Friday, June 23, 2006

Towards a 'Charter for Representation'

Mat raises the question of what role Councillors can play in planning applications - and how there are rules that can preclude someone who has been elected taking part in important local decisions.

This is, of course, a complex issue. For a start, I'd argue that elected representatives should be clear that they don't get involved in single-issue campaigns. They should, instead, explicitly state that their role is to defend the wider public interest.

I'd also argue that the thing that all representatives should avoid at all costs is being mandated.

So if you say 'vote for me and I will oppose the citing of these masts on our patch' you are then mandating yourself to oppose them and you can't listen to reason or defend the wider public interest. This would be a bad thing.

And what's more, if a political party were to take this view, it would mean that mobile phones would be effectively abolished (perhaps a good idea, but not one I would take to the country).

However, you could retain an open mind while telling voters your disposition. You could say "I believe there are health risks associated with these things - and I think that they bring down the price of property. So I will - wherever practicable - aim to have them cited away from residential areas."

I'd then want to see what your evidence for the health risk is, and when you could only come up with some NIMBY-ish bullshit, I'd vote against you, but I'm not the general public.

All of this points to something that I think we need in this country: A 'Charter for public representation'.

I'd like to draft a short (2-3 page) outline of what makes for effective representation in the public interest. Spell out what representatives responsibilities are to their constituents, their parties and their concience. How much of their private lives should remain private, what their duties are, what their rights and responsibilites are, and what they can reasonably expect by way of recompense - or by way of covering expenses and compensating them for what they lose in terms of time and quality of life.

On the privacy issue, Simon Collister raises the question of how far ministers should use their (publicly funded) webspace to project their personalities, here.

And this charter should bear in mind that part of it's role is to attract clever capable and honest people into public life. It should aim to put the dignity of office back into the equation. It should also seek to present something of a united front for elected representatives against their rivals.

And those rivals, I would argue, are journalists, pressure groups, civil servants, centralising political structures, and - to some extent (a more complex rivalry) their political parties. One day, the good citizens of this nation will take up arms agaist all of them.

The bastards.

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