Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Criteria for Representation

Last year on Tuesday 27th December 2011 There was an exchange of views with Lord Lipsey on the BBC Today programme.  It can be heard via the following link. (It takes time to upload)
The essence is whether Britons who live abroad should have the Right of Representation in the British Parliament.  This ‘Right’ is often expressed as the ‘Right to Vote’.
What does ‘Right to Vote’ really Mean?
Many people are not clear what they mean by ‘the right to vote’.  
In its very essence when you vote, you are saying “I wish that this person for whom I cast my vote will represent my interests in the discussions in Parliament which will affect my interests.   I expect that this person (the MP) will make efforts to understand my point of view and will make every effort to interpret that point of view before the other fellow MPs.”
The meaning is not “I am casting my vote for this MP who then can act in a manner which is quite immaterial to my interests.”   The vote is only effective if the MP for whom the vote is cast actually knows something about the voter!
It only makes sense to have the ‘vote’ if you have the need as expressed above.
So we ought to continue by speaking of ‘Representation’ rather than ‘having the vote’. We must also explore the nature of ‘need’.  ‘Having the Vote’ is synonymous with ‘having Representation’.  Below this is the thought behind the phrase ‘having the vote’, when it is used.
Unfortunately, through historical accident the criteria for having Representation has been separated from the need for Representation. 
What are the existing criteria to have the ‘Right to Representation’?
Lord Lipsey asserted that ‘taxation is the main basis of representation’. He also asserted that ‘one has to live in Britain to vote in Britain’.  He did not say (but he didn’t get the opportunity) that one has to be a British National to be able to vote. 
None of these three ‘criteria’ as currently used as test of need are meaningful.
1.   Taxability –payment of tax to the British State –being part of the Economy of the Nation
Millions of people who are resident in Britain and who are also British Nationals pay no income tax, But are politically represented. That is because they have low incomes. But they are represented. They are however taxable if they had an income, but the fact is they pay no income tax to the British State. They remain members of society.
There are however thousands, resident in Britain, who do pay income tax but have no representation (e.g. foreign nationals). They are members of the British society and usually very worthwhile members.
Hundreds of thousands who live abroad pay income tax to the UK., and yet do not have representation. (All ex- military, local Government workers, teachers, fireman, police retirees.)
Lord Lipsey mentioned the payment of VAT on  purchases and claimed that the Briton Abroad  does not pay VAT to the British State, and therefore are not part of the economy of the country.  Yes they do, and to that extent yes they are part of the economy.  This is particularly so within the confines of Europe where the principle of free trade – a founding principle  of the ‘Common Market’ - prevails.   Thousands of British people living in Europe frequently buy goods from Britain.  To instance this I have purchased, electric fencing, microwave oven, food mixer, trousers, dress patterns, jumpers, socks, two sofas, watch batteries, books, CDs and DVDs, some rugs, rose plants, and more within the past three years from Britain. On all these VAT was paid to the British State. We have even purchased food items, but not our daily bread – but daily bread carries no VAT in the UK.  We have as it happens purchased a bread maker from the UK. (All goods were cheaper to buy including delivery, from the UK, than in France. The sofas are of better quality.)
Moreover since so many (more than 1 million old age pensioners to start the count) have incomes from Britain, those enormous numbers all have a shared interest in the Economy of Britain.
If we see this from Lord Lipsey’s point of view then most certainly they should be represented and his arguments have no basis. 
Many people have  reasons to be concerned about the Economy of Britain  but have no vote - 
If one is a foreign national and resident in Britain then one is taxed in Britain and subject to all British laws  but one is not represented.  So a Frenchman living and working in Britain has no vote!  [But he has the vote and is Represented in the National Assembly in Paris!]
Those British Nationals who have lived abroad for less than fifteen years can be represented.
So this criterion of ‘residence’ is not a hard and fast fixed factor.

One might reasonably claim that many non-nationals have a need for Representation but do not have it.  I observe that this argument would also apply to all European Citizens in any State of the EU.
Some non-British nationals can vote (be represented?) if they reside in Britain. All Commonwealth citizens and Irish citizens who are resident in Britain can register for the vote and can be thereby represented.  They need not have any income and therefore may not be taxed. 
Representation is here related to a peculiar historical circumstance of Nationality and Residence together.
The Commonwealth countries do not always have laws in sympathy with this spirit.  A UK citizen does not necessarily enjoy the same rights as an Australian in Australia!
(Australians in Australia are obliged to vote in Australian elections).
British nationals living abroad, at the present time (2012) have no permanent representation in Britain.
So various non-British nationals can vote in Britain and large numbers of British Nationals  who live abroad cannot.
What should be the criterion for a Right of Representation?
The sole requirement for Representation should be the very need itself to be recognised. It is not a gift to be handed down from a 'beneficent Government' but an inherent Right arising from the need.
[Need is not just related to material matters - it involves an emotional relationship as well. Surely if one has no emotional or material need then representation is not desired. One is not compelled to avail oneself of  the Right to representation.]
This need has a triple aspect.  The intensity of each varies according to the individual citizen.
1. That of social concern.
Your immediate family interests.  And also, your relationship as a British national with the State where you are resident.
2. Economic involvement.
Where one’s money comes from, and where it is invested or spent.
3. Emotional association to the ‘homeland’
The love of one’s country and its performance on the World Stage.
Since it would impossible to quantify the special needs of each Briton Abroad, the single criterion that would be all inclusive is that of NATIONALITY. It is up to each person to know whether they have suifficient need to exercise their right to representation.
The need whereby Britons Abroad should have representation is spelled out in detail in the article linked below.
To support the campaign for Representation for Britons Abroad go to
and please leave a comment 

Brian and Helen Cave
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