. But I do believe it’s somehow consistent for me to try, as a frustrated citizen, to put up the fight and do all I can to impact the one person connected to me with partial power over these things. I want to compel her to lie to my face and say she genuinely believes current policy is oh-so wise, rather than leaving her the easy job of sending me the formulaic party line in the post. If all politicians had such awkward conversations regularly, who doubts they’d be infinitely more likely to wake up? So I’ll just try to do my bit. 

Also, I imagine it is very easy for backbenchers in particular to achieve epistemic closure on policy matters (in the media’s sense, not the philosopher’s). Their promotion is contingent on blindly following the party line, they’ll have little exposure to critical journalists, and they’ll be surrounded by people who nod along to their view. So if in surgeries they tend to get personal anecdotes rather than arguments, it’s easy to see how their import could be rationalised away. It might be surprising how rare the sort of exchange I want would be for her.

Of course, ideally, I wouldn’t feel the need because journalists would do this job, and far more effectively than individual constituents ever could. But the ‘national debate’ as represented in the media on this topic is so thin and lacking in proper questioning that we’re left with little choice. I’ve lost count of the number of times Osborne has been allowed to recite the bullshit platitude ‘you can’t spend your way out of a recession’ without an economics correspondent once following up by insisting that yes, you fucking can.

I like Blackwood much more than most left-leaning people of my age. I hold no grudges against her for voting for rises in tuition fees, and despite Cherwell caricatures to the contrary, her hesitance in supporting marriage equality was evidently on pragmatic, not bigoted, grounds. She is also exceptional in responding to mail. Not only has she always replied, and with surprising speed; she has also clearly ensured her response meets my specific questions. I’ve never been disappointed on that front.

But there seems to me something important about face-to-face interaction with politicians that this surgery system hinders. If I sent a letter about austerity, she could trot out a response which I couldn’t quickly point out the flaws of.

The fact is that she’s contributing to a clusterfuck of a consensus in which we bleed the national economy dry in the name of inspiring ‘confidence’, shrinking a bloated state so that the private sector can allegedly step up and spur us. And yet, all such predictions and promises not only continue to await actualisation; by now they’re demonstrably bull. We continue to stumble along and possibly back into what will now be a triple-dip recession. The human cost of this stubborn, cold reluctance to change course is staggering. And I want to tell my MP that I cannot vote for her, because this stance alone has become unforgivable.

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