Since last night’s vote rejecting UK involvement in any military action against Syria, MPs from all parties have been rushing to the nearest microphones and telephones to offer their tuppence worth to local and national media.
In an attempt to appear relevant and maintain the impression of democratic legitimacy, we have heard MPs reported as saying this was a good day for democracy and that Parliament followed the wishes of the people.
The fact is these assertions are nonsense.
While the media is happy to report such comments uncritically, the reality is Parliament was not bound by the wishes of the people at all. Instances of genuine common sense among some MPs, and some MPs acting on the basis of representations from their constituents, was combined with the far greater impact generated by manoeuvring for party political advantage to see the motion defeated by the extremely slender margin of 13 votes.
When one considers opinion polls showed public support for action at various levels between 11% and 21%, yet almost half of MPs who voted in favour of the motion, we can see that public influence was quite minor. Add to this the flip flopping of Ed Miliband. He was originally and conditionally in favour of the motion, but flipped later. Had he flipped back, many Labour MPs would have followed his lead and the motion would have been carried. Right now, work up drills at RAF Akrotiri and somewhere below the waves of the Mediterranean would be underway in preparation for an attack on Syria.
The wishes of the public were not paramount among our elected servants. This underscores a vital flaw in our democratic process – namely the lack of ability of voters to control the actions and voting of their MPs. If MPs were genuinely bound by the wishes of their constituents, barely any of them would have been able to vote in favour of the motion.
David Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg wanted to attack Syria using as justification evidence that falls well short of the need in criminal cases to prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt. Instead they contented themselves that on the balance of probability Assad was guilty of launching a chemical attack, and so the British armed forces would kill and injure Syrian soliders and civilians in order to make a point. There was no reference back to the public, no mandate sought for our permission.
We do not have a democratic system in this country. We have no control over MPs once they have been elected to Parliament. The whims and emotions of those who wanted to have a political career and made it into Parliament still determine the actions carried out in our name. Even despite last night’s vote, Cameron could still use Royal Prerogative to force armed intervention if he was so minded.
Only a wholesale restructure of our methods and manner of governance, of the type advanced by the Harrogate Agenda, would result in a genuinely democratic state of affairs. As such people should not be taken in by the gushing self praise of MPs and the superlatives about how wonderful our ‘democracy’ is. Last night was a fluke. Next time MPs will continue to vote as they see fit, regardless of what we want.