Tuesday, 12 January 2010

We should not take democracy for granted

At the end of last year, we ran a survey of local residents in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle on trust in politics and accountability. While not a scientific poll, the survey did give a good insight into how strongly people feel about some issues.

85 percent agreed with David Cameron’s commitment to immediately abolish the £10,000‘Communications Allowance’ which allows sitting MPs to use taxpayer’s money to print promotional literature about themselves.

82 percent agreed with the proposal by David Cameron to cut the number of MPs sitting in parliament to reduce the cost of politics.

84 percent of people thought it was a good idea for parliament to be required to approve any plans to commit British troops to combat.

91 percent agreed with the Conservative policy of returning employment and social laws from the EU to Britain, requiring automatic referendums before the transfer of any powers to the EU and having far more scrutiny of EU laws in parliament. The same proportion of people supported David Cameron’s policy of replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.

As a new candidate, the message that I took away from this survey is that we all have a role to play in restoring trust in politics. After the next election, a new generation of MPs will have to work hard to sort out the legacy of the expenses scandal left by those before them. Government will have a role: it must make sure that parliament is able to scrutinise legislation properly and make the final decision on our laws.

But voters have a role too. Many people feel disillusioned with politicians today and I can understand why. But we must never, ever take our democracy for granted. Many countries in the world do not have the ability we have to throw governments and MPs out of office when we get tired of them. People gave their lives to safeguard our right to do so. But democracy is a two way process. It is not just about the political parties. It is first and foremost about the public. They must engage, vote, campaign on issues they care about and stand as candidates if they don't think anyone else offers what they want.

A few days ago I was emailed by a local resident who boasted that in the last three elections, he had spoiled his ballot paper because none of the candidates were "worthy" of his vote and that he intended to do the same again this time even though he didn't know all the candidates that might yet stand. I don't agree with that attidude. It is taking our democracy for granted. So I challenged his view and said that if he didn't like any of the candidates standing, then he should stand himself.

His reponse was interesting. The first thing he did was email the other candidates (who he had just said were worthless and didn't deserve his vote) to complain that I had challenged his attitide and ask them what they might do to help him. Then he said his daughter was in charge of the Lib Dems in Camborne and he was going to complain to her and see what she could do for him. So perhaps all us five (so far) candidates in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are not so worthless after all. He knew who to turn to when he wanted help.

I think its fair to say that this particular voter is unlikely to support me at the next election. But if I have managed to jolt him out of his complacency, understand the value our democracy and perhaps even vote for one of the candidates in this election, I suppose that is better than him just spoiling his ballot paper again!