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Toeing the party line – MPs’ answers to the ten big questions


WHAT do our parliamentary representatives really think about climate change, Covid-19, migrant Channel crossings and transgenderism?  Two months ago I presented ten questions for readers to send to their MP. By the time of writing, 14 MPs had responded, with 11 sets of answers. Not a large sample, but the respondents included none other than our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. The responses might be what you would expect, yet they are an important guide to the state we are living in.

This was not a systematic survey: I don’t know how many MPs were sent the list of questions, and the respondents were not proportionate to party share in Westminster. Indeed, most were Tories, with three Labour MPs and one from the SNP (whom the constituent chose to anonymise). Veteran Labour MP Sir George Haworth sent mostly the same responses to two of his constituents. Danny Kruger (Conservative, Devizes) wrote cryptically to a reader who sent the questions alongside commentary: ‘Thanks very much for writing, and for sending your catechism. I think I score 7/9 in agreement with you (if I understand your implied views).’

Two MPs replied without answers to the questions: The secretary for Sir David Evennett (Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford) wrote: ‘Sir David does not complete surveys.’ Natalie Elphicke (Conservative, Dover) directed her constituent to her website for her views. Interestingly Elphicke was the only female MP to respond (out of 225).

Thanks to all the TCW readers who sent the questionnaire to their MPS, and to the MPs who took the trouble to reply. 

1.    Do you believe that there is a climate crisis?

All ten who answered agreed that there is a climate problem, most emphatically Rishi Sunak:

‘First, it is important that we recognise the importance and urgency of action needed on climate change. The UN’s IPCC has concluded that the world is warming faster than anticipated, the effects of which are being seen in every single region of our planet. Immediate global action is needed to limit global warming, heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and loss of Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.’

From his North Yorkshire manor, Sunak sees a land of green opportunities, believing that ‘the UK can rapidly cut carbon emissions, while creating new jobs, technologies and future-proof industries that will generate economic growth for decades to come’.  

Stock statements were evident throughout the responses: junior transport minister Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) and his Tory colleague Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) both used this paragraph: – 

‘The overwhelming consensus of international climate change scientists is that climate change is happening and that it is exacerbated by human activity. Uncertainty does exist in climate science, as it does in other fields, but this does not negate the value of current evidence, and the strong correlation between global warming and rising greenhouse gas concentrations from human activity since 1900.’

Merriman also repeated verbatim Sunak’s point about the IPCC and dramatic evidence of climate change. Merriman’s last line was also used by colleague Edward Timpson (Eddisbury). Merriman explained that the IPCC report shows that ‘immediate action is required to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 to give a good chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C in the long-term and help to avoid the worst effects of climate change.’

Sir John Whittingdale (Conservative, Maldon) is ‘pleased that the UK was the first major economy to legislate to achieve net zero and work is already underway to ensure the UK achieves this by 2050 and thereby eliminate our country’s contribution to climate change.’ 

Verdict: Climate change is indisputable, and as mayor of London Sadiq Khan warns in his book Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency, you’d better get used to paying for it.

2.    Do you believe that Covid-19 was a deadly pandemic?

The severity of Covid-19 was not in doubt. Merriman used seven million deaths as evidence, while the SNP respondent wrote: ‘Having lost friends to this deadly disease, my answer is an unequivocal yes.’ According to Sunak, ‘it was one of the greatest challenges this country faced since the Second World War’. Whoa! – doesn’t comparing Covid-19 to the fight against fascism get you suspended from the House of Commons and kicked out of the Conservative Party, as happened to Andrew Bridgen?

Verdict: An unprecedented contagion, albeit with symptoms, vulnerability of the frail elderly and infection mortality rate undifferentiated from influenza.

3.    Do you believe that lockdown was necessary?

Three years after schools, churches, football grounds, pubs and other businesses were forced to close, there is little remorse from MPs who passed the draconian legislation. The only contrary response was by John Redwood (Conservative, Wokingham), who voted against all lockdown measures. On the necessity of lockdown, Damian Collins (Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe) ‘believed it was at the time but agree with the government that this is not a response that should be repeated’. Sunak claimed to have mitigated its economic impact when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The MPs believe that lockdown saved lives, although no evidence was given. Timpson and the SNP respondent referred to the Covid-19 inquiry (which sceptics already predict will be a whitewash). According to Merriman, ‘until an effective vaccine was developed and rolled out, unprecedented public health measures were required’. As we have come to expect, there was no doubting lockdown by the Labour MPs.

Verdict: Come another pandemic and they’ll do it again. Or rather, the World Health Organisation will do it for them.

