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A Politician's responsibility to be fair

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  July 4, 2014 |

Council ChamgerOne unfortunate observation brought out by the recent dispute over the proposed planning application in Morley, is the apparent clash of responsibilities of those in power.  In this instance we have in mind local elected representatives, where the words and actions of some has undoubtedly been hurtful and indeed had a negative impact on the wellbeing of many members.  The possible clash is between the responsibility of such councillors and other politicians to represent and advocate for their constituents and in maintaining a fair line, which respects equality rules and alike.  I say possible and apparent clash for in reality I see no actual conflict.


The key point is that there is no reason why politicians cannot represent their constituent’s views or undertake related campaigns or media without breaking equality legislation.  Indeed there is no reason that breaking such rules in any way serves their electorate well.  Whilst sadly true that a small number of people will express intolerant views and that their representatives are not formally obliged to challenge or ignore these, nor are they obliged to endorse, support or indulge these.  They are certainly not obliged to validate, encourage and in some case positively foster such prejudiced opinions, as we have unfortunately observed in recent weeks from some Councillors.

It is also worth repeating the point GATE stressed to a local MP recently; that many of his constituents are actually from the Gypsy and Traveller community.  Therefore, to uncritically repeat the quite frankly intolerant language of another group of his residents is not simply ethically unacceptable but in practice foolish anyway.  It is the same case for other politicians in other areas and equally relates to other minority or marginalised groups.  That is, taking an intolerant line to please or supposedly ‘represent’ one set of views harms others and these people harmed are also constituents, often some of the most vulnerable, who have equal right to representation.

So what should elected representatives and other people in power do?  What can we reasonable expect from them?  We have to naturally be pragmatic and no naïve to the reality that there are often pressures on politicians, usually from nothing more than a vocal minority, to take less than equitable or fair action in relation to the Gypsy and Traveller community.  As a result we accept, with some disappointment, that elected members often have to moderate their support of our aims or challenge the intolerant view of some constituents only guardedly.  We do not have to accept however, that councillors or MPs need to unquestioningly support or less encourage such views.

To ensure and encourage such an approach, we and our members need to continue to remind politicians that Gypsies and Travellers are as much a part of their constituencies, with the power to vote, as anyone else.  Equally, we must strongly challenge those who portray fostering of intolerant views and policies as a necessary or neutral act of simply advocating the views of their electorate.  Politicians are under no duty, and certainly have no right, to act unfairly or inequitably. They would do well to keep this in mind and for us to remind them of the harm it can cause if they forget.

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