I know I’m on a loser here…

… but Cameron is dead wrong in calling for a reduction in the number of MPs.

There, I’ve said it – do your worst…

This kind of promise – like the one made by his predecessor, Michael Howard, before the 2005 election – is lazy and cynical. Also popular, which is why he made it.

But we’re an easy target, aren’t we? No-one’s going to get shouted down for proposing a cut in the number of MPs, or a cut in our salaries, or by demanding we travel everywhere in standard class. A colleague once bitterly said to me: “If the only reward for public service was to be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten fruit every month, there would be public demand for it to happen every fortnight.”

Nevertheless, Cameron’s wrong on this. And he’s not doing it out of any kind of principle, other than the principle that whatever benefits his party is a good thing. Yes, there is a pro-Labour bias in the current pattern of seat boundaries, just as there was a pro-Conservative bias in the 1980s (though I don’t remember any Tories complaining about that at the time…). And the reason that bias has developed is because it is actually quite difficult to draw a boundary that will contain a specific number of voters as well as accurately represent and reflect a particular community.

Any perceived bias could just as easily be sorted out by a redrawing of the existing number of seats. Iain Dale points out that while some inner city seats have electorates of about 50,000 (he doesn’t say which, incidentally), the Isle of Wight has about 100,000. So, in the new set up, would there be an Isle of Wight East and an Isle of Wight West, each with 50,000 electors? And if the two Isle of Wight seats have 50,000 electors, does that mean every seat on the mainland should have the same number? Or should 100,000 be the figure we’re aiming at for every seat? You can see where simplistic arguments start to fall down when it comes to the unexpectedly complicated area of boundary maps.

If Cameron wants to make a case for fewer MPs on the basis that we don’t need our current 646, then let him do so. But he shouldn’t simply be calling for an entirely arbitrary just because some seats have more electors than others. 

And he certainly shouldn’t be trying to score cheap political points by having a go at an easy target, made all the more easy by the fact that no bugger ever raises his heads above the parapet to defend us.

More seriously, any political leader may come to regret fueling the already absurdly high levels of anti-politics sentiment in this country.

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26 Comments

Filed under Conservative Party, David Cameron, Parliament

26 responses to “I know I’m on a loser here…

  1. Civil

    Should this really be down to Dave to say? Should it really be down to you to comment? No.

    Clearly the issue of gerrymandering can be avoided by effective use of the Boundary Commissions, leave these decisions to an impartial body, not down to politicians whose only desire is to get, or keep themselves in power.

  2. Jim Baxter

    The whole point of paying MPs a reasonable salary is to attract people of some calibre to stand for parliament who won’t then have to rely on another income should they be unlucky enough to be elected. OK, you’ll still get ego-maniacs in the HoC, and some will still milk the system. But they don’t cost that much and the alternative is worse. It’s been tried.

    About 650 is the right number. Create larger constituencies and fewer seats and MPs will become even more remote from the people they represent than too many of them are already.

  3. richard

    Back on topic;
    Anyone can see that a reduction in MP numbers is a necessary step in rebalancing the massive inbuilt bias that currently exists, requiring a 10%+ majority for the Conservatives to even consider forming a government.

    Stating that the Conservatives benefited from the same inequity thirty years ago is hardly a sensible justification for the present system.

    Secondly, there are already far too many MP’s, most of them with their snouts buried deeply in the trough, gorging themselves into senselessness on my money. Any reduction in numbers or salary would be a very welcome step in the right direction.

  4. Johnny Norfolk

    At last, just look at the layers of unwanted and not needed politicians we have.

    In my case

    1. Parish Council.
    2. District Council
    3. County Council
    4. Regional Council
    5. Westminster
    6. Europe

    we should get rid of 2,4 and 6.

    Increase the power of 1 & 3

    Reduce the power and number of MPs in 5.

    We have a top down system that has removed any power from the people.

    Referendums should be held on key issuess

    Then we may get some democracy back into our country.

  5. “This kind of promise – like the one made by his predecessor, Michael Howard, before the 2005 election – is lazy and cynical. Also popular, which is why he made it.”

    What’s lazy about looking at the current system and deciding it needs changing? Not just because it has an inbuilt bias for the Labour Party. (That would be cynical – and Labour doesn’t do cynical, does it? My arse!)

    No, the real reason is that the HoC has been packed with a raft of journeymen (and journeywoman – don’t want to offend Harriet) since 1997 who would better placed to be local councillors and union representatives for the increasing numbers of people in the state sector.

    It’s time for change. If this country is going survive the Brown-induced recession we need less central government and more people who are capable of dealing with local issues.

    Just think how much more efficient the economy would be if half of the current Labour MPs returned to their old jobs after the next general election. I’m sure this would be a very popular change for most of the electorate.

  6. Rapunzel

    Being relatively naive, I do wonder whether MPs would vote for a move which would potentially remove their own personal seats.

    Would the seats to be removed be known before the vote?

