It is the general view that the UK is a democratic country, whose government is built upon electorate representation and the response to popular grievances. This is why we have referendums, we vote for our MP and are able to express dissatisfaction with policy through protests and petitions. This may be so, but there are conventions in Parliament taint any aspect of democracy.
The fundamental example of this is seen in the use of parliamentary Whips in the Commons. Whips are a name given to ministers whom ensure MPs’ align their votes on legislation with the party’s guidelines, known as ‘toeing the party line’. These Whips essentially circulate their party’s MPs before votes on major pieces of legislation, and observe the voting doors to pressurise MPs into voting as advised. It can be argued that this ensures cohesion of politicians within a political party and creates unity on key issues debated in Parliament. The Chief Whip, currently Julian Smith, has official residence at 12 Downing Street, showing the close knit relationship between party leaders and the Whip’s office. Ensuring MPs are abiding by the hypothesis of the current party manifesto would make sense if the representation of the electorate did not hang in the balance.
Surely disregarding constituents and voting on vital, life changing legislation purely to appease one’s party is inherently undemocratic and extinguishes all attempts at representation our political system seeks to implement. It is no use voting for an MP to address your grievances in Parliament if they do not use their position in the Commons to be the voice of their constituency. After questioning my local MP, Steve Baker, he commented how all MPs are torn between ‘their conscience, their constituents and their country’. To me, there is no contest. Why bother having 650 MPs for all constituencies in the UK if they are not all going to be mechanisms for representative democracy? MPs who do not obey Whips are labelled as ‘rebels’ in Parliament. The negative connotations to this reference are unfit. It should not be seen as rebellious to listen to popular grievances and vote on legislation according to what your constituents desire, whom elected you in the first place.
Clearly, politics is no longer a selfless career; the advancement of a party and achieving a large majority in general elections is the main objective of modern political parties. Surely having the best manifesto to suit the public at that particular time is the most significant aspect of democracy. Responding to the public is what Parliament appear to have at the top of their agenda, but the competitive drive behind politicians is something that cannot be overlooked any longer. It should not be a matter of choice between two polar opposite parties, constituents should feel they can relate to their elected MP and the policies they seek to implement in their particular region, which will inevitably differ from others.
It is clear that true democracy cannot be achieved whilst party Whips are still in operation in our parliament. This fashions a dictator-like government which alienates the electorate from the decision making process. A so-called ‘political X factor’ is seen in the workings of Parliament, making the main objective of the political parties a competition-like triumph, rather than democratic representation of the people.