Last week a survey found, unsurprisingly, around half of us believe MPs put their own interests ahead of those of their constituents.
A debate on Monday into the goings-on of the Bilderberg Group, something that doesn’t really bother most hard-pressed voters, rather lent weight to that view.
Bilderberg held a conference in Watford last week attended by the great and the good of global politics and business, but held behind firmly closed doors. Depending on which grade of crazy they are, conspiracy theory nuts believe Bilderberg is anything from a plot for world domination to a gathering of shape-shifting lizard people.
MP Michael Meacher put himself into that company by tabling an urgent question demanding a statement on Bilderberg from the Government which the Speaker inexplicably allowed.
The government picked Ken Clarke to bat for them. A fine choice not just because he’s a Bilderberg trustee, but because his laid-back attitude served him well as he thwacked questions ranging from the irreverent to the insane all around the chamber in what was an indulgent but entertaining session.
Michael Meacher’s next contribution of the week was somewhat more serious.
He spoke in the backbench debate organised to mark 10 years since the Iraq War. This one provided evidence for another of the findings from the same survey into voters’ attitudes to MPs that showed around a third of voters think members put party interest ahead of any others.
Looking back at the 2003 vote that saw the Commons endorse Tony Blair’s decision to go to war, many MPs spoke of the whipping operation that saw recalcitrant MPs strong-armed into promoting party loyalty over personal conscience.
Meacher, then a minister, admitted that he was “utterly ashamed” of his decision to back the war and that it was the “worst political mistake” he’d made in his lifetime.
Penrith MP Rory Stewart, who served as a provincial governor in Iraq and is steeped in British history, went further describing the Iraq adventure as “probably the worst British foreign policy decision since the Boer War or the first Anglo-Afghan war of 1839”. He urged the House to learn “a lesson of humility” from Iraq and admitted that, had he been in the Commons in 2003, he too would probably have made the same decision.
Someone who could safely say she wouldn’t have made that decision was the MP who secured the debate and who is a senior member of the Stop The War coalition born in an effort to avert the 2003 war Caroline Lucas.
Now, you don’t have to agree with Lucas’s politics and the fact she’s the nation’s only Green MP suggests most people don’t. She’s the member for Brighton and a walk along the seafront is evidence enough that voters there are not like other people but she is undoubtedly a one-woman riposte to those who think all MPs are in it for themselves.
Her interventions are intelligent, she tables amendments to legislation aimed at improving it, not hogging headlines or political point-scoring, and she works to represent her constituents and their interests.
The day before the Iraq debate she led another in the smaller Westminster Hall chamber, titled Media Sexism, aimed at the Page 3 feature that appears in some low-rent newspapers.
Lucas took off her clothes during the debate, though only her jacket to reveal a T-shirt bearing the slogan “No More Page 3”.
That earned her an immediate rebuke from the chairman, Labour’s Jimmy Hood. Members are expected to use words rather than clothing to make a point. But Lucas went on to do exactly that.
As the Greens’ sole representative Lucas has few political allies at Westminster, but she has many friends because of the way she goes about her job. If only more MPs emulated her, rather than just admiring her.