There are many different reasons people become members of parliament. Some have a burning desire to help their community. Others may have more personal motivations: money, career, prestige and the like. Whatever the reason, MPs should represent and be accountable to their constituents – all their constituents – regardless of whether or not they voted for them.
The standard non-answer
But this isn’t always the case. My local MP is Tom Randall, one of the 2019 Conservative intake who replaced the long-standing and well-respected Labour MP Vernon Coaker in the Gedling constituency in Nottinghamshire. Randall won his seat with a majority of only 679 votes, one of the smallest majorities in the country. You might think, therefore, that he’d go out of his way to endear himself to his local electorate. You might think that …
Until 2020 I’ve had no reason to contact my MP. I’m lucky in that regard. Since 2020 I’ve felt compelled to on several occasions: once by email, the remainder of times via his Facebook page. The reasons for contacting Randall haven’t been due to any personal crisis. They’ve been prompted by the behaviour of the government, and people connected to them, over the last couple of years.
The email conversation was prompted by the conduct of Dominic Cummings during the initial Covid lockdown and the subsequent hoops the government jumped through to protect him. To Randall’s credit he did reply. However, it was clearly a standardised, copy-and-paste response defending Cummings’ actions and insisting he’d done no wrong. Not a great first interaction then.
Over the following 24 months I’ve contacted Randall on several occasions via his Facebook page. I’m not going to lie – the posts I’ve submitted there have been critical of the government. Its handling of Covid, the policing bill, the votes on school meals and sewage discharge have, in my opinion, been reasons to be critical of the government. Other Gedling constituents have responded to these messages. Randall has not.
My most recent contact was in response to a message Randall posted about what the government is doing to support the people of Ukraine following Russia’s appalling invasion. Again, my communication was critical. It was pithy. It wasn’t offensive, however. It suggested the government could be doing more. It mentioned that while Brexit was meant to have made the UK ‘more agile’, it still seemed to be lagging behind other countries. It mentioned that the Conservatives had received a lot of money from Russian donors and wondered what these people might have wanted in return.
In response to a comment labelling me a ‘Marxist troll’ (not from Randall I hasten to add), I added some links to articles from The Guardian, Sky News and The Express which mentioned these Russian donations.
A couple of days later I searched for Randall’s name on Facebook again to see if there’d been any further comments. His name didn’t appear. Had he closed his Facebook page? I asked on Twitter if someone could look for his page and a couple of people did. It was there, on Facebook, still active. He’d blocked me. And not only had he blocked me, I discovered after visiting Facebook whilst logged out, but he’d also deleted my most recent posts and the links I’d posted to the news articles.
Not everyone is politically engaged. People certainly seem to use Facebook less for this purpose than Twitter and I’m sure that more people have Facebook accounts than Twitter ones. But people have a right to know what their government does, and it was fundamentally wrong of Randall to have deleted those links and denied his constituents that right. It seems symptomatic of the Conservatives’ desire as a party and government to avoid scrutiny at all cost. These articles weren’t hearsay or salacious rumours expressly designed to harm the government; they were all hosted on recognised websites and available in the public domain. I just made them more easily accessible to the constituents of Gedling and for that, I was censored.
Hiding in plain sight
Why do people become MPs? If they can’t accept criticism and are determined to hide the activities of their party from the very people who elected them, then perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered. They may not be cut out for the job.