Q. What are elections for in the UK?
A. To elect 650 MPs to the House of Commons, (approximately one for every 92,000 people, or one for every 68,000 electors.)
Q. What do they actually do?
A. One candidate (who is standing for re-election) describes the job in these words: MPs split their time between working in Parliament and working in the constituency. In Parliament, MPs spend their time fighting for the interests of their constituents, attending debates, scrutinising and voting on legislation, and attending meetings. They consider and vote on legislation and use their position to ask government ministers questions about current issues.
In the constituency, MPs hold advice surgeries for their constituents to come and talk to them about local issues and problems, attend meetings and community events, as well as visiting local organisations and businesses.
Members of Parliament are able to help with all matters for which Parliament or central government are responsible and are able to take up issues with other government departments on (your) behalf.
By any standards this is extremely important and demanding work – which is why it is so important that all of us who are eligible to vote actually help that process to work by doing so.
Yet, like so many others, I am becoming weary of the constant calls to vote. In the past 20 years we have gone into our polling stations on no fewer than 20 occasions (including the upcoming election in June). However, if I opt out in few weeks’ time, I am passing the responsibility of choosing my elected representatives to others. That means that I cannot expect whoever is elected to actually be my representative and ‘fight for (my) interests’ as just described.
Being that representative is tricky, for (s)he will face many competing demands from people and groups with exactly opposite views. An MP said to me recently that he had all sorts of groups lobbying him, but rarely did church based groups come to see him about an issue. He deeply regretted that, and made the obvious point that if people don’t make their views known to him, they cannot expect him to represent them or their views in the corridors of power. This perspective is not one that many Christians embrace easily. We lapse all too easily into thinking that what we believe is right will be done almost by default, and that we can let our elected representatives get on with that job without further input to them, discussion with them, or prayer for them. Not so.
Being that representative also means that they will need great wisdom. So I will not be impressed by the candidate who shouts loudest. Nor will I vote for any candidate who is abusive or aggressive towards others in the debates before this election. Bad behaviour is not much commendation for being a good public representative. I am looking for rigorous and thoughtful debate; for evidence of a listening ear and for a desire to build the relationships that will oil the wheels of worthy change and steady progress. The character and temperament of the candidate matter to me. The party manifesto is certainly not the only consideration, because it takes wise and thoughtful people to deliver it.
I have only one vote out of the 68,000 (approx) in my constituency. I have the privilege of using it. I must not devalue that privilege by abstaining. And, before God, I will try to use it wisely, and follow through on the Biblical command to be concerned for the common good, and not merely my own preferences.
Written by (Very Rev Dr) Norman Hamilton OBE