12 May 2009

Proportional Expenses? Are Voters Getting The MPs They Deserve?

We are living in an illusion of democracy. Only part of the battle was won when the vote was extended to everyone over 18. We may have won a vote, but not an equal vote. Under our present system most votes count for little.

Alex Hilton at Labourhome points out that 500 out of 646 MPs in the house can sleep soundly knowing their job is fairly safe despite the expenses profligacy. With de-selections rare, as long as an MP goes through the motions and doesn't upset the party leadership they are safe virtually no matter what they do. Alex makes the argument that this is the perfect time for Labour to offer electoral reform and I agree.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling tackles another big fallacy - that MPs are paid too little. At 65k they are in top 3% of earners. If you pay your spouse 30k or more for research as some MPs do, and then add in expenses and they then live in a household in the top 1%. If they can't live on this, how do they expect the average earner to live on 23k?

Even in the landslide election of 1997 only about 150 MPs out of 659 were replaced - about 15%. Crucially it is the same 15% of constituencies - the marginals that change. Because of this most MPs have jobs for life if they want it because voters continue to vote for parties not the person.

Only more choice and more competition will deliver better MPs. That means proportional representation. Without it, the biggest section of the electorate, the non-voters which is bigger than any party support will continue to grow. PR will not solve everything, but giving people more choice will increase turnout.

And for the rest, whether apathetic or alienated, non-voters are currently being ignored and safe seats discourage their turnout. But these non-voters are not saying they want to be ignored, they just don't like the options put in front of them. Maybe this 40% should be represented by people drawn by lot, only then would non-voters be courted and their views properly considered by MPs fearing losing their jobs.


  1. How about considering a radical idea I'm toying with:

    increasing the size of the House of Commons to, say, 3000. Obviously other changes would be necessary. Maybe the House of Lords and the current House of Commons could be amalgamated into a Senate, which would do the debating, with the new enlarged Commons voting yea or nay.

    Just think about it!

  2. Why 3000? That is a hell of a lot. Wouldn't this cost a lot of money? I think 600 is fine, maybe even less than this. I also think it is important to have a revising chamber of experts that is separate to scrutinise laws properly, but that must be representative as well.

    I suggest 15 year terms for the second chamber with 50% elected from 'vocational constituencies' - i.e. all the different job areas - doctors, teachers, bricklayers, small businesses etc. And the other 50% drawn by lot from the general electorate to ensure everyone is represented. The commons can only be representative if we have a representative system and that is some form of PR. Otherwise we will continue to be represented by posh public school boys with a sprinkling of posh public school girls - it is not surprising they are out of touch.

  3. Trooper Thompson13/5/09 11:45 am

    3000 is to reduce the number of people represented by an MP, which is at the moment 84,500 approximately.

    It would not have to be sitting all the time, like in the past. It would function more like a conference, voting on resolutions. It wouldn't have to cost a lot of money.

    "I also think it is important to have a revising chamber of experts that is separate to scrutinise laws properly"

    What I am suggesting is to enlarge the function of the Lords to become a Senate, merging some of the Commons function into it.

    I should point out that I believe this government is insanely prolific in its law-making. We need less laws. If the idiots got it right, they wouldn't have to constantly amend it.

    The system I'm proposing is like the Senate and the People of Rome, or James Harrington's system in Oceana.

    The assembly of 3000 would effectively replace the Queen's function of approving all laws, which is a joke as far as checks and balances are concerned. Finally the people would be sovereign.