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Representation and power

Norm and Chris are in disagreement over who can represent effectively.

Chris thinks background doesn’t matter:

[H]istory shows that posh MPs can serve working class interests. Leading members of the 1945-51 government such as Attlee, Dalton and Cripps were public schoolboys.

Norm thinks, statistically speaking, it does:

Because it can happen that a woman makes good decisions for the men she represents, and a rich man likewise for people much worse off than himself; and because it can also happen that a person from the very same group or stratum as those she represents can make very bad decisions for them, even ‘selling them out’; these are not reasons for denying the old truth that one of the things individuals are moved by is their interests. Representatives do not escape this generalization, at least statistically.

I think both are missing the point.   They’re focusing on agency to the exclusion of structure.

The representative, whatever her/his background, preference and interests, makes decisions to the extent to which s/he is allowed to do by the people they represent.  That is, the question of who represents is less important than how they represent.

This is a question of power.  Currently, we (well Chris and Norm) argue about who should represent because they accept the norm that, once in position, parliamentary representatives can more or less do what they want.   It is that way precisely we regard them as representatives, rather than delegates.

But it needn’t be that way, at least on the Left (I don’t give a monkey’s what the Right does).

Back here, I argued for the development of a new power relationship between local parties and MPs-as-delegates, rather than MPs-as-representatives.  Creating a new power relationship, I argued, would of itself lead to an unsurge in working-class representation in parliament, as organisers replace orators.

Making sure that these new power relationship happen develop is, of course, an uphill struggle, but we should at least start out on that struggle with clarity that our main obstacle to progress is not the enduring policy preferences of the posh boys, but our continued acceptance of the posh boys’ terms of engagement with a working class party.

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  1. November 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I agree. I’d add that the reason the working class get a raw deal is not that posh boys are in government, but rather that structural forces cause it to be so: this is partly the structure of capitalist power, partly the global excess supply of labour and partly the way in which structure creates ideology.
    It’s also the case that a government of all poshos (or all women, straights, whites or whatever) would be a bad thing not (just) simply because this would be a strong clue that others lack political and economic power.
    In a sense, that post of mine was a (feeble) effort to get people away from merely moaning about Cameron’s background

    • paulinlancs
      November 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

      Ta Chris. Yes, I know you get this stuff – my ‘criticism’ of you was simply the jumping off point for setting out the stuff on which we boradly agree (and of course in my piece I focus on the agency of the local parties etc, rather than the wider structures you identify, which force their actions).

      I’ve corrected the para whih simply made no sense.

  1. November 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm

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