    Would there be an equal weighting, i.e. 25 Tory constituencies, 25 Labour, 10 other?

    Would the new constituencies be based on numbers of voters or geographical size? The constituency I vote in is already very large, but not densely populated, meaning my MP has a large area to cover for weekly surgeries.

    Is Dave after your constituency, Tom?

  7. pr roger j clementine iii cbe

    I genuinely can’t believe that Tam H, a guy who gets paid a wage(and expenses) that almost all of his constituents could only dream of, has the the gall, yes, the GALL, to bleat and moan about how roughly he and his HoC chums are treated!

    Down with the political class!

    Up with the, you know, other people!

    Onwards to victory . . .to GLORY!

  8. I love how JN wants to get rid of the layers that are more often represented by Labour rather than the layers which make decisions that affect people’s lives.

    Reducing the number of MPs would encourage MPs to play the numbers game rather than be diligent casework MPs. A more interesting approach would be to divide constituencies up by the average cases MPs were referred per year. Of course, that would guarantee a permanent Labour majority as the seats Labour hold require far more casework & active local presence than the seats Tories hold.

  9. change will inevitably come though with English MPs complaining about the influence of Scottish and Welsh MPs on bills that don’t directly affect their constituents. Could there by a Tory majority in England but a hung parliament/small labour majority in the UK. That would be an interesting situation, rife for tormented Daily Mail editorials.

  10. Simon

    I wouldn’t mind how many MP’s we had if they would only represent the views of their constituents instead of their party or personal beleifs. Once elected they treat the electorate with disdain and ignore their views. The EU referendum is a perfect example of this. Around the same time they were trying to pass a bill to keep their expenses secret which sums up the whole sorry saga.

  11. Blackacre

    There is one way to ensure balanced treatment of all – PR. I will have more time for commentators from the main two parties if they were to acknowledge that the current system is inherently unfair but extol whatever perceived benefits it brings.

  12. Pendolino Warrior

    A thought provoking issue on which some real nonsense is talked.

    Firstly the number of MPs and any seating bias are separate issues. I think you see that.

    Step 1 is to decide the number of MPs to be effective. (Perhaps step 0 is to answer the West Lothian Q). Step 2 is to allocate seats where you have hot the issue on the number/geography question.

    If “do nothing on the economy but change the voting system” has a concern that it is unfair that some votes are worth more than others then he should go the whole way and have some form of PR. Absent that he is just whining.

    The problem with PR is that multi member constituencies and North Wales/Scottish Highland geography do not sit well.

    The other problem with PR is that it drives MPs to being locally rather than nationally focussed as they need to fight for their seat.

    The idea, a comment not you Tom, that the number of MPs should reflect their caseload is rubbish. It reflects socialist Dependency Culture and Clientism where you are encouraged to believe you can only achieve anything through the help of the party in the form of your Councillor/MP to whom you will then be for ever in debt. In many Tory seats the voters look after themselves or get their lawyers to sort it out.

  13. Paul Williams

    It’s interesting to note that on the one hand you say;

    But we’re an easy target, aren’t we?

    then on the other you attack another MP of being unprincipled;

    And he’s not doing it out of any kind of principle, other than the principle that whatever benefits his party is a good thing

    Unprincipled MP? Surely that’s an easy target.

    Whatever Cameron’s motives, I’m less concerned by the actual number of MPs but more by the fact that they are rapidly losing any power they have, to do anything about issues that reflect the views of their electorate.

    There’s a whole host of issues that I don’t necessarily agree with, which affect my personal and business life, but I know it’s a waste of time lobbying my MP about it, because he would be well within his rights to shrug his shoulders and say ‘nowt I can do about it’.

    The reason? EU Directives.

  14. Jim Baxter

    I’m distrusting Cameron more by the day and this latest from him isn’t helping me to like him. Such is my despair at Labour that I was willing to forget what I believe about early indications of character with regard to the unfortunate Bullingdon business, misdirected youthful exuberance and all that. I’m now less willing to. He doesn’t want to change the way power is used, he just wants his turn to wield it.

    So what? One less vote for Cameron’s party won’t make a difference (sorry Davina). The thing is, I’m a very average person, and getting more average all the time. So if I’m starting to think that way, a lot of other people must be too.

    I once spent a very pleasant hour in a smallish room at Edinburgh University with Gordon Brown – oh, more than thirty years ago. For the benefit of any Guidophiles looking in, he was talking about some stupefyingly boring political issue and I was fancying the young woman sitting near to me. Good that at least one of us was fancying her eh? Yes, yes, we know what you think. But that’s what he was doing as a young man. Many will think, ‘Yes, and we’re all paying for it now and how. Give me someone who was human at that age’. Well, you certainly have your alternative.

  15. richard

    @ Blackacre.

