The farce of UK democracy

I emailed my MP, Ben Howlett (Bath), to express my opposition to air strikes on Syria, and we have since exchanged the following correspondence (by we, I mean me and his secretary, and by correspondence I mean said secretary copy and pasting large sections of texts from Ben’s blog into an email to me – with little to no regard of whether it answers my questions or not)

Ben Howlett (before vote):

Many thanks for taking the time to contact me about the concerning situation in Syria. I have had a lot of correspondence both in favour of and against military involvement in Syria and at the moment I have not come to the final decision on how I will vote when the decision comes before the House of Commons.I am pleased that last week the Prime Minister personally addressed the concerns of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee who now support military action in Syria. I would feel more confident in a decision if the Defence Select Committee also agreed that intervention was the right path to follow. At the moment they still have reservations centring on the need to have adequate non-British ground forces to support any bombing carried out by the RAF.I will be personally meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence this evening and I will raise my own concerns and those of constituents who have contacted me. As I am sure you will understand, I will not be able to divulge any information that I receive but I will make my decision based on what I see as the action in the best interest of the people of Bath and the UK as a nation.

Ben Howlett (after vote):

As I am sure you will appreciate, I have received an unprecedented number of emails about yesterday’s vote on military action in Syria. As much as I would like to respond individually to all the concerns that you, my constituents, have raised, it is not feasible within a short period of time. Instead, I thought it would be good to let you all know my thoughts and why I voted for air strikes in Syria.

I read through all the emails I received from constituents and raised some of the sensible comments and suggestions with various Cabinet Ministers I personally met with. I know how important it is to get the much needed assurances to a variety of concerns. The decision I made did not come easy, and I have definitely been a thorn in the side of many Ministers this week.Some of the assurances I received included quarterly reporting from the Secretary of State for Defence on the operations, a planned international development strategy which will help rebuild the country after the strikes and the continuation of the diplomatic solution. I repeatedly stressed to the Government how it is crucial that their plans were backed by a strong ground operation orchestrated by opposition forces in Syria. I have reassurance from the Secretary of State for Defence that he will continue to review and improve the ground strategy whilst the strategic aerial campaigns are ongoing.I sat in the chamber for almost the full 10.5 hours yesterday, and was the last to be called to speak before the closing remarks of the front bench. Due to very strict time limits I did not get to read my full speech, but you can read what I wrote here – http://www.benhowlett.co.uk/air-strikes-syria. You can watch my speech here –http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/4e6d04ee-df49-4789-a54a-42f2c7be53b2?in=21:25:51&out=21:28:51. I heard impassioned speeches on both sides of the argument yesterday but the two that really stuck with me and had the effect of cementing my views were the speeches by Tim Farron, which eloquently explained how air strikes are the only option to support refugees and by Labour’s Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, which will go down in history as one of the best speeches in the House of Commons.It is ultimately important to remember that a few weeks ago one of Britain’s allies were attacked by an unprecedented enemy. For centuries Britain has taken a lead in the world to help fight tyranny and promote liberty and freedom. We have a responsibility to support them. Daesh is the antithesis to everything we hold dear and they must be stopped. The time is now to ensure that we stand firm against our enemies – we cannot delay any further or risk people being killed on our streets.One of the repeated arguments against intervention that constituents have raised with me is that our streets will become unsafe if we pursue an aerial campaign. Daesh do not think like this. They will not think twice about slaughtering our citizens in the UK, they believe that our culture, our society and everything that we believe in should be crushed. Before the vote, even though we had no military involvement in Syria, Daesh were threatening attacks on our country every day. We must therefore take action to stop them.When women are being raped, children are being sold for the sex trade, gay people are being thrown from roofs and Christians are being crucified we cannot simply watch from afar and say this is someone else’s problem.Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. I understand that for many of you this will not have been what you wanted to read however I hope you understand that this was a difficult decision to make and I had to come to my conclusion based on representations from constituents alongside intelligence from the Military of Defence.

Me:

Hi Ben

I’d be interested to know the numbers of how many people contacted you about this issue and what they were urging you to vote? From the looks of your Facebook page it seems like people asking you to vote no were the overwhelming majority but I appreciate that people imploring you to support air strikes might be more likely to contact you privately.
Ella
Ben Howlett:

Dear Ella

Thank you for your recent email regarding the airstrikes in Syria, I am keeping a record of constituent views.  I will continue to keep my own position updated on my website during the campaign: http://www.benhowlett.co.uk/vote-airstrikes-syria

 With regards to the split of constituents, I have not collated this information, due to the large volume of correspondence across many different types of media as I was keen to get a rapid response out.

 Thank you for taking the time to share your views with me.

Me:

Hi Ben

If you’re receiving so much correspondence regarding this issue surely it makes sense to find a way to collate this data?
I can’t help but feel disappointed in your efforts to truly listen to constituents’ views. With so much technology and information at our fingertips it would be so easy for you to make a simple poll or online questionnaire about issues this important. You knew the vote was coming and if you and your office have enough time to put together round robin emails and keep your blog updated surely you have enough time to make an easily accessible way for your constituents to express their opinion. If you’re getting correspondence in all kinds of forms, the responsibility lies with you for not making it more clear and easy for constituents to express their opinion in a way that you can analyse easily.
Seeing as you didn’t set up something like this it is your duty to go through this information as it’s not good enough to not be able to answer a legitimate question from one of your constituents. You were elected to represent the views of your constituents and you are paid for through our taxes. We’re supposed to live in a democracy – if you don’t have time to collate the percentages of who thinks what, what kind of poor excuse for a democracy is that? A rapid response is nothing if it’s not representative.
Awaiting your response
Ella
…it might not surprise you to hear that Ben never got back to me.
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