Johnny Mercer is the prospective Conservative candidate for Plymouth Moorview.
I read with interest the slating I received from Mario Creatura on this site recently and the accompanying comments, and feel compelled to reply. Whilst I appreciate the rather patronising “lessons from London”, I couldn’t disagree with him more. He seems to argue that voter disillusionment, falling memberships and political loathing are acceptable, and nothing should be done to avert the slide. I agree that there are two clear schools of thought on local representation; one in which you are elected to “use your own judgement”, and one where you are elected to “represent the will of the people”. I, unfortunately as it would seem, fall into the second category.
I have entered politics as part of a generation which is tired of politicians “using their own judgement” over the will of their people. For many people from the electorate’s view, this approach has not served us altogether well; the evidence is plentiful. This is not to say that I think little of politicians; there are some outstanding ones, on all sides, who are clearly better than I will ever be. But I believe in, and have fought for, democracy- not a ruling elite who are elected by a minority of their constituency because of poor turn-out.
In my pre-politics experience, politicians have used their own judgement to force me to operate in high-threat environments with a pocket knife instead of a pistol. I have had to fire a .50 machine gun at an encroaching enemy having to re-cock after every shot, because we have “borrowed” ammunition from an Eastern European Country. I have “gaffa-taped” armour plating to a Land-Rover to give me the best chance of coming out of another predictable ambush.
In others’ more relevant personal and professional experience, the spare room subsidy is a great idea, but should only have been implemented when there was enough single living accommodation to move into, particularly in Plymouth. The evidence for plain cigarette packaging was never there, NHS regional pay – did Mario Creatura research that? I could go on, but do actually stand up for the Conservatives on a daily basis against some rather militant opposing views, and so will not give ammunition to my counterparts.
When it comes to the practicalities of it, it would seem that Mario thinks I have just sailed up the Thames in a Mess Tin. I clearly state that “where possible” I will ballot the entire constituency on Parliamentary votes. Where Possible. This would limit me to four or five of the longer term, key issues such as gay marriage and the pasty tax for example, not the nuances of private members bills. Expensive? I don’t think so; at £800 a pop, from a salary of £74k, I think that this is something I can do for my constituents that might start to avert the slide of people thinking Parliament and democracy are uncontrollable, and that they have no role or effect on either. Crucially, it will be seen to be involving the electorate more in politics, giving them greater ownership, whilst also fulfilling the current system of using my own judgement for 90-95 per cent of Government legislation.
Going against the party? Not at all. The Conservatives clearly implement policies that progress the United Kingdom, and it will be my job as a constituency MP to get this message across to my constituents when it comes to these few but vital matters. I must sell what we are doing, get people to believe in it, and bring voters with me on the journey to a better country and a better Plymouth. The Government of both colours has historically badly underestimated the job of “communicating” correctly to the electorate; this policy would force me to do this, and make me a better MP.
So whilst I thank Mario for his assessment, and some rather patronising comments from other readers, I would suggest that, upon closer inspection, this is not a “gimmick” designed for a short-sighted quick win. This is not my first profession: I was successful in another field before I decided that we deserved better representation, and brought those lessons with me. 90 per cent of the time when I listened to my blokes in the Army, we got it right. On those occasions when I stood alone in the darkness of command in combat that few experience, I used my powers of communication and persuasion to get people to do what we should do, not what we wanted to do, for the greater good, and believe in it – the essence of leadership according to people who know more about it than me. You don’t like it? Fine, but fortunately my mandate would lie with an electorate, and it is they and not ConservativeHome that will decide whether this is a “spectacular own goal”.
I am standing in a seat that really matters in 2015. I must do something that will try to stop the depressing disillusionment the electorate feel against us. On a national level, under David Cameron and George Osborne, things are hugely in our favour. Admittedly, work is still to be done, but we have visibly turned the corner, and most importantly we are being seen to turn the corner. Why do people still hate the Tories, then? It is precisely because of the attitude that “the people don’t know what’s good for them” that has alienated so many.
I do not agree with this view, and as such will stick to my path, in the hope that it keeps me honest and serves Plymouth Moor View for the better. We must give people back the ‘ownership’ of Parliament, of our democratic processes, give them the responsibility and force Parliament into the place it was designed to be. There are some key individuals in Parliament who genuinely understand this, crucially David Cameron at the forefront. There remain however, as evidenced, too many that think the electorate are “too stupid to decide for themselves” and retain a sense of governing entitlement, for which there is no proven mandate or market. If the Conservatives embraced this, even partially, we could be stronger than we have ever been and take this country forward quickly. Whilst some “anchors” retain their privileged status without reflecting the will of their constituents, or making the effort to actually “lead” and engage wholeheartedly with their electorate, I fear I may be fighting a lone battle.