Open letter to Sheffield Central PPCs

There is an issue about which I care passionately. It doesn’t matter what it is (though if you read the rest of this blog you might be able to guess). In the last six months I have written to retiring MP Richard Caborn half a dozen times urging him to act. I have called his office and left messages. I have had letters published in the local paper challenging him to respond. I have been interviewed by local radio, had articles published in both student newspapers and have organised a protest in his constituency.

I couldn’t have done much more to attract his attention.

In response I have received a single form-letter from a Government department, which restated the policy to which I was objecting without addressing any of my points, accompanied by a covering letter from Mr. Caborn’s office addressed “Dear constituent.” My follow-up letters have thus far failed to elicit an acknowledgement let alone a reply.

When the day came for my issue to be debated in the House of Commons fewer than 5% of MPs bothered to turn up. Richard Caborn was not among them.

Politicians who want to understand why voter apathy is so high should begin by considering how they treat their constituents.

Change is coming to Sheffield Central as Richard Caborn is retiring at the General Election – but will it be change for the better? I have two questions for the Prospective Parlimaentary Candidates competing to replace him:

If you are elected, will you promise to:

  1. Act in the interests of your constituents first and your party second?
  2. Engage with your constituents whether or not you agree with them?

Please answer in the comments or by email (all responses will be published here). If you choose not to respond then I guess that answers my second question regardless…

4 thoughts on “Open letter to Sheffield Central PPCs

  1. Paul Scriven, Lib Dem PPC for Sheffield Central, responds via email:

    In answer to your first question:

    You do not just have to take my word for it, you have seen me in action and how I stand up for Sheffield and local people. When you and others contacted me about the Digital Economy Bill on Twitter, I listened and then acted. At the time after engaging with you and others I thought that my party had not got the issue right for people like you and others in Sheffield. I rolled up my sleeves and working with others in the Lib Dems got the issue on the agenda at our national conference. We then got a debate and vote to change the parties position. That then led to last night where we voted against the Bill. That shows that I am a person already, and will be if elected an MP, that listens to local people and then fights and stand up for Sheffield and will do in Parliament and in my party if I feel things are not in the best interests of Sheffield. You seeing me in action over the last month or so on this issue I hope gives you reassurance of how I will work and how independent minded I can be and challenge my parties policies if I feel that are not in local peoples interests.

    However, you will be aware that I am not standing as an Independent and of course will take the Liberal Democrat Whip if elected. But you have seen I am not just a party poodle and will challenge to change policy and make sure I stand up for Sheffield if the need araises.

    The other important thing to note is that unlike the other two main parties I am not “bank rolled” by vested interests like the Unions or big business, which keeps me independent minded, It is worth noting that my Labour opponent has taken a donation of £18,000 from the UNITE union and therefore might have a conflict of interest to both party and this large backer.

    On the second question:

    I will work for anyone if elected that is my role as an elected MP. Again you don’t just have to take my word for it in the last 10 years as local councillor and last 2 years as Leader of the Council, I have stood up and helped many thousands of local people.

    Even when I disagree I always enter into debate and dialogue and listen to make sure I fully understand and review my position. I have changed my mind on some occasions by doing this, which unlike some others I think is a strength in an elected representatives, not a weakness.

    I hope these answers help and show not just what you will get, but prove I have a track record of doing what I say I will do if I have the privilege to be elected as the Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Central.

  2. I emailed Richard Caborn, and the prospective Labour Candidate Paul Blomfield 5 times about the bill – politely stating my objections and asking for their views. I didn’t get any response at all – not even an acknowledgment from either of them. On Thursday morning, after the bill had been passed I wrote a final email explaining how I felt, and received an acknowledgment from Mr Caborn’s assistant saying that I could expect to hear from him this week. Too little, too late!

  3. Jillian Creasy, Green Party PPC for Sheffield Central, responds via email:

    On the question of representing constituents rather than following a party line, this is an important and fascinating question. I do believe in a party system. I think it helps democracy for groups of people to work out their philosophy and methods for making the world a better place and to present these as a broad platform for voters to engage with. The extreme opposite would be for all politicians to be “independants” trying to coordinate their individual views or what they saw as their voters’ collective views. Reaching any kind of consensus would be very unweildy (but perhaps that’s the point – society and politics would just be the sum of millions of parts without any overall direction). On the other hand, rigid party views hold up good and necessary change and can’t respond to constituents’ interests.

    Clearly a balance needs to be struck whereby politicians listen to and respond to their constituents and seek to influence their parties – and the Local Authority or Government – to take these on board. The Green Party does not have a “whipping” system but does have plenty of fora in which its members can learn about – and change – its policies. At national level we have a twice-yearly conference where members play a direct role in developing policy, including motions to change our manifesto if necessary. At a local level, grass roots members contribute to writing our manifesto and feed into the work of elected councillors.

    But as a councillor, I have also responded to my constituents needs and ideas over a whole range of issues. This is often at a pretty basic level of taking up case work or local campaigns, for instance about housing, transport, parks and green spaces, recycling, local facilities and so on. My work on the council is driven by these requests and I have not found any difficulty in reconciling them with party policy, in fact they are supported by party policy. Areas where, as an MP, I might find myself challenged by constituents include the Green Party’s views on asylum seekers (we should treat them humanely), renewable energy (if we are to continue enjoying the benefits of electricity, some people may have to see wind turbines as well as electricity pylons from their homes) and prioritising public transport (ultimately it is the only way to reduce congestion). But I would always listen to constituents’ views and try to modify the solutions I proposed to take account of their underlying needs and fears.

    Areas where I have worked closely with constituents on policy issues include:

    1. Challenging the proposed super casino, which I believed would damage the local economy. I was part of a very wide campaign and could not have mustered the arguments which I used to challenge the administration and the government’s independant panel without the information and support they provided.
    2. Developing the noise-nuisance strategy through the Culture, Economy and Sustainability Scrutiny Board, which resulted in the new late night service. Again, members of the public adversely affected by the “night time economy” helped me enormously with this project, providing details about legislation, examples of good practice from other authorities, giving evidence to the scrutiny board and so on.
    3. Insisting that there would not be a city-wide ban on demonstrations when the Security ministers of the G8 met in Sheffield in the summer of 2005. There were huge representations to the council which supported my motion about freedom of expression. At the time I was a lone councillor and felt that my only strength was in that public backing.

    I mention these because they represent the flip side of your question: that politics is at its most exciting and vibrant when members of the public use their elected representatives to spearhead or complement the things they feel passionately about. And I think that kind of politics is still possible and still happening, despite all the disillusionment with the mainstream parties.

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