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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Yesterday evening I received a letter from my MP. I reproduce it below, with my response. This is the democracy that we do not want.

Dear Sir and Madam

Please forgive the unsolicited email but having corresponded with me before regarding your views on certain issues, I am now seeking yours.

With Parliament being recalled this Thursday to debate and vote on our potential intervention in Syria, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the issue. Please do not feel you need any detailed knowledge on the issue, I merely want to ascertain your gut reaction.

My current personal view is that while it is shocking to see pictures of chemical attacks on our screens and in our newspapers, I remain unconvinced that intervention would help diplomatic relations or ensure long term stability. I therefore need to be persuaded of the value of any intervention. Having said that I do remain open minded, hence this email.

Please do let me know what you think, preferably before the debate this coming Thursday.

Best wishes

Nick de Bois MP
Enfield North

My response:

Dear Mr de Bois,

I'd like to write, firstly, to thank you for soliciting a range of views on an important matter. It is, genuinely and despite the other criticism I want to level here, refreshing to see a politician listening to his or her constituents, especially given that the previous government manufactured false evidence in support of a devastating war in Iraq. For what it's worth (possibly very little: see below), I share your gut feeling that military intervention in Syria would be disastrous (although less for reasons of diplomatic relations and more because I suspect that there are ulterior motives and also for the damage I fear would be inflicted upon the lives of millions).

That said, I'd like to raise a point from your email that caused me great alarm, namely your statement: "Please do not feel you need any detailed knowledge on the issue, I merely want to ascertain your gut reaction."

While I can see that you are attempting to facilitate discussion, I would like to know why it is acceptable or desirable for decisions to be made on the basis of uninformed gut opinion, especially when they pertain to war and the inevitable deaths of totally innocent human beings. If you or I needed brain surgery, I presume we would not entrust our lives and safety into the hands of somebody who knew nothing about the topic but merely had a gut feeling on the matter; we would want the opinions of informed experts to be more strongly weighted. Why, then, should we entrust the lives of others into the same gut feelings? This seems to me to be the worst side of a democracy that we do not and should not want: that the baying mob, influenced by the media, can override expertise.

The government of which you are a part has committed itself to evidence-based policy and transparency. Simultaneously, building on the legacy of a hypocritical New Labour, on matters pertaining to foreign policy most people are precluded from knowing the information that would allow them to make informed decisions and must resort to gut reactions, justified on the basis of national security concerns. It is, of course, a combination of these modes that allowed Labour to conduct their illegal war: ensuring that people did not have the evidence to make informed decisions and then pronouncing themselves the sole experts who must make the decision on our behalf. I think, though, that it is time to decide which of these modes you support.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Martin Paul Eve