By Campaign Agent Christy Williams
As the government continues to struggle to force a Brexit deal through parliament, Theresa May has reportedly considered injecting funds into leave constituencies to win over Labour MPs who could provide the votes the government so desperately needs. The arrangement would see certain leave areas, which have suffered from chronic under-investment for years, receive funding for local needs such as industry and hospitals. The Labour Party has warned its MPs not to accept such offers in return for their votes, but some members, such as John Mann, have encouraged the Prime Minister to “show us the money”. This has sparked a debate over whether this is a toxic brand of ‘transactional politics’, and Labour MPs in leave areas must question how the issues within their own constituencies and the whole country are solved. Does the Conservative government throwing cash at leave constituencies really address the structural issues that have been caused by years of austerity and neglect of local industries? And, does it really help these areas to deal with the problems that will be caused by a botched Brexit agreement, passed by the votes of MPs which have been ‘payed-off’ by the government?
This tactic is of course not a new one for the current government, with the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with the DUP following the 2017 election offering £1billion for Northern Ireland over a two-year period in return for the votes of DUP politicians on key parliamentary issues. The ‘cash for constituencies’ case has renewed some of the qualms many had about the confidence and supply arrangement, and it certainly demonstrates how parliamentary politics under this government has become ‘cartel’ like in nature- splashing out with essential resources on specific areas of the country in return for the representatives of those areas surrendering their democratic duty as members of the opposition.
By their very nature, situations in which a government resorts to such arrangements demonstrate a lack of actual support for that government’s policies or direction. In 2017, the Tories failed to secure a majority so they had to buy it from the DUP, now they have a Brexit which disappoints both ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’ and simply doesn’t have the votes to pass, so they must resort to buying those votes from the opposition.
The leave campaign promised that Brexit was the way to unlock better funding for our national services - such as £350million extra per week for the NHS - which has turned out to be false. Some extra cash for certain leave constituencies is not a sufficient replacement for these broken promises, and Labour MPs such as John Mann shouldn’t accept it. At this time of incredible importance in British politics, Labour MPs should be standing up for their duties as representatives and be seeking the best alternatives for the failed government deal, whatever those solutions may be. It could even be called hypocritical for both the government and Members of Parliament who label those opposed to Brexit as ‘anti-democratic’, to so overtly seek to undermine the representative process in this country and force through unpopular policies by paying off members of the opposition.
The ‘cash for constituencies’ proposition would target leave constituencies alone. As proponents of the arrangement have pointed out, some of these areas are the least well off in the country and they are certainly in need of greater investment. However, would this not simply entrench the divisions between leave and remain areas? What is the plan for the most deprived areas of Glasgow, for example, which voted over 66% remain- or Foyle, listed as one of the most income-deprived areas of Northern Ireland and a constituency which voted over 78% remain. Surely, excluding the poorest remain constituencies simply to force through a Brexit deal is not the way to bring about unity and ‘get on’ with Brexit as one - something the government claims to be so committed to doing.
Parliamentary votes in exchange for cash doesn’t solve any of the major debates that now surround the Brexit deal, such as the Irish border, freedom of movement or membership of the customs union. Labour MPs who would accept such an arrangement should understand that their compliance would allow these debates to be avoided and a botched deal to be passed through parliament at a vital point in British politics. ‘Cash for constituencies’ represents everything that goes against the principles of a representative democracy and certainly doesn’t provide anything for many of the most deprived areas of the United Kingdom. Any MP who claims to have their constituent’s, or the nation’s interests at heart, would turn down any offer in exchange for their vote in a heartbeat.
Image: Henry Lawford @flickr