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John Leonard: Reducing the number of MPs would be bad for democracy

John Leonard, an IT Consultant, looks at the potentially damaging effects on democracy of reducing the number of MPs.

Recently, Nick Clegg proclaimed that he wants to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 500. Here are a few thoughts why this is such a bad idea and why Clegg is so badly out of touch. 

Every MP represents on average 25% more citizens today than they did in 1931. As the population has grown the number of representatives has not kept up and unsurprisingly there is an increasing perception that our politicians no longer provide value for money. 

It is a matter of debate what level of representation is appropriate but with the complaints from MPs that they cannot do their jobs with the appropriate level of diligence it would suggest that the current levels of representation are insufficient. 

If democracy is the goal then it is reasonable to expect that the number of elected representatives grows/shrinks proportionally to the size of the population. Clearly this policy proposal ignores any such considerations. This centralist proposal reduces the voter’s influence upon national affairs in this country.

The 1998 Devolution Act effectively resolved the issue of national representation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by introducing National Assemblies. This has increased the representation levels in those Home Nations to way above that of the 1930’s. However, by not providing an effective democratic assembly solution for England, the Devolution Act effectively has created second class democratic citizens within the United Kingdom. The English based voter has approximately three times less representation than any voter in the other three home nations.

Given that outside England there are only 117 constituencies, it is fair to assume that such a reduction will be undertaken proportionately to the greater extent. A quick analysis shows that that would result in a Parliamentary make up of England 406 (-127) Scotland 45 (-14) Wales 31 (-9) Northern Ireland 18 (NC). Northern Ireland’s seats are protected under the Northern Ireland Agreement.

So the English would take the brunt of the cuts. The impact of this in terms of representation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is negligible but English national democratic representation would be reduced by a further 25% and in comparison to the other Home Nations, English based voters would have at least four times less national representation.

Clearly Clegg wants to exacerbate the West Lothian Question as well.

If we then further analyse Clegg proposals we see that what he is actually saying is that we will get less national democracy for greater cost. Not only does he wish to funnel the ‘savings’ from the constituency cuts and Government advertising into the political parties but also raise an optional £3 poll tax as well. Potentially, such savings and redirected taxes could benefit political parties by up to £350 million (ten times the amount proposed in the Phillips report). So Clegg believes we should pay significantly more for a significantly lesser quality of service and have significantly less influence. I suggest the opposite is true. 

In addition, if one considers how such a change might affect the state of the parties it is difficult to analyse without more detail of how the Boundary Commission might address such a reduction. Without that detail perhaps the only way of looking at it is to do so proportionally. Based on the 2005 results then the parties would lose the following number of MPs: Labour -83, Conservative -46, Libdems -14, Others -7. 

In real terms the LibDems would fair much better than both Labour and the Conservatives with the potential of causing significant disruption for the leaderships of both parties (which MPs would be got rid of?). Has Clegg considered such self-serving effects of his policy?

Of course Nick Clegg will say that by devolving power to the regions and councils he is breaking up the power base of Parliament, but would he really be doing that? 

It seems unlikely that he will hand down the creation and strategic control of policy and funding but will instead further hand down the implementation and operation of policy. Individual councils have neither the finances nor strength of mandate to take on the will of Parliament on issues of policy.

Therefore, effectively all Clegg will be doing really is concentrating power into the hands of an even smaller group of people who will more than ever be able to blame the lower tiers of Government for any failures that occur.

Considering Clegg’s refusal to offer a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, it is of little surprise that in proposing such a significant change to our political that he does not even consider putting this directly to the voter in a referendum. It is time he acknowledged that this country’s political system belongs to the people and not to politicians. Any such proposal must be voted on specifically by the people and not by his elitist establishment in Westminster.

So we have a policy that on the face of it wants the voter to pay more for less national democracy, denies the voter a direct choice, further discriminates against the English based voter, further concentrates power amongst a smaller elitist group and provides benefit for the Libdems, whilst penalising both the Labour and Conservative Parties.

As such it would seem that Clegg, rather than taking on the ‘elitist establishment’, is attempting to prove his credentials to join it by adding a new dimension to the concept of ‘autocratic centralisation’.


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