seven eight MPs — this updated count may well be added to further in the coming weeks — have just made a big grandstanding to-do about leaving the Labour Party. Whether their stated motivations for doing so are valid is an interesting question, but I’m going to put that to one side for now.
Because I just find it absolutely astonishing that they presume they ought to still keep their elected office.
Now, lest you think that this reaction is merely a partisan tantrum — as though I might just be a rabid Labour and/or Jeremy Corbyn devotee who’s feeling wounded by this ‘betrayal’ — I’ll preface with a few things. I do not support any political party, nor any political figure, and never have done. Yet it goes far, far deeper than that. Let me put my cards on the table. In point of fact, I deeply abhor the entire system of representative democracy itself. Even in theory. It is a fundamentally and profoundly and irredeemably flawed setup. Its chief effect is to placate people with the illusion of control whilst distancing them from any power to directly alter the way in which they are governed. (If you care to, you can hear me talk about my reasoning for this stance at greater length here.)
That being said, I also think that given that representative democracy is the system which happens to be in place, the people should at least get what little it’s supposed to grant them. Which is the right to choose who represents them in Parliament, based on that person’s political affiliation and stated intentions.
When these eight rogue MPs were elected, their constituents opted for them with the understanding that they were a member of the Labour Party and would seek to enact the policy promises in its manifesto. This was — I dare say, inarguably — the most salient fact about those candidates when they were chosen. That it would remain true during their term of office was an implicit and sacrosanct pact they made with the voters. Such is obvious to anyone who’s being honest.
But now, these MPs have… changed their minds. They’ve decided to leave the political party they were elected under, and reunite by hoisting a different banner. (From what I’ve read, this new nebulous ‘group’ is not even another party. But a private company. Which, as luck would have it, makes it exempt from needing to disclose who donates to it. Amazing. The plot thickens.)
I mean, if you can leave your party mid-cycle to become ‘independent’, why shouldn’t you be able to do so in order to join some fringe, racist, ultra-far-right party instead and spend the rest of your term carrying out their will? You know, just pull a total bait-and-switch on the voters? If you think that hypothetical is merely some reductio ad absurdum nonsense, just remember that you’re relying upon the conscientious restraint of a class of professional middlemen to keep it from happening. And, hey, if you want to talk about absurdity…
Listen, here’s what it all comes down to. You want to leave your party? Fine. Absolutely. Go right ahead. But the sole ethical way to do it is clear: you should resign as an MP, triggering a by-election, and hope to win back your old seat under a new party-less agenda. Maybe your electorate will choose to embrace you again nonetheless, maybe they won’t. Who the hell knows. But voluntarily returning the decision to them is truly the only way to be fair.
[UPDATE: I just read that now three Conservative Party MPs have also defected to join this fly-by-night Parliamentary grouping. Frankly, I find this choice of uneasy alliance kind of baffling. But then again, I suppose my mind isn’t attuned to the exquisitely arcane and cynical calculus which produces shrewd political maneuvering. And, well, I consider that rather merciful…
At any rate, I hope it’s needless to say that everything I argued above applies equally to them too.]