People of authority
We sometimes may be fooled into forgetting the simple fact that politicians work for us, we the people put them there, and if they do something we disagree with, we the people will remove them. Following on from the Brexit campaign and the mysterious £350 million going to the NHS, is it right to raise the question, what should happen to MPs who deliberately lie to mislead the electorate. The former chief of staff to the Brexit Secretary James Chapman has said “leading Brexiteers” would be behind bars over campaign mistruths “if we had an effective electoral law”. The same has been suggested by Lord Sugar, when asked what punishment Michael Gove and Boris Johnson should receive he said, “at least they should have a criminal record”.
Yes, they should
The case for being given judicial punishment is on the basis that people who are elected to public office serve the people, therefore when they lie and deceive they bring that whole process into disarray. It is such an integral cornerstone of public service that one of the general principles in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament is honesty. When politicians are deliberately deceptive it harms the majority of the good done by ordinary community serving backbench MPs. Say an MP is found to have fiddled their expenses, this enshrines a view in the perception of the public that everyone in the Commons is up to it.
“Politics has changed and politics isn’t going back in the box where it was before”
Above are the words of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn which he addressed to constituents after regaining his seat in the 2017 General Election. He is right, politics has changed, there are no corners to cower in and no places to hide. The world of politics has become more transparent and therefore to further clean up the corruption that there may still exist, the case that no MP is above the law can be made. This, therefore, in times where public servants lies could inherently damage the country, could mean them receiving legal punishment.
No, they shouldn’t
Politicians are after all, human, and often face big questions that they need to answer. Sometimes history will view them to have made the right choice and other times not so. However, it is in that moment, and in their better judgement, that they make the decisions they make. It is, therefore, the case that no criminal charges for these mistakes should ever be made for an MP to face.
An example for this case takes place after the 2010 General Election. No party had achieved an overall majority (sound familiar?) with a battered and bruised Labour government being thrown out of power. It was in this moment of political turmoil that two political leaders agreed to set aside some of their differences to put the interests of the country first. On 12th May 2010, after picking apart each other’s manifestos, David Cameron got the keys to No. 10 with the help of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. It was a union that many predicted to fall apart within the first year, however, to everyone’s surprise (even I’m sure some Tory grandees) the coalition served out its entire term.
Along the way, there were many policies rolled out but none more controversial than the raising of tuition fees, something the Liberal Democrats campaigned on not doing. Essentially, this policy meant that Lib Dem voters had been deceived by that pledge that was broken. Like a marriage, the coalition was given and take, and the promise on tuition fees was one that had to be shattered. Nick Clegg apologised for the government’s decision which prompted some people to make a catchy video out of it.
The backlash for the Liberal Democrats was immense, with them nearly being wiped out at the 2015 General Election. This case shows that Nick Clegg never intended to mislead or lie and therefore shows that when an MP breaks a promise it is sometimes unfair to jump on the band wagon to be ready to hand them down a criminal charge.
Is this just the way things are?
Things might just be this way, perhaps we are expecting our MPs to be paragons of virtue who can possibly do no wrong. This is not the case, but the argument before us is whether or not their mistakes warrant criminal prosecutions. On one side, you have the Vote Leave £350 million for the NHS and the other Nick Clegg’s honest broken pledge on tuition fees. In any case, a criminal prosecution is not as nearly as terrifying for an MP like political engagement. Furthermore, if the electorate understands the political climate, there isn’t any amount of spin a political party can do to hide their own faults and mistakes.
Therefore, as the electorate, our greatest weapon is not putting our elected representative in a court room but taking them to task on the real issues of the day with a full understanding of the implications on you, your family, and your community.