DeForest Soaries once said that “Voting is the foundational act that breathes life into the principle of the consent of the governed”. In light of this statement, I would like to let you know how I feel about the decision of 40 Members of Parliament to not cast a vote in or to abstain from last week’s division over gay marriage.
The UK functions as a representative democracy- that is to say, we elect politicians through a popular vote to take decisions on our behalf that fundamentally affect our day-to-day lives, whether it be how much tax we pay on our earnings or the way our schools and hospitals are run. Self-governance and the individual’s right to choose are liberties which we enshrine in a liberal democracy. But as much as we would like to believe that we have complete control over the courses of our lives, there are practical issues to consider. That’s why we elected you. We entrust our elected representatives with the responsibility and the privilege of our self-autonomy, without which we wouldn’t be free. I trust you will agree, therefore, that the responsibility we delegate to you is an important one. So when you abuse that responsibility by rejecting the role that voters assigned you- to take decisions and enact laws on their behalf- you are failing to represent us.
Given the divisive nature of the vote, it may be argued that it was too contentious a political issue to take a firm stance on, and the safest option in order to please your constituents and the country at large would be to not vote at all. To this, I have two responses. Firstly, when we elected you, it will not have been based on your party affiliation or your record if an incumbent. It would have also been based on your personal ideology and your stances on issues. By not voting in a primarily ideological vote, you are letting down the voters who supported you and supported your stances. Secondly, the fact that the division was so divisive is exactly why you shouldn’t abstain. As one of the most important pieces of legislation this government has introduced, it requires legitimacy and for that, a proper mandate. The only way for this legislation to ever be considered legitimate by voters is if it was universally approved by their representatives. You were elected for decision, not indecision.
It is understandable that you may have withheld from voting for fear of the political consequences and how this would be held to you at the next general election or from within your own party. But this is no ordinary vote. This bill is of major constitutional and humanitarian significance. So, I ask this; do you want to be remembered as the politicians who took a stance, be it popular or not, or do you want to go down in history as the politicians who said nothing, did nothing, for fear of the potential political consequences?
The people of the UK deserve to have their voices heard. But for a representative, this is not just a right, but an imperative.