    Yes, but PR brings its own raft of difficulties. Notwithstanding that it almost inevitably leads to weak government, ‘list systems’ are instruments of patronage that rely on MP’s toeing the party line for fear of being deselected by Central Office,
    Additional Member systems invariably give undue preference to third and fourth parties and STV doesn’t actually result in representation by proportion. FPTP isn’t perfect, it’s just the best of a bad lot.

    In my humble, any system that forces the national majority parties (like Labour and the Conservatives) to accept coalitions with minority parties who may command less than 1 or 2% support for their daft policies can’t possibly be a good thing for democracy.

  16. jane

    I do think that the number of MPs we pay for should be reviewed. I base this on the following:

    1. Devolved Administrations
    2. That a greater proportion of our legislation comes from Europe
    3. Technology means that we can contact government departments ourselves. At one time we had to go through MPs if we had an issue such as maladministration by a council department.
    4. Having an MP on ones side as a community no longer brings any advantage. Better to have a strong committee and the local press.
    5. Many constituent problems seem to be dealt with by MPs assistants. For example letters forwarded to an appropriate department etc.
    6. In my area (I know) there is little need for MPs surgeries.
    7. An awful lot of MPs are able to maintain second jobs. The role of an MP (not a Minister)is not full time. Look at the lengthy holidays you get. Should an individual need to maintain skills in the event of losing their seat, then this can be achieved through the rather lengthy recesses and not when the House is sitting.

    I do accept that there are many hard working MPs and no doubt there are some constituencies that are more demanding. (Mine – rural is not one). However, it is wrong that given how our democracy has developed in recent years (1,2and3 above), that those who legislate will not look at their own “house” in terms of the cost to the taxpayer. The lengthy recesses, John Lewis shopping list, huge pensions, ability to have a second job or sit as Non Executive CEO all contribute to the lack of involvement in the democratic process and, suggests that we have too many MPs.

  17. richard

    I vote we axe at least 10 Scottish Westminster MP’s on the grounds that they already have their own Parliament.

    Where to start though?

  18. Blackacre

    As the main post was not actually about PR (and I suspect that our host’s views are mainstream Labour) I am reluctant to enter into a big debate on the point here. However, I will try to deal quickly with a couple of the points that have been raised on my post:

    1 We should not be driven by the Highlands and Wales. Yes, multi member constituencies are more of an issue, but these are no more than 10 of the current constituencies.
    2 As one of the major points that proponents of FPTP is the local connection, why shouldn’t MPs be encouraged to act locally to be re-elected.
    3 Germany does not have a noticeably weak government and Ireland seems to do OK. Israel has arguably too strong a government. So there is no reason why PR should make governments weak.
    4 I agree actually that List systems are rubbish. They only work if they are open lists.
    5 I do not see how additional member systems favour 3rd and 4th parties. They merely reflect how we voted.
    6 No need for a 1-2% minority to decide governments if the main parties act together properly to avoid that. Some systems have cut offs at say 5% under which the minority party will get no seats. Anyway FPTP is not averse to that – see examples of Unionists and Nationalists from various of the Celtic countries propping up UK governments.

    So, if the question is around proper representation of the views of the electors I just do not see that FPTP is the best solution.

  19. Red Mist

    I wonder which MP we should get rid of first? 😉

  20. Well, of course they do. Like I said, attacks on MPs are popular. That doesn’t make them right.

    And why does Do-Nothing want a cut of 65? Why not 37? Or 104? Where’s the methodology that concludes the right number to be 65?

  21. richard

    1) It’s a nice round number for starters.

    2) It shows that Conservative MP’s actually have an awareness that the public would like them to lower the expense of parliament.

    3) It’s very easy to accomplish and saves millions of pounds of taxpayers money at the stroke of a pen.

    4) There’s no real impact on services if the remaining MP’s have to shoulder an additional 1/10th of the extra workload.

    -=-=-

    All of these are excellent reasons in themselves, not least of which because Dave can reasonably direct the Electoral Commission to un-distort the current bias without looking like he’s trying to deliberately harm Labour’s chances of winning the subsequent (2014?) election

  22. dmc

    Why are you held in such low esteem,because today your jack straw has decided to try and hide mps expenses from public scrutiny,THAT’S WHY.

  23. I am against a reduction in the number of MPs, but only until two things are done:

    1. Return legislation formation, debate and voting to the House and away from the EU Commission and its rubber stamp chamber, the European Parliament.

    2. Deal with the West Lothian Question by merging MSPs/MAs with MPs so they are in Westminster for Union business and in their countries for that business. English MPs can remain in Westminster to avoid building another leaky white elephant (and travel expenses, natch).

    3. End funding for various QANGOs and return any Statutory powers back into the Civil Service and Parliament so they can be accountable.

    Only when that is done should it be looked at. Too hasty a reduction before other changes are made is to me unwise. However, we may be best to reduce the number at that point and so they will not have time to interfere in a 5-a-day-way and stick to the key matters such as defence, Rule of Law, borders and ensuring an efficient infrastructure.

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