Southampton students recently welcomed and engaged in a Q&A session with Christopher Chope MP, in an open event organised by the University’s Conservative Association. Chope, who notoriously earned the moniker of “chopper” for his advocacy of spending cuts during his time in the Thatcher government, covered a breadth of topics, prompted by pertinent questions from the audience.
He began with an analysis on the current situation of UK politics. His contention – as a conservative – is that governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats reduces Parliament to agreeing on the “lowest common denominator”, therefore preventing a mandate to rule consistently and in a way that he believes would benefit the country. It’s possible to extrapolate from this that Chope finds Cameron guilty of appeasement on key policy issues, although it could be argued that this is an unavoidable outcome of a hung parliament. His concern is that the Conservative movement will face an uncertain future in this context.
Questions put forth from students ranged from the future of UK industry in face of shifting power in the global economy to the debate on welfare reforms. His responses, if controversial, were nonetheless satisfactory to the extent that they were candid and set out specifically to address the concerns that students raised.
Arguably the most significant portion of his speech came with his analysis of the way the current structure of UK politics damages the inner workings of Parliament. Chope cited the centralization of power as a key factor in the declining influence of party MP’s – often exceptionally qualified – independent opinion on legislation. He identified a tension between “parliamentarians”, who fulfil a necessary duty of criticising unsound legislation, and careerists, who overlook policy controversies in order to gain favour in the upper echelons of their party. The system, he argued, shamefully favours the latter.
His age and experience doubtless added to the flavour of the discussion. He gave a romantic account of the politics of past decades, where party dialogue with young members gave air to passionate and unique opinion, citing the young William Hague as an example. In bleak comparison, the current precedent is to favour “rehearsed” speakers who appease party doctrinaires.
Regardless of the controversy over his Thatcherite convictions, the hour spent in the Nuffield Theatre was an important and insightful view in to the inner workings of Parliament, and exactly the kind of discussions that students should continue to engage with at a time when engagement with democracy is in danger of ebbing away.