4.    Do you believe that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective?

According to George Haworth (Labour, Knowsley), ‘given the urgency of the situation, the vaccines were as safe and effective as could reasonably be expected’. Merriman was satisfied that the authorities know what’s good for us:

‘I can assure you that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has followed rigorous procedures to ensure the vaccines meet the high standards needed to be considered both safe and effective. The MHRA is one of the most respected regulators in the world and I welcome that the World Health Organisation has commended the work of the MHRA and backed their approach. Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through rigorous clinical trials and safety checks. I am proud that the UK has some of the highest safety standards in the world. So far, millions of people have been given a Covid-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare.’

Sunak dispelled concerns using much the same text as Merriman. Espousing individual autonomy, Redwood had ‘argued against vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations for care home and healthcare workers’, but he regarded the vaccine as generally safe.

Verdict: The vaccine was a miracle of science, and it is heresy to claim otherwise.

5.    Do you support billions of pounds of military supplies and indirect or direct involvement of our armed forces in the war in Ukraine?

No respondent opposed war in Ukraine. Stephen Kinnock (Labour, Aberavon) said: ‘I am supportive of the actions we have taken thus far to help Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s illegal and barbaric invasion.’

Merriman didn’t like the implication of the question: ‘Vladimir Putin, enabled by Belarus, has unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air. This is a premeditated and wholly unprovoked attack, barbaric in execution, on a sovereign democratic state, and I strongly object to your view that it need not concern the UK. The UK – indeed, the world – cannot stand idly by whilst Russian troops lay siege to once peaceful European cities, whilst tanks tear through towns and villages and ordnance rains down indiscriminately on homes and hospitals. We have the moral duty to respond to these horrific acts, which are not only an attack on the principles of the UN Charter but also amount to war crimes.’

Sunak, after exactly the same wording as Merriman’s, added that ‘Putin must fail – and we must work to ensure he does.’ However, Merriman and Howarth denied any present or future engagement of British armed forces in Ukraine.

Verdict: The West’s proxy war with Russia will continue, fuelled by propaganda about Putin as a reprise of Hitler.

6.    Do you regard the tens of thousands of people crossing the English Channel and entering the country illegally as refugees?

MPs are of course aware of the public unease about mass immigration, and particularly the illegal entry by mostly young men crossing the Channel from France. On whether these are genuine refugees, Andrew Stephenson (Conservative, Pendle) remarked: ‘No, and by legal definition they are not refugees until any claim they make for asylum has been accepted. It should be noted slightly less than half do apply successfully. I support the Rwanda plan and the Illegal Migration Bill, and welcome the Prime Minister’s plan to stop the boats.’

Whittingdale averred that most of the marine gatecrashers are ‘economic migrants’ who should be sent back. Redwood stated that he has consistently voted for laws to stop illegal immigration. Merriman and Timpson promoted government policy on removing failed asylum-seekers to the safety of Rwanda. Sunak emphasised his policy to stop the influx: ‘The volume of small boat arrivals is overwhelming our asylum system, putting communities under unsustainable pressure through the unfair use of hotels and diverting resources from those in genuine need.’ However, the Conservative government has achieved nothing on this after 13 years in power.

The Labour MPs were more concerned about the slow processing, Haworth claiming that ‘over 90 per cent of those who seek asylum in the UK are deemed to have satisfied the criteria for refugee status, either on the basis of their initial application or on appeal, while Kinnock replied: ‘It is only possible to ascertain whether or not someone is a refugee by processing their application for asylum. Some are legitimate and some are not, but due to the utter incompetence of the UK Government, processing has all but stopped and we currently have a backlog of 166,000 (when Labour left office in 2010 the backlog stood at fewer than 10,000).’ Kinnock, unlike the Tory MPs who are fixated on Rwanda, said that anyone refused asylum should be returned to their country of origin.

The SNP respondent wrote: ‘I oppose the current UK Government closing safe and legal routes to enter the UK. I note the current Bill going through Parliament does nothing to address the criminal gangs involved in such crossings but seeks to punish those most vulnerable and often victims of trafficking.’

Verdict: The focus on ‘small boats’, while no trivial matter, is a distraction from the much larger number coming by air or tunnel routes. The perception of an orchestrated invasion is illustrated by Ireland, where hundreds arrive at Dublin Airport every day (there are no boats making the perilous voyages from Cherbourg to Cork). 

