Monday, March 24, 2008

Politicians And Their Consciences

As the latest Emybrology legislation approaches the floor of the House, there is a renewed flurry of excitement about MPs and their consciences, and more than a smattering of calls for MPs to be allowed a free vote in the name of the aforementioned consciences.

Explain to me, please, how it is that a conscience seems to come in to play for politicians' views only on a certain limited range of subjects. Embryo experimentation is, apparently, a matter of conscience. As is abortion rights (or lack of abortion rights). Down the years, LGBT rights have caused a tremble in the conscience department too. But war? Civil liberties? Privatisation? Cuts in public services? How are these issues not a matter of 'conscience'? What is the point of your conscience if it lets you deport people to their deaths, or sell the council housing from over their head, or fluff the nests of the rich while others live in poverty?!

Some tell us that on certain matters, their consciences must tell them what to do not their party whips. For some of these, such as Ruth Kelly and others, the 'conscience' appears to take the form of their chosen religious affiliation. So the Labour whips own your politics but the Pope or his Cardinal own your conscience?

For over a century, socialists have fought for independent working-class representation in politics - for the election of representatives who will take the democratically-decided policies of the workers' movement into Parliament and elsewhere. The problem with today's Labour whips is not that they over-ride the precious conscience and make people toe a soulless party line, but that they exert their authority to pressure MPs to break labour movement policy and toe a government line that usually contradicts it.

PS. Sorry for the long gap in blogging. I've had a bout of flu leading to a secondary infection of the chest from which I am still suffering (I've always been a martyr to my chest). On top of that, I've had a sudden and massive increase in workload with my union job the details of which I won't go into until the rather explosive dust has settled.