Our MPs must represent our best interests, not just echo our opinions

Jeremy Corbyn is my local MP. I wrote to him today asking him to take a stand against activating Article 50 at this time…

Our MPs must represent our best interests, not just echo our opinions
Crop from an official photo released under a Creative Commons license by the UK Parliament at https://beta.parliament.uk/media/u0mXpY2m

Jeremy Corbyn is my local MP. I wrote to him today asking him to take a stand against activating Article 50 at this time…

UPDATE: Mr Corbyn has now replied, and I’ve added the text of his email below.

Dear Mr Corbyn,

In the EU Referendum in June 2016, your constituents voted clearly to remain in the EU.

I understand that, as our member of parliament in a representative democracy, we have elected you not to simply take direct instructions from your constituents, but to represent their best interests using all the information and advice that is available to you. I further understand that as our representative, you are not even bound by our vote in a referendum, as it was purely an advisory referendum not a binding one.

This is important because, if there was a referendum on bringing back the death penalty tomorrow, we all know that there would be a majority for its return — even without the tabloids stoking the heat in the campaign with false stories. Yet, you and I both know that it would be wrong for justice, for human rights, for humanity. We know it wouldn’t achieve what the populist vote would expect it to achieve. We know it would lead to irreversible injustices.

However, we both also know that in the run up to such a referendum the right-wing politicians and press would be, at best, filtering the information available to the voters. At worst they would be stoking anger and hatred with biased and false stories. They wouldn’t report on any of the data on wrongful convictions, and the evidence leading to them, such as how imperfect early DNA analysis turned out to be, having been treated as gold-plated for so long. They would turn to emotive cases and suggest the perpetrators have been ‘living the life of Riley’ in luxurious prison conditions on the taxpayer’s hard earned money.

So, consider for a moment how you would choose to represent your constituents and country in parliament after such a referendum. Your own constituency voted against the death penalty, the country voted (narrowly) for it. But you know that the people who voted for the death penalty did so having been told lies and had facts withheld from them. As our representative, in a representative democracy, I hope you would consider the advice of experts in human rights and law, the counsel of civil servants, and the data available to you — and speak passionately and vote wholeheartedly to retain the ban on capital punishment. And I hope you would support and encourage your colleagues in the house, on both sides of the aisle, to do the same.

With the EU referendum we have a similar position. The country has voted in a purely advisory referendum, based on a campaign of deceit. The people did not vote knowing the effect on our economy, on jobs, or our basic rights. They voted after being told there would be £350m a week more invested in the NHS, that we would at least stay in the single market, and that Brexit would provide a major economic boost. And the biggest deceit of all — they voted believing that the very real problems they experience in their lives are due to immigration rather than austerity and ideological policies displacing evidence-based policies.

They were lied to.

The choice our elected representatives face now is whether to let these citizens find out they were lied to in a slow and very painful way over the next ten years in a way that will see Britain’s status and economy diminished for generations, and cause great lasting division in the country — or in a brutally honest short sharp way now that we can begin to recover from.

The short sharp approach requires substantial bravery in the face of a baying mob stoked by Murdoch and Dacre, but is the only honourable course for a member of parliament, and leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, on seeing a government about to take a seriously wrong turn. You did it so well over the Iraq war, and we need you to take a stance again even if it is futile once more. The history books must show that good people put their all into fighting the lies and misdirection.

Theresa May does not have a mandate to take the extreme course she is taking. She has no mandate as prime minister.

On this basis, I request you to please turn away from Michael Gove’s advice to ignore the experts. Listen to experts, listen to civil servants with their long history of keeping the country on a steady course, listen to your conscience (and I know from your long track record you are a man of conscience), and step up to your duty as a representative in a representative democracy.

Please, speak out and vote against triggering Article 50. Please place the Labour party firmly on course to challenge the madness of Brexit.

Please also align the Labour party with the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and the SNP in a general election strategy to stand together in a progressive coalition. Look at the recent LibDem surges in by-election results, even in Sunderland. The electorate regrets Brexit and they need their leaders to give them options away from it. The Conservative party and UKIP at the next election will stand for Brexit once more. We need a clear, united voice against. We need you in this, in your most energetic campaigning mode.

Thank-you for your long-standing work to represent us.

Yours sincerely,

Dear Steve

I am genuinely pleased to hear from constituents at all times, and there has been a particularly heated debate surrounding the triggering of Article 50, which is entirely understandable. Your email is one of approximately 250 constituency emails I’ve received on this subject, with each and every one putting forward very cogent arguments to support their case. It is of particular interest to note the points raised in an originally composed letter such as yours, though it is simply not possible to answer each question that is raised on this subject, as there are such a large number.

However we feel about it, the EU referendum outcome was a vote to leave, and we cannot pretend otherwise. Along with so many people, I dedicated time and energy to campaigning for Remain, and I appreciate that this view prevailed in our constituency. However, when we campaigned, we told everyone that their vote mattered, and we cannot backtrack on that commitment now because so many of us object to the outcome.

My priorities remain those for which most of my constituents elected me. Alongside the Shadow Cabinet and colleagues, I will prioritise the protection of jobs, living standards, workers’ rights and environmental protections, and I will go the extra mile to ensure the government does not relegate Britain to a bargain basement tax haven.

In terms of the three-line whip decision to support Brexit, voting against a bill at the early stages rules oneself out of the process of tabling amendments, rather than progressing the bill to its final vote offering amendments and shaping it. Article 50 is only the start of the process and we need to focus on the excellent amendments we’ve introduced.

Labour forced the government to bring its plans to parliament, and our amendments to the Referendum Bill are designed to hold the government to account at every stage, with a meaningful vote on any final deal. Any alternative position sends an undemocratic message to the 52%, which would be unprincipled, and I would find myself writing a very different letter to many constituents, in an effort to justify why I had chosen to undermine their choice.

Do not underestimate our proposed changes which include tariff-free access to the single market and an anti-tax haven amendment to make sure the Prime Minister does not use Brexit as an excuse to duck out of tackling tax avoidance and evasion. We will also fight for amendments to ensure this government cannot damage people’s rights at work.

The task ahead is formidable, but we can manage it if we come together, despite our differences. It will certainly not be achieved by ignoring a democratic vote. How Brexit unfolds is of crucial importance and we must focus on doing all we can to secure support for an agreement which strengthens cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to send in your views, and I trust this letter makes it clear to you that this decision has been reached after significant discussion and debate.

Kind regards

Jeremy Corbyn MP
Islington North