Letter: Tatton triumph for Rousseau

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The Independent Online
Sir: In the spirit of your election-day banner from The Social Contract of Rousseau, it is specially fitting that Martin Bell should have become the Member of Parliament for Tatton. No other MP can claim to uphold a Rousseauist notion of the general will, free of all patronage or party allegiance; he alone, in his political career, need never fear the lash of a whip.

The man he defeated stands accused of a breach (which he denies) of the most fundamental of all Rousseau's principles - that is, of putting his own liberty up for auction and of permitting the public interest to be bought from a private purse. Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport, MP for the same constituency when it was called Knutsford, was a descendant of Richard Davenport, Rousseau's closest friend among Englishmen, who offered him a home in Derbyshire in which he drafted much of his Confessions.

Rousseau would no doubt have approved of an assembly, composed of citizens, like Mr Bell, who might seek to make their colleagues accountable for the questions they pose in chamber and for the gifts they receive. He would certainly have welcomed the arrival of an MP, stirred by conscience and experience, among colleagues whose indifference to the commission of war crimes abroad contributed mightily to the United Kingdom's loss of international standing over the last parliament.

If some of Mr Bell's electors may have had other reasons for supporting his candidacy, they may at least agree with him, and Rousseau, that tribunes of the people serve them most attentively if they do not aspire to hold their seats for more than one term.



The writer is Reader in the History of Political Thought at the University of Manchester