|Mr Godson says a politician's conscience should have a role to play in how he governs|
Mr Godson, the first black MP in Poland, has said he will quit Civic Platform (PO) if forced to vote “against his conscience.” WBJ asked him whether, in such an event, he would consider joining the ruling party’s main rival, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, as has been speculated. We also talked about divisions in PO and whether dissent is tolerated in the ruling party.
Remi Adekoya: In your opinion, what is the role of a politician in parliament and in society?
John Godson: At the parliamentary level, a politician co-creates policy while I believe the role of a politician in society is to be a leader, a role model. He should be a servant because he is someone whom voters have chosen and paid to represent them.
If a politician’s role is to represent his electorate, that means the views he pushes through in parliament should reflect the views of at least a majority of that electorate, is that not so?
Yes, that is true but there is also a role that a politician’s conscience has to play. The fact that a majority of my voters might be in support of legalizing euthanasia when I am against it does not mean I have to support that in parliament.
This is also the case with many populist sentiments. I am sure the majority of voters would like to pay no tax at all and would support an abolition of income tax altogether, but that does not mean I should push for such a change in the law. Ultimately, a politician has to take personal responsibility for whatever he does in parliament.
I asked that question because you recently voted for work to continue on a legislative bill which would further restrict abortion in Poland. If a poll among your voters were to show they don’t support that, what would you say to them?
I would be glad to listen and I am listening to what they are saying right now. I support the existing abortion compromise we have. My problem is with those suggesting changes that would enable abortion, if tests show the future child might have a mental disease, for example, like Down’s Syndrome. That is eugenics.
As an immigrant in Poland, I don’t think it is my role to get involved in abortion wars. But coming back to my electorate, it is varied. A huge number of people voted for me despite the fact that they don’t support the party I am in because of my stand on ethical issues.
You must know it takes great strength to raise a child who is mentally handicapped. If a family feels it is in their best interest to forgo that difficulty, why should the law force them to?
This is a matter of human rights, the right to life. There are people among us who are handicapped. Exterminating unborn babies because they will be handicapped and don’t have a voice is equal to exterminating handicapped people who are alive. The role of any society is to try and protect those who are weaker, especially those who are unborn.
Having said that I am not against abortion in all cases. For example, in the case of rape and incest, I believe a woman should have the right to choose whether to have the baby or not. Also, if tests show the fetus is damaged beyond limit.
What about the in vitro fertilization procedure? Do you support it?
I support it. I have four children and I know the joy they bring. I might not use that method but I don’t have the right to stop it. I am pro-life and want to help create life. There are only questions regarding the freezing of embryos and how many eggs need to be harvested that should be sorted out. But I leave that to the experts. On in vitro, I don’t have the kind of strong views I have on abortion.
What about gay marriage?
I am against it.
The constitution says that marriage is between a man and a woman. I am a Christian and believe in what the Bible says. I respect gays but I cannot accept and vote for gay marriage or the adoption of children by homosexuals.
Because homosexuality is a sin?
That’s one of the reasons.
There are heterosexuals who commit major sins but are allowed to raise children. Even a murderer who is a heterosexual can get married and raise children …
Homosexuality is not natural and has a negative effect on society, as well as on children. There are enough laws to guarantee gays their rights but I am against putting gay marriage on the same platform as heterosexual marriage.
But why exactly?
I have already told you: for social reasons, for religious reasons and for ethical reasons. I do not accept it.
Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
I have heard different opinions. Some believe it’s a choice, some believe it can be genetic. There might be situations where people are born with such genes.
Human beings tend to pick behavioral patterns they believe will bring them benefits in their society and not behavior that will marginalize them. It’s difficult to imagine that, especially in a conservative society like here in Poland, people would actively choose to be gay …
It’s usually not that simple but rather a combination of different events in people’s lives. I know people who became gay because they went to an all-male boarding school and then got used to having relations with other men. I know people who became gay because they were molested during their childhood. I do sympathize with the issues they grapple with but I do not think they should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
You have said publicly you will leave PO if forced to vote against your conscience on social issues. If that were to happen, would you join another party, like PiS for example?
I wouldn’t like to comment on that now because of the situation in PO. Right now I am not being forced to vote against my conscience in PO. But if I were ever to leave PO, I would be an independent.
Are there any other issues which cause divisions within PO, maybe economic issues?
No. I myself am conservative when it comes to moral issues and liberal on economic issues and sensitive or leftist on social issues. PO is the kind of party which brings people from the right and the left together. That is its strength but it could also become a weakness.
If there is no adequate respect for other opinions, no discussions with contrary views but rather one view is imposed on others, then that eclectic nature of PO could become a weakness.
And are views being imposed now?
No, that is not the case.
So on economic issues, are you closer to Margaret Thatcher or to Tony Blair, for example?
I believe in people being industrious and in the government giving people the freedom to create wealth and not getting in their way. I believe in hard work.
That sounds like Thatcher-speak …
But I am also very interested in helping people who are not able to cope in life. I am a big supporter of charity and empowerment. I try to do my bit by awarding scholarships to talented students out of my own pocket. Seventy-two students have already benefited from that.
There have been many reports of factions within PO battling each other. Is it true there is not much interaction between liberals and conservatives in PO?
No, that’s not true. We have meetings with each other.
I am not talking about formal meetings. Do you meet on an informal basis with each other?
Yes, we do. People have friends across the ideological divide. Also, just because someone is conservative doesn’t mean he attends meetings held by conservatives in the party. Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin, who has been described by the media as the leader of the conservatives, doesn’t always attend meetings organized by them.
Is Mr Gowin really the leader of the conservative faction?
He leads part of the group.
Forty MPs or fewer?
Around 40. But actually I wouldn’t even say he is their leader. I would rather describe him as one of the leaders and the most visible part of that leadership. He brings people together to discuss issues. But when you look at voting records, you can see there are about 80 conservative MPs in PO in total.
Has the opposition tried to take advantage of some of these differences in PO, by wooing some MPs to decamp?
Yes, they have. But when we identify others trying to capitalize on ideological differences within the party, then we put those differences under wraps. Especially a few months ago, there was significant activity on the part of the opposition to encourage some in PO to decamp. For me that is not an option.
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