• 黃絲與貓呢?|戴啟思
  • 2020-03-21    

 

Blue Ribbons and Dogs-Half-Way to a Dictatorship

I read the other day that the Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission was constrained to comment on the actions of some District Councillors that had been the occasion of complaints to his office. They had reportedly put up a notice outside their offices saying, "We do not serve blue ribbons" and "No blue ribbons and dogs allowed".

He said that the statements that were the subject of the complaints did not fall under any of the anti-discrimination ordinances in which he had an interest. He could take no legal action. However, he did say that it was regrettable that the Councillors concerned appeared to be saying that they would not be serving some of their constituents because of political considerations.

He was right to express regret. When elected to representative public office by the public at large, the new officeholder must represent the interests of the electorate, not just the people who voted for him or her.

In 1774, a Parliamentary candidate, Edmund Burke, had made the same point in an election contest to elect a Member of Parliament for Bristol. His rival had promised that, if elected, he would act as the agent of those who had voted him in.

Burke thought differently about the responsibilities of a parliamentary representative. He told the electors that he would not be an agent or mere mouthpiece but would bring independent judgment to bear on those issues which affected all his constituents. That might mean him going against their wishes sometimes.

Burke's words and phraseology show their age nearly 250 years from the time when he said them, but they are powerful and persuasive. They are also as valid today as two centuries ago. It is worth setting out here what he had to say to the electors.

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

A District Councillor that closes their mind to the interests and welfare of some of the voters, only because of their differing political views, should not be in that office. Section 61 of the District Council Ordinance sets out the job description of a District Councillor in describing the functions of District Councils.

They are to advise the Government on "(i) matters affecting the well-being of the people in the District, and (ii) on the provision and use of public facilities and services within the District; and (iii) on the adequacy and priorities of Government programmes for the District; and (iv) on the use of public funds allocated to the District for local public works and community activities."

That is a lot to do. Being a District Councillor is hard work. A councillor will be expected to assess and balance the needs of the area, its residents and voters, community associations and local businesses. If a District Councillor belongs to a political party, then its demands need to be fitted into this mix. Still, they should not predominate at the expense of broader community interests.

If, as a District Councillor, you find that your political party is proving an obstacle to you discharging your functions as you would wish, then it is time to resign.

Resignation allows you to go back to the electors and ask them to vote for you as an independent candidate who, if elected, will no longer be constrained by party policies and will be 'his own man' (or woman).

If, however, you think that your party allegiance is no obstacle to doing an excellent job as a District Councillor, you might try and persuade those voters who gave their vote to a rival that they would have been better off voting for you. Politics is, after all, the art of persuasion. It may be a challenge, but it is necessary to do it sometimes if you wish to retain a seat.

What is unacceptable is for a District Councillor to ignore the interests and welfare of some of his or her constituents because of their political affiliation or because you think that party loyalties require it.

Another British political figure, the post-war Labour Prime Minister, made the point that misplaced party loyalties may be profoundly undemocratic and dangerous. He said, "If you begin to consider yourself solely responsible to a political party, you're half-way to a dictatorship."


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