We don’t know a huge amount about the Government’s intentions on reforming the boundaries of parliamentary seats beyond what it says in the manifesto: “We will also continue to reform our political system…reducing the number of MPs”.
As Paul recently noted, the current default is for there to be a review in 2016, to be implement in 2018, to reduce the number of seats to 600. The manifesto certainly seems to endorse that plan, and if for whatever reason the Government wanted to change tack to maintain the current 650-member Commons they would need to legislate to do so, which might involve some rather tricky numbers even if only a few MPs disagreed.
So let’s assume the process continues as the law currently states and the number of MPs is reduced by 7.69 per cent. There are lots of reasons for thinking a smaller House would be desirable – not least the reduction in the cost of politics that it would bring about. But it cannot be a stand-alone reform – if the number of MPs falls, so should the number of Ministers.
We’ve pointed out the growth of the payroll and patronage vote in the past – by my count there are 100 Ministers and Whips, a further 30 PPS’s, plus others like Robert Halfon who attends Cabinet and Chloe Smith who acts as the Parliamentary Adviser to the Party Chairman. Factor in the tendency in the last parliament to appoint a host of (unpaid) government emissaries, representatives, policy board members and advisers on various topics and the scale of the patronage vote becomes clear.
This is a problem in itself – a healthy parliamentary party ought not to have nigh on half its members in some way brought into either the executive or a halo surrounding it. But it becomes more of a problem if the number of MPs is reduced – untrimmed, that overmighty executive would have even greater dominance over a smaller House. There’s an obvious solution – to reduce the size of the executive at least as much as the size of the Commons – though the Government might not like to implement it.