Cutting the cost of politics – not quite so simple as David Cameron suggests?

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.

5 thoughts on “Cutting the cost of politics – not quite so simple as David Cameron suggests?”

  1. They might cut the cost of politics by forgoing the millions Lord Ashcroft, who lacks the shame Lord Laidlaw demonstrated when he quit as a tory donor because he was embarrassing Cameron, and NOT insisting on campaigning in marginal seats 24/7 every year.

    But what Chameleon means of course is the direct costs to the public purse, the private means of Billionaires which are buying the Tory Party and their media from abroad are not seen as a problem.

    When they have sold off our decision making process Great Britain will not be far behind.

  2. The problem of political representation in the UK is due to the emasculation of local governance. Our system is too centralised.

    We would be better governed with 400 MPs and 250 Senators. It would require 8 or 9 regional governments, as in Wales and Scotland and London would have an assembly of 100 or more.

    Regional government would have legislative powers over policing, health and education. As in American states, Canadian provinces or German lande.

    Taxes should be raised locally and paid upwards to the Treasury. We have a disfunctional system of top heavy governance. Decentralise, empower local and regional government and reduce central government to foreign affairs, the Home Office and Defence.

  3. This raises a series of interesting points – too many to respond to fully here. I would just make three points to add to the discussion: first, the UK has fewer elected representatives/officials per head of population than many other countries; second, there has been little appetite by the general public in the English regions outside London for a regional tier of government; and third, taxes raised by one level of government on behalf of another level of government may confuse accountability (eg. the London Boroughs have always resented raising the precept to pay for GLA – and in the past GLC – services because their local communities have “blamed” them for the total size of the Council Tax/rates bill).

  4. I suspect that there may well be even moree problems lurkign in the udergrowth. What of Westminster boundary changes in Scotland, NI and Wales ? Id there not a devolved electoral commission structure in place which deals with both MP’s and MSP’s and AM’) ? Can’t see the Cameron writ having much force in these pastures……

  5. I apologise for the delay in responding. I agree that there is little taste for regional government in England. I find the English have always been difficult to govern. The destruction of the county system was both unnecessary and has proved damaging over the long term. The agglomerations West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorks etc unhappy compromises. The local government reforms c.1970 were not successful. Nor am I convinced that the abolition of the old London boroughs has solved London’s problems. However, we are where we are. Where to go from here? Existing structures are too small for significant decentralisation. Lack of English regions or provinces will ensure centralised decision making with partially devolved powers. Not a satisfactory prospect. I agree we do not have enough elected representatives. We do not spend sufficient on governance. Raising all taxes locally both income, corporate and Vat would concentrate minds but with no regional government, I would look at beefing up counties. The present system is disfunctional. Maybe an English Assembly in Loughborough buttressed by a county system?

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