Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 24 August 2009

Reducing MPs won't damage government, but it's the wrong reform

Hadleigh Roberts has done an interesting blog post with the alliterative title "Cutting down the Commons will cripple Cameron’s government". In it he argues that if David Cameron got his way and was able to cut the number of MPs by 10% he would cause himself some big problems and that he would end up with more Hannans and less pliable lobby fodder as well as more forced government appointments.

In order to illustrate this, he uses the classic quote from Yes Minister:

There are only 630 MPs and a party with just over 300 MPs forms a government and of these 300, 100 are too old and too silly to be ministers and 100 too young and too callow. Therefore there are about 100 MPs to fill 100 government posts.

I do not really agree with Hadleigh's analysis though:

1) Why would reducing the number of MPs cause Cameron to have more "problematic" MPs as he sees them? I see no reason why having less MPs would favour one faction or another. There would be less of all types of MP.
2) Hadleigh's assumption seems to be that if the number of MPs was cut by 10% that the number of government slots would remain the same, thus reducing the proportion of backbenchers from the governing party and increasing the number of MPs "on the government payroll". That doesn't need to be the case. In fact it is likely that the only way Cameron would get a measure like this through is precisely if he pledged to reduce the number of ministers by a proportionate amount, or perhaps by even more.
3) That line from Yes Minister is a joke. There may be a ring of partial truth to it but the idea that the government is effectively in zugzwang when it comes to choosing its members is not credible. Have a look at the movement of Labour MPs over the last 12 years and you will see that there is clearly scope for promotion and demotion.

Where I do agree with Hadleigh is what Cameron's motivation is for this. He is trying to "even things up" between him and Labour. By reducing the number of seats, the inherent bias that in present within the electoral system as the seats are currently constituted will be lessened and the Tories will be on a more equal footing with Labour in this respect. Of course no other party will get a look in, it's just good for the Tories and all the unfairness of the current system is retained that shuts other parties out of power and in most cases out of the Commons altogether. This is the reform that Cameron has been pushing for ages and, surprise surprise it's the one that gives his party the biggest advantage.

The real reform we need is a roughly proportional system using STV with multi-member constituencies.


Julian H said...

My headline would be:

"Reducing MPs won't damage government, so it's the wrong reform"

Letters From A Tory said...

I suspect that many of the lost MPs would be from Labour inner city ranks, seeing as this is where the electoral bias lies.

Labour have to get around 10-15,000less votes on average than the Conservatives to win a constituency because of the much greater concentration of seats in inner city areas.

Paul said...

Totally agree Mark - on Cameron's motives that is. He presents this as a great reform and quotes the Orkneys and Isle of Wight as examples of under or over represented constituencies. What he really means is: Let's get rid of loads of Scottish Labour MPs.

Voter said...

I see you still favour MC STV. If you have not already done so, you
could make a note to do a future post on why you favour that particular
system (perhaps when there is not much news to comment on).

As you may recall, I would like a more proportional system.

Mark Reckons said...

I have already done various posts over the course of this year where I set out why I favour STV.

STV is roughly proportional. The only way to get a more proportional one is to go for some sort of list, or top up list system which I do not favour for various reasons.