Sunday, 14 March 2010

Grassroots Legislator?

Those who are keen readers of the Hackney Gazette may have noticed that Diane Abbott has reacted with some irritation after I pointed out her absence from a key climate vote a couple of weeks ago.

While I've been having a bit of fun with her assertion that no-one in Hackney has ever met me (I'm fairly sure I'm not a figment of someone's imagination, though I suppose you never can tell), Diane's response actually brings up an important and interesting point of discussion - the proper balance as an elected representative between engagement in the community you serve, and attendance at the legislative body in which you sit.

In actual fact, Diane and I are not very far apart on this, I suspect. I come from a tradition of politics which believes, strongly, that the role of a politician is not to be elected every five years and then go about their Parliamentary business (a view of the function of elected representatives which has been extremely prevalent in historical British politics), but rather to interact with and dynamically serve the community groups and campaigning organisations which exist within their constituency.

The main wellspring of ideas and 'genius' for change comes from the grassroots, not from one person who happens to have been elected. One of my political heroes is the late Paul Wellstone, and I've found the organisation set up in his memory, Wellstone Action, to be a helpful guide to how an elected representative should spend much of their time empowering constituents to hold them to account. There are already many good examples of this in Hackney - the London Coalition Against Poverty springs to mind - and I would hope to work with many more if elected, either as a councillor or MP.

The only difference between Diane and I is the value that we placed on that particular amendment to that particular bill. For me, when a vote is that tight, and when it is about holding powerful corporations to account on their attempts to water down environmental standards, I'll be in Parliament. That doesn't mean that I won't be an active and energetic community MP as well - because, in the end, building community politics is the most powerful route to social change.

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