David Cameron published his proposals yesterday for cutting the cost of politics – usefully summarised by Iain Dale. Some of the items appear to be double-counted: abolishing MPs’ communications allowance and reducing the subsidy on Parliamentary refreshment facilities will presumably contribute a big chunk of “reducing the cost of running Parliament”, as will the item on reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 585.
However, what are the implications of reducing the number of MPs?
There are currently 646 UK constituencies – with an average electorate of 68,500 (the numbers vary widely between individual constituencies). This would rise to over 75,600 on David Cameron’s proposals. This necessarily dilutes representation – each MP would be relating to a larger number of voters and the areas covered in an individual constituency would be larger and more diverse. This is not necessarily a good thing and it certainly makes the MP’s job more difficult.
I remember the transition from being a councillor representing 5,500 electors to being an Assembly Member with an electorate of over 350,000 and, while that is a far more extreme change than that envisaged by the Cameron proposal, it did bring home the difference in nature of what can be done.
There is, of course, some question about how likely is the change to happen – there may well be a reluctance for MPs to vote for a Christmas turkey cull.
More significant still is: how long will it take? Any change will require the wholesale redrawing of constituency boundaries. The revision process to respond to population movements normally takes between eight and twelve years to cover the country. This would be a more root and branch set of changes. Moreover, each individual change will require local consultation (often provoking vigorous arguments as anyone who has ever been involved in such things will know) before Parliamentary orders can be laid to implement the details.
Before any of this can happen, an Act of Parliament will have to be passed to stop responsibility for redrawing Parliamentary boundaries from passing to the Electoral Commission (as currently provided for by the existing legislation and because, of course, David Cameron wishes to abolish the Electoral Commission). Legislation would also be required to approve the principle of the reductionin MP numbers and the criteria to be followed by the various Boundary Commissions. The absolute earliest that the changes could take effect would be in a General Election held in 2019 or later – ie in three of four General Elections time.
Hardly a quick fix.