John Leonard, an IT Consultant, sets out why he believes there should be no reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster.
Last week David Cameron made proposals to reduce the number of MPs by 10% by 2020. In a supporting article, Tim Montgomerie, I believe, prematurely, justified this proposal in three ways, whilst Philip Johnston added his support in the Daily Telegraph.
I believe these views are for the most part mistaken.
Firstly, to address Tim’s justification; Tim argues that the change will ensure ‘fairness’ (whatever that term means – fair to who?) by making all constituencies roughly the same size. However, there is no need to reduce the number of constituencies to achieve this. If one keeps the same number of constituencies and simply changes the boundaries so that each constituency is roughly 68,000 (based on the 2005 General Election figures) then that would make it ‘fair’ in terms of electorate size. So Tim’s first argument is not applicable.
In reality, changing boundary sizes is considerably more complex as I will, to some extent, explore later but this simplification is sufficient to counter Tim’s first argument.
However, the proposal David Cameron has put forward would increase that average constituency size to 75,000. As I have demonstrated above, there is no need to reduce the number of Parliamentary constituencies to make them ‘fair’. That being the case, what purpose does such a proposal support?
Tim argues that it would be good economics. In reality such a change
would probably save around £35 million per annum. This seems a large
amount but when put in the context of the Government’s current £600
billion budget, it is hardly a drop in the ocean. At best this is a
minimal saving and rather than reduce the number of representatives
would it not be better if all members of Parliament shared the burden
by having their remuneration and perks such as the John Lewis List
After all, David Cameron proposes to make similar cutbacks to certain
high ranking Local Government officials and surely it is the
reprehensible nature of some of these Parliamentary perks that angers
the public and not the number of MPs. Why should Parliament, as a
whole, be immune to such savings?
Thirdly, Tim argues that by making the changes proposed it would reduce
the disparity between Labour and Conservative seats. As this is
predicated on his first argument, it is not only equally inapplicable
but furthermore, it is simply impossible to be confident of the
validity of such an argument and potentially it is feasible that such a
change could damage the Conservative party’s future prospects.
To understand this, firstly, we must recognise that rather than the 200
seats approx that the Conservative Party currently have, they will need
to have in excess of 326 seats to ensure that such a proposal was
implemented. Furthermore, we have no idea what the electoral make up or
what the population distribution will be in some eight to ten years
time when such a change might be implemented. Consequently, how on
earth can anyone know what impact such changes will have?
Furthermore, if one models David Cameron’s proposal on what might have
happened if this had been implemented for the 2005 General Election
using the average figure of 75,000 voters per constituency, potentially
in excess of 500 seats out of 646 would have had their electorate
increased. Does anyone have any idea how the boundaries would in
reality have been altered to achieve this in such circumstances?
Furthermore, with an average of 9,300 voters per seat extra for those
constituencies below the average seat size and the net movement of 5
million plus voters between all constituencies, how many majorities
would remain safe?
Such a change would potentially be the most significant restructuring of electoral boundaries ever contemplated.
Now, such a risk may have been acceptable with the pre-2005 figure of
only 165 Conservative MPs but as I have stated there would certainly be
326 Conservative MPs if the Conservatives are to form a government and
possibly be considerably more by the end of the next decade. How sure
could Conservative MPs be that their constituency would not be altered
in a way that made it far more difficult for them to be returned to
Of course, as Tim hints, it could be done in such a way as to ‘even’
the playing field so that Labour loses their perceived advantages
(which are mainly predicated on low turnout NOT total electorate size).
Wouldn’t that be exactly the sort of behaviour about which Conservatives have
made complaints of Labour over many years and in any case,
wouldn’t that just tar the Conservative Party with the same
disreputable brush that Labour have been tarred with by the electorate?
If the reputation of our politicians is to be restored then surely such dubious actions must be ceased?
Clearly such a proposal would prove highly contentious and would likely
occupy the minds of our highest elected representatives for the whole
of the preceding Government term if not longer. Given the amount of
political in-fighting it would likely generate, would it not further
damage the reputation of our Parliament? Is such a course of action
If one views David Cameron’s proposal from this perspective, Tim provides scant justification for its implementation.
Philip Johnston, in his article, on the other hand, does exactly what
Labour and the EU do. By merging the issues of bureaucracy with the
question of the size of our Parliament, he obscures and confuses two
very different issues; the waste within our unelected bureaucracy and
the electorate’s fundamental democratic need for real representation.
By doing so he undermines his argument and further diminishes our
Now let me be clear that I am fully in favour of removing the vast
swathes of seemingly non-existent or utterly pointless jobs held by
bureaucrats and unelected political appointees that are paid for by the
taxpayer at the behest of Government, but to diminish our democratic
representation? That is something quite different.
It is this diminishing of our democracy that is my main objection
against any such proposals. Such proposals are anti-democratic.
What David Cameron and Nick Clegg, more extremely before him, have
proposed is the reduction of the nation’s national democratically
elected representation whilst retaining the same amount, if not more
power in the Conservatives’ case (with the speculative repatriation of
powers from Europe), of power at the highest level. Such a distillation
of power by nature encourages Parliamentary elitism, encourages further
distancing of the representatives from the electorate and dilutes the
voters’ democratic influence. In short, it is political centralism and
furthermore can be perceived as serving only the major political
parties and not the electorate.
Is not the Conservative Party opposed to centralism? Is it not one of
the Conservative Party’s primary tenets to defend our democracy? It
does suggest that in the Conservative Way Forward Principles – which are not only
endorsed by Margaret Thatcher but also by David Cameron – that democracy
is a key consideration.
Furthermore, given the perpetual increase in our population is it not
arguably the case that we should have more elected representation as
the population grows, not less? By reducing the number of elected
representatives in such circumstances the key achievement is to
diminish democracy in this country at a more rapid pace than by not
changing the number at all.
Whilst such a view may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to the current
general view, is it not the quality and integrity of our politicians
requiring improvement, rather than the reduction of MPs numbers that is
the main issue?
All this said, I do have a suggestion for Mr. Cameron, if he wants to
improve our democracy and really feels he must reduce the number of
elected representatives that the British electorate has to call on. There are 60 plus elected representatives undertaking unwarranted roles
in the faux democratic set-up of the European Parliament, who I am sure
few voters would miss. By no longer requiring their positions, not only
would he save a costly election every four years, but, by implication,
save significantly more taxpayers’ money, as well as strengthening both
the nation’s sovereignty and our Parliament.
So, in conclusion, perhaps David Cameron should forget about meddling
with the Parliament of the British People without their direct consent
(yes in my view any such proposal as this is a separate referendum
issue) and instead, to plagiarise David Cameron’s own words:
“So Mr. Cameron, call that EU referendum. Let the people pass judgment
on 30 years of broken promises, let people decide who’s really making
the arguments about the future of our country. Let people decide who
can make the changes that we really need in our country. Call that EU
referendum. We will fight. Britain will win."