MPs and parliament


There are too many MPs.  We do not need that many.  MPs are always saying that they work very hard for their constituents and brag that they are good constituent MPs.  My argument is that constituent MPs need to stay and work in their constituencies.  They do not need to go to Westminster or have a second home there.  One can vote electronically; meeetings can be held using video conferencing.   Back bench MPs are just voting fodder.  Committe work can be done without being in Westminster.  If going to Westminster is necessary, then a day trip or spend as many days as necessary and then return to the constituency and work there.
Westminster should be populated by no  more than 100 MPs including members of the Govt. and opposition.  The upper house should be no more than 100 members.  I don't care about being elected or not, I am more interested in ability.
This would save a lot of money, including expenses, second homes etc.  Parliament is too bloated.  We cannot afford it.  I am 55 years old and I have never ever written to an MP or even met an MP. 
With all those MPs, we still ended up in a terrible mess; wasting precious lives in Iraq and Afghanistan; crime; unemployment, education; :  Everything is a  mess otherwise you wouldn't be out there campaigning to put things right.  So why is it in a mess with 650 MPs.  What are you being paid for?  What have you been doing over the last 30 years?


In one respect, we are closer to your position than the other parties. We propose more significant cuts in the number of MPs than the Conservatives. They say cut 10% (to around 600). We think you could cut it by about one-third, to around 400. So far as I am aware, the LibDems do not propose cuts in the numbers (PR systems like AV+ actually increase the pressure to have more, not fewer MPs). Labour certainly do not propose cuts.

But I'm afraid we take the opposite view to you on the purpose of an MP. We believe that MPs are first and foremost legislators, and their primary role should be the scrutiny of legislation. The vast quantity and appalling quality of legislation over the past 15 years reflects a failure of proper scrutiny. It is the consequence of back-bench MPs falling for the popular modern myth that they are there primarily to see what they can screw out of government for their constituents. That attitude is the death of democracy (the pork-barrel politics of the USA is the ultimate destination).

They should be there as the wisest head that their constituents could select from the neighbourhood, to represent their interests in the legislative process. Their constituents' interests should usually coincide with the interests of the country, if taken on the longer view (which is the only sensible foundation of the concentric circles of law and morality - see Henry Hazlitt's The Foundations of Morality). They are representatives, not delegates, and should apply their judgment, rather than simply reflecting whatever they judge is popular short-term opinion in their constituency.

So I would actually rather they spent more time in London working on legislation, or getting out and about learning about what's going on in the economy and society, and less time in the constituency, kissing babies and promising to deliver things they can't deliver. In fact, I don't want politicians to deliver anything apart from the most efficient, rational and stable institutional framework, and then leave it up to the rest of us to deliver goods and services within that framework.

We also want to see increased devolution of power and responsibility to the lowest level. Wherever possible, that should be to the individual (i.e. take powers away from government altogether), but if not, then to the most local level of government that is practical.

A key part of that is for local authorities to raise more of their funds locally, to restore the connection between the political choices they make and the financial consequences for the community. We would repatriate business rates, and institute a local sales tax of 2.5% (effectively raising VAT to 20%, which we know is necessary and likely to happen anyway, regardless of the weaselly protestations of the main parties). That should take the level of funding raised locally to around 65-75%, from the current level of around 25%, with the balance retained because there are some genuine differences between regions that need to be compensated for by government grant (e.g. rural areas will have higher per-cdapita costs to set against lower tax revenue).

This need not increase costs beyond what would have been necessary anyway, but simply changes the route by which the money comes to the authorities. At present, most of it is filtered through central government. We propose that more of it should go direct to local authorities. More local taxation should be accompanied by less national taxation. If anything, it should lower costs, because the more direct relationship between local political choices and the financial consequences to constituents should encourage local authorities to try to be as efficient as possible.

If we devolve all powers that are best exercised locally to the relevant local authorities, that would further reduce the rationale to expect an MP to act as a glorified councillor. The real councillors should deal with people's local issues, should have the power and the means to do so, and hopefully should attract a better quality of candidate on account of the greater responsibility and power of the job. MPs would then stick to their job of representing their constituency in the legislative process.

In my opinion, the greatest historical model for the legislative process was the Founding Fathers and the early days of independent America. That was probably the moment when a legislature was most nearly composed of the best minds of a country, selected by their respective states to represent them in the difficult and important matter of framing legislation that most accurately promoted the common good, and that was sufficiently clear and simple that it could be understood and applied by the whole population. There is a lovely quote by P.J.O'Rourke on the subject:

"Our founding fathers lacked the special literary skills with which modern writers on the subject of government are so richly endowed. When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, they found themselves more or less forced to come to the point. So clumsy of thought and pen were the Founders that even today, seven generations later, we can tell what they were talking about"

It may be a dream, but I would like to see our legislature follow their example.