Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Do Our Armed Forces Deserve Their Own MP?

In the run up to the 1997 General Election I faced the same quandary I'd faced since joining the Royal Air Force in 1978. Do I vote for one of the candidates in the locality I was currently posted to, or perhaps should I impose my vote on the locality I had left to join the RAF regardless of whether I would return there or not?  In the end I resorted to allowing my mother to make a proxy vote and never asked her who she voted for. This state of affairs continued until I left the RAF in 2002.

Although it is laudable that Servicemen and women (and their eligible family members) have these options, none are really that great to a person who believes in voting.  Additionally voting isn't the only quandary: all UK residents have the right to seek the assistance of their MP, regardless of whether they voted for him or her, or even voted at all.  MPs provide a huge amount of assistance to individuals up and down the country, lending weight and influence that is otherwise difficult to obtain. I'm sure many do this because they believe it is a central plank of their vocation, however it is also true that the people they help are usually voters and related to voters, and I'm sure that affects their reasoning. 

I felt back then that the state of affairs wasn't wholly appropriate to serving members of the Armed Forces and their families. As stated above I and others felt voting for a constituency we were at best transient in (if in the UK at all) or for some other place we didn't actually live in wasn't right and although I don't have the data at my disposal I'd guess that voting amongst Service Personnel is likely to be lower than in many professions, despite being the profession most likely to be placed in danger by politicians. I also felt that the MP local to wherever I was posted was unlikely to be fully cognisant of the special rules and regulations affecting Service Personnel, and a small part of me wondered if they would consistently push as hard for effectively transient constituents.

I came up with the idea back then that the Armed Forces should be given a virtual constituency, a constituency not governed by physical boundaries but by the needs of the Armed Forces of all ranks worldwide.  The MP voted into this constituency would be as independent of the Ministers who govern the military as conventional constituency MPs are and indeed might be a member of an opposition party. He or she could afford to immerse themselves in the special issues affecting the servicemen and women and their families and would campaign exclusively on behalf of the military.

Back then it was a pipe dream, but today I've made the first steps into making a debate about this a reality.  I've started a petition in the UK, which is to be found at this link.

But are the Armed Forces such a special case that they can warrant a constituency of their own? What about the police, the doctors and nurses?

Well, I'm sure we could make arguments for many specific groups, but the Police, doctors and nurses have a lot of control over where they live and work, whether they deploy overseas and can hand their notice in when the going gets tough.  The military can't.

Also, the Police, doctors and nurses have unions and federations to support them in difficult times, Servicemen and women are forbidden from joining or forming such organisations.  They are also actively dissuaded from acting politically publically, although of course they can vote.  If they had their own constituency their voting trend would indicate the general political mood of the Armed Forces.

But isn't the Government cutting back on MPs?

Yes, by the next election there will be fewer MPs, so their workload will be proportionately greater.  which means less time for each constituent and when they are stretched perhaps they will prioritise those most likely to be in their constituency at the time of the next election most.  I understand the desire to reduce MPs, if only for cost reasons, but suspect serving personnel are unlikely to benefit from this.  In fact, probably will risk the opposite.

What can you do?

If you see merit in this petition and you are eligible to participate in UK petitions then please follow the link and add your vote.  Even if you don't fully support the petition for some reason please consider sharing it on social media and telling your friends about it.  We need at least 10,000 signatures to make the government look at this and after 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

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