Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Credit where credit's due: Russell Brown MP

So this evening I fired of yet another of my intemperate emails to my MP.

I say 'my' MP. He's the MP for my home. But since I'm still legally homeless, I'm actually currently registered to vote in Glasgow. I've literally no idea who the MP where my vote is registered in Glasgow actually is, although I think my MSP may just have become First Minister. But I think of Russell Brown as my MP, because he's the MP for where I actually live.

I have very mixed feelings about Russell Brown. As a human being I think he's a very decent one. I like him. I've seen him attending events for mad people - people with mental illness - where there was no possible publicity benefit from doing so. And, furthermore, treating us with dignity and respect, as equal citizens. Which of course we are, but it still impressed me positively. I've seen him turn up in person at anti-Nazi rallies. He's also, I'm told, a 'good constituency MP' - which is to say the social worker of last resort for those defeated by the bureaucracy. Which is a good and honourable role, and someone has to do it.

But we don't actually send people to Westminster to be social workers, we send them there to be legislators. And as a legislator, Russell Brown often seems as much use as a clockwork monkey.

He has never rebelled against the party whip in this parliament - not once. In all his 17 years at Westminster, he's rebelled against the whip only eight times - so once in two years on average - but he's got progressively less rebellious with age.

The few rebellions he has made have been mostly on the side of the almost angels. He rebelled three times on Lords reform, voting twice for a fully appointed House of Lords - not just mostly Tony's Cronies, entirely Tony's Cronies, but that would at least have meant no more damned legislators by inheritance. But on the other hand he voted that the Lords be abolished entirely, so on the whole he earned some brownie points.

He voted both ways on a technical amendment to the Protection of Vulnerable Children bill. Without more context I don't know what the import of that amendment was, and, in any case, I don't know whether voting both ways was a clever political manoeuvre or a cock-up. But it was at least some sort of a rebellion, so I give him some credit for not being a clockwork monkey on that occasion. And he rebelled three times on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill - the relevance of which to his electorate in Galloway I honestly fail to see. And finally, and honourably, he voted to allow doctors to assist terminally ill people who wished to die, to do so.

So that's his seventeen year career: eight occasions when he did what a clockwork monkey wouldn't do, and voted against his part whip; on two of those occasions, he unambiguously did the right thing.

In Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta Iolanthe, Private Willis sings:
When in that House M.P.'s divide,
If they've a brain and cerebellum, too,
They've got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to.
That was first performed one hundred and thirty years ago, but at Westminster little ever changes. Eight times in seventeen years, Russell Brown has forgotten to check in his brain at the MPs' Cloakroom; twice in seventeen years, he's done something useful with it.

For the rest of the time, he's voted with the Labour whip. For the Iraq War. For the maintenance and renewal of nuclear weapons. For tuition fees (but only for students in England, of course). For the breakup of the NHS (but only the English NHS, of course). For ID cards. Against protecting refugees. Against cracking down on tax avoidance. It's not a record of which any socialist could be proud.

And being this mindless clockwork monkey, he joined with the rest of London Labour in their collective act of suicide in the Independence Referendum in acting as willing footsoldiers for the bankers, the landowners, the imperialist fantasists against his own electorate, the working poor of Stranraer and west Dumfries who voted in their droves for an independent, socialist Scotland.

I truly do not understand this act of wilful collective folly. In Scotland, Labour could once more have become a party of government, and, what's more, a party of government implementing the policies of egalitarianism and social justice which one must assume that they all joined the Labour Party to promote. Instead, they chose to remain in a United Kingdom which they can only ever hope to govern if they discard all those of their principles they have not already recanted.

However, I didn't come, tonight, to bury Russell Brown. I came, tonight, to praise him. Credit where it's due.

My email to him was both angry and incendiary. Here it is:

Dear Mr Russell Brown MP, 
During the recent referendum campaign, you (and others) repeatedly claimed that the Yes campaign's assertion that our NHS was not safe in the Union was false. Now we face TTIP, and with it the wholesale privatisation of every aspect of our NHS, both north and south of the border. Your assurances that the NHS was safe now look very hollow. 
Of course, you can't stop this. The Tories have a majority and they will defeat your colleague Clive Efford's National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill 2014-15. But the least you can do to retain some semblance of honour is to vote with Clive Efford in favour of the bill. 
Please assure me that you will do this. 
Yours sincerely, 
Simon Brooke
Within the hour I received this response:
Simon 
Many thanks for contacting me about Clive Efford's Private Members' Bill to be heard on Friday and also the issue of TTIP. 
In respect of the latter, I received a briefing from my trade union, Unite, back in the early summer and having already looked at the potential impact of the TTIP agreement, I was a little surprised that Unite was actually fairly favourable towards the agreement. However, as time passed, it became clear that there was a genuine threat contained therein, with regards to NHS contracts, and when I and other members of the Unite Parliamentary Group met with senior officials of the union, it was determined that in going forward, opposition to TTIP should be pursued. Thankfully, this is the position that I, and other Labour colleagues, will be taking. 
I have already spoken with Clive about his Bill and I have assured him that I will be remaining in parliament on Friday to offer my support to his Bill. 
Many thanks for making contact with me and for making your views and concerns known to me. 
Regards 
Russell
Now that is a far more courteous response than I deserved. Furthermore, my understanding is that the official Labour position is still in favour of TTIP, so it looks as though he is prepared to use his brain - positively, on behalf of his constituents - once again.

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