Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mirror Mirror on the Wall...

Lembit Öpik MP
Lembit Comes a Very Creditable Last
...who is the most freedom hating MP of all?

Those with a modern enough web browser, and JavaScript enabled may have noticed my new 'Rogues Gallery' feature which pops up summary information on the great and the good, as well as the not so good and totally loathsome among out Members of Parliament, all based on data from the excellent Amongst the most interesting of all of the information from this site is the voting records of MPs on several policies. Luckily from my perspective, the policy areas focused on by the site are dominated by those concerning issues of individual liberty and the transparency and openness of our political processes. The voting data comes in turn from The Public Whip and comes with a number of health warnings, especially regarding absences, which can be read on the respective sites, but it nonetheless sometimes pops up some interesting behaviour of our elected representatives in the voting lobbies.

Buoyed by my success in getting the new feature work in all supported browsers I decided to have a look at the date en masse in a hunt for Britain's most freedom loving and hating MPs, and at last I can announce the winners and losers.

First the rules of the contest. The TheyWorkForYou data contains a rating for each MP as to what extent they agree or disagree with certain policies based on their voting behaviour in all relevant divisions. I've averaged their scores covered by TheyWorkForYou on issues affecting personal liberties, namely:

  • Introduction of ID Cards

  • NuLab Anti Terror Legislation

  • The Ban on Fox Hunting

  • The Ban on Smoking

  • Gay Rights

In all cases other than gay rights a low (good) score was obtained by opposing or attempting to weaken the legislation. Where no data was available for an MP, I awarded them a neutral score, which is probably pretty generous considering the number of convenient absences on these type of issues whenever personal positions have conflicted with doing the right thing. It also ignores any effect of whipping or absence through ministerial, or shadow ministerial, responsibility. Frankly, than the first two issues they were not especially heavily whipped, if at all, as I recall the votes, and if you care enough about these issues then you should stand up and be counted.

I considered including a number of other votes from TheyWorkForYou, namely:

  • Exempting Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act

  • The Regulatory Reform Bill

  • Opposition to Investigating the Iraq War

At the end of the day I decided to exclude these. Firstly they are mainly issues of parliamentary transparency, which while a good thing, is not really the same thing as individual liberty, just a mechanism which should contribute to the maintenance of these freedoms. Secondly the data for these items is rather sparse compared to the other issues.

So, time to open the golden envelope. From the top then, the MP least likely to vote for a measure taking away personal freedom is...and I hate to say it, because I think he's a bit of a Liberal Democrat MP, Lembit Öpik, best known for having a funny name and reminding everyone at every available opportunity, even during questions in House of Commons, that he is knocking off one of the Cheeky Girls. So, he gets the inaugural Liberty's Requiem Defence of Liberty Award, to put along side his Have I Got News For You 'Biggest gap between self-perception and reality over how fully I am' trophy.

Before we get on to the villain, a few observations from the data:

  • The best Conservative defender of freedoms is Mark Field (7th most pro-freedoms overall).

  • The best Labour defender of freedoms is Kate Hoey (12th most pro-freedoms overall).

  • Ms Hoey is also the most estranged from her team on these issues, with her nearest team mate being Mark Fisher in 141st place on the list.

  • Ming the Meaningless is best rated major UK wide party leader in 20th, narrowly beating of a challenge from
    David Cameron in 22nd.

  • Ming might want to think about the people he might get into bed with, with Tony Blair who ranks a modest 318th soon to be replaced by Gordon Brown who rates a miserable 424th.

  • There's something of the night about Ann Widdecombe who is the worst Conservative performer at 328th, compared to her more enlightened former boss Michael Howard, who comes in at a respectable 88th place. John Pugh holds the same dishonour for the Lib Dems at 294th.

  • David Amess is the only other Conservative to join Ann Widdecombe in the bottom half of the table, the remainder of which is rock solid NuLab control freak territory.

  • Ed Balls is bottom of the pops of anyone with a government job at 611th, while bizarrely John Reid's cigarette habit helps see him top the government charts at 307th, other than Blair the only government member in the top half of the charts.

  • Perhaps less surprisingly, with front runner Reid out of the race, Peter Hain is the cabinet champion of illiberality at 569th.

  • Other than Hain, the deputy leadership contenders in NuLab's Donkey Derby come in at 568th (Harriet Harman),
    489th (Hilary Benn), 451st (Hazel Blears),
    356th (Jon Cruddas), and 350th (Alan Johnson).

  • Average scores in terms of a pro-freedom position for the parties were as follows:

    • Plaid Cymru - 78.8%

    • SNP - 71.0%

    • Conservative - 67.3%

    • Liberal Democrat - 67.0%

    • DUP - 47.7%

    • SDLP - 47.3%

    • UUP - 40.0%

    • Labour - 28.7%

    If the issues regarding parliamentary transparency are factored in, the only thing that happens is that the Lib Dems move very marginally ahead of the Conservatives (thanks Maclean, though at least you come a reasonable 90th when it comes to personal freedoms), while NuLab distances itself further still from the people.

  • The individual issue patterns were pretty predictable, the Lib Dems scoring well on everything apart from smoking and an ambivalence on fox hunting, the Conservatives scoring well on everything apart from gay rights, and NuLab scoring badly on everything apart from gay rights.

Joe Benton MP
Benton - Benefit of Clergy
So who does hold the dubious record of being the least comfortable with his constituents having personal freedoms?

Who is Parliament's weakest link? Actually it turned out to be harder to pick one than expected.

Step forward Joe Benton, MP for Bootle. Quite frankly, he's not going to be too bothered, as he sits in the safest seat in the country. He's also amongst the select group of septuagenarians in the Commons which may explain some of his attitudes, as may his Roman Catholicism, Wikipedia noting that:
"He votes the Catholic conservative line on issues concerning abortion, embryo research, gay rights and euthanasia."

I can't really attack someone for standing firm to their religious principles that have influenced his appalling score. While I might disagree with those principles, he's pursuing a more honest course than some within the heart of government who simply absent themselves when these decisions are made. To be fair he also seems to have led a full and varied life outside politics before entering Westminster in 1990 unlike the type of younger NuLab zombie I despise, who consider a couple of years working as a political officer for a union or some such activity as 'real life'. He also was one of the rebels on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill which I would have liked to include in the rankings had the data been available, which would have probably saved him from bottom spot. All of that said, when I look at some more peripheral issues, I stop warming to him, where anything that increases the insulation of Parliament from the people seems to be welcomed enthusiastically.

David Marshall MP
Marshall - Booby Prize
As it seems to arise from personal convictions, rather than control freakery for the sake of control freakery like some of his colleagues, I've decided not to award the medal of shame to Mr Benton. I do though disagree with most of his policies, and if he's planning to stand again and if I was a voter in Bootle, even one with instinctive Labour sympathies, I might consider voting for a monkey, even one not wearing a red rosette.

The medal has to be go somewhere though, so I will use my judges discretion and, after due consideration, I will award it to David Marshall, MP for Glasgow East and the runner-up in this particular contest, whose overall voting record, whilst still seeming to be possibly religiously influenced is less convincingly so than Mr Benton's and smacks much more of traditional authoritarian leftism, without some of Benton's redeeming features.


Sam Smith said...

that is very cool

Dusanne said...

Cheers Sam, I might even have to reconsider my attitude to the beer that carries your name (no, not John Smiths, which is unforgivable), where I grew up.

Thanks for reading.