Can a backbencher
make a difference?
The article below was written as a pull out feature
for 14-16 year olds for 'Citizenship Politics Association' a journal concerned with the
teaching of citizenship in schools.
The rebellion by 122 Labour MPs over the war in Iraq, rocked the
Labour Government proving that, even with its enormous majority, it is not invincible.
Only with Tory votes did Britains involvement in the war go ahead. Our
rebellion continues to lend weight to questions about whether the war was just or legal.
My view that it was not was supported by hundreds of constituents letters
which gave me courage to stand out against the policy of the leadership of my Party.
I put my message of dissent to the Government in different ways.
I forwarded every communication that I received to relevant ministers, added my
name to Parliamentary motions, spoke at meetings and posted information on my website.
I was lucky in the oral questions lottery that MPs enter every week and
my questions to the Prime Minister received publicity on the TV and radio. I am
still asking written questions about the war and its aftermath, making it harder for the
Government to join another pre-emptive war.
Backbenchers often come across injustice through helping
constituents with problems. We are in a unique position to know what is happening at
the grass-roots and then lobby ministers to try and change the policy causing the
problems. This often requires perseverance. A meeting at one of my surgeries
in 1994 led to the creation of the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism (transsexualism
is a recognised medical condition for which treatment is available on the NHS, not
to be confused with transvestitism or something to do with sexuality). Most
trans-people wish to remain anonymous to avoid discrimination it is easy to imagine
the hurtful jokes about sex changes when in reality people are just struggling
to feel normal and be accepted in their correct gender. Unfortunately, anonymity is easily
denied because changes of gender are not legally recognised. However, after 10 years
of campaigning, we have succeeded in forcing the Government to change the law to allow a
trans-person to ask for a corrected birth certificate (often required to prove identity).
It has been a struggle but at last the 4000 or so trans people in the UK will soon
get legal recognition in their correct gender so they can get on with their lives in
private and hopefully without discrimination or abuse.
Whether the issue is local (for example anti-social behaviour)
or of international concern like climate change or debt relief, when there is a principle
of social justice at stake, I refuse to be fobbed off with a weak response from those in
power. Backbenchers have little direct power, only the ability to hold those in
power to account by use of parliamentary procedures and the media. We are more
effective when we work with the people we are trying to represent. Constituents help
me formulate my ideas and campaigns, so go on - let your MP know your point of view!
Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak
Citizenship PA can be
contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info of interest to kids see links below...