7.    Do you believe that it is safe for dozens of undocumented male migrants to be housed in our towns?

Sunak acknowledged that ‘it is unfair on the British taxpayer or local communities to keep asylum-seekers in hotels . . . there are currently over 45,000 asylum-seekers living in hotels around the country, at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £6million a day’. To accommodate ten thousand of the illegal incomers, disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites are under acquisition, Sunak remarking that ‘this accommodation should be rudimentary and will be designed to protect the local community’.

Stephenson avoided the question, replying that ‘you would need to be clear what you mean by undocumented’. The SNP respondent commented that ‘those with criminal records should be detained’. However, the government cannot be sure who some of these migrants are, as they do not bring identification. Perhaps, in some cases, this is because they are fleeing justice or have been jailed for serious crimes in their own countries.

Merriman, facing uproar over a huge migrant camp opening on a derelict prison site in his East Sussex constituency, tried to allay fears, stating: ‘The Home Office confirmed that all asylum seekers arriving at Northeye will be screened. This will include checking criminal convictions to ensure that only those deemed suitable are accommodated there . . . Research undertaken by police forces elsewhere in the country has shown that there has been no uptick in criminal activity associated with the opening of asylum centres. I have previously been informed by the Home Office that around 70 per cent of asylum seekers from countries of the type expected in Northeye have their claims for asylum granted due to having a sound reason to flee their home country. Claims for asylum will be viewed negatively should any law-breaking or trouble occur during the applications stage.’

Verdict: As the borders will remain porous, the solutions seem to be no better than moving the deckchairs – but with far too many people to sit on them.

8.    Do you support teaching of transgender ideology to our schoolchildren?

Collins gave a simple ‘no’ to this. Kinnock denied it is happening, remarking that ‘there is no place for ideology in our schools, full stop’. Mick Whitley (Labour, Birkenhead) took the typical politician’s approach of reframing the question to his liking: ‘Do I believe age appropriate sex education is provided for school students on all matters of gender and sexuality? Yes.’ Similarly, the SNP respondent replied: ‘I am unaware of what you describe as a transgender ideology being taught to schoolchildren. Should children be taught that trans people exist, yes.’

Timpson, within a lengthy response, explained: ‘It is up to schools, with the support of teachers and parents, to decide the most appropriate and necessary policies to put in place for their pupils. This may include whether they provide unisex or gender neutral toilets, and their approach to school uniform. The Department for Education is clear, however, that schools must tackle all forms of discrimination and this includes discrimination because of gender reassignment or sexual orientation.’

Redwood, by contrast, opined that ‘many young women and girls feel extremely vulnerable in same sex changing rooms and bathrooms and it is important that they feel protected’, and that ‘separate unisex (or universal) toilets should be provided if there is space but should not come at the expense of female toilets’. Redwood conceded that respect should be afforded to trans people, but ‘biological fact cannot be ignored’.

According to Sunak, ‘this is a complex and sensitive subject for schools to navigate’. Government guidance is being developed ‘to support schools both in relation to transgender pupils and those who are questioning their gender’. He assured parents that they would be involved in any decision about their child.

Verdict: The state is the arbiter on child’s gender identity, and its teaching material (guided by transgender campaigners) will encourage more turmoil.

9.    If you do not agree with any of the above, what are you doing to oppose such a policy?

Judging by the lack of response, this was a dud question.

10.                       Finally, what is a woman?

Sunak, Collins, Timpson, Redwood, Stephenson and the SNP respondent clearly defined a woman as an adult human female, as did Whittingdale: ‘The Gender Recognition Act provides a way for people to change their gender, but biological sex allows us to determine the difference between a man and a woman and this is set at birth with a woman having two X chromosomes, and a man an X and a Y.’

The Labour MPs were less certain, Kinnock writing from personal experience: ’99 per cent of the time a woman is a person who is biologically female, but let’s not disparage or fail to support those who are non-binary in terms of their gender identity. For example one of my two children was born female as Camilla but is now called Milo, and uses the pronouns he / him. Milo is a truly wonderful person, and I love him and am incredibly proud of him.’

A moralising stance was taken by Whitley to defining a woman: ‘An over simplistic question deliberately designed to muddy the waters with regards to the debate on how best to defend and extend of Trans Rights. I resolutely support Trans people in their campaign for equality and dignity.’

Verdict: MPs are wary of upsetting the majority of female voters, but the clarity of definition may be misleading. Would a ‘trans woman’ who is biologically male qualify under their criteria? Finally, I speculate that this question may have deterred female MPs from responding. It’s a minefield of their making.

To conclude, the answers by MPs are revealing in that most are in tune with the official narrative. This puts them at odds with many if not most of their constituents. Do they care? 

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