rsz_big_ben_-_night
If there is too much central government, maybe we shouldn’t regard being a member of parliament as a full-time job. Especially since most of our laws these days seem to come from Brussels; and many of them can’t even be altered at Westminster. So why don’t we limit the periods that parliament sits to three “terms” of eight weeks each?

That might limit the damage they can do. After all, most legislation seems to be trying – usually unsuccessfully – to put right problems caused by previous legislation.

Then we would expect most MPs to have another source of earned income. (What some might choose to categorise as “an honest job”.) That currently seems to be a matter for shame. What other explanation is there for the new requirement for every MP to report source and amount and time involved for all earnings?

There are so many ombudsmen and equivalents around these days that we really don’t need MPs to spend time acting as welfare advisers to their constituents (which anyway probably requires quite different skills from those required for legislators). So we don’t need as many as 650 members of parliament.

Most people don’t vote for individual members of parliament: they vote for parties, whoever is representing them. So we could have constituencies with average electorates of, say, 150,000 (instead of the present 70,000), which would imply only about 300 MPs.

One welcome by-product might be smaller “governments” – with perhaps only a dozen MPs in the Cabinet and a much reduced “payroll vote”. And, of course, with fewer MPs there would be in total much less sleaze.

You might be tempted to think this idea hasn’t been carefully thought out. But I’ve spent nearly half an hour on it; which seems to be a good deal longer than Prime Minister Gordon Brown spent on his silly proposal on MPs’ expenses.

David Myddelton Final

Life Vice President and Former Chair of the IEA Board of Trustees

Professor Myddelton has been a Life Vice President since retiring from the Board of Trustees in 2015. David was Chairman of the Board between 2001 and 2015, and has also published the IEA monographs 'They Meant Well' and 'Unshackling Accountants'. David served on the Board from 1994 until 2015.

12 thoughts on “Reforming central government”

  1. Posted 05/05/2009 at 12:44 | Permalink

    Mr Myddelton ~ an interesting article (over which I tend to believe that you may have been musing for more than an hour !) with which I am in broad agreement… Especially your remarks RE: “most people dont vote for individual MPs; the vote for parties, whoever is representing them”. I believe that the current parliamentary system of representation in the UK has long been due for an overhaul ~ and while I am a great believer and advocate of the Nations traditions & heritage ~ I further belive that the current model is “out-dated”, impractical and even (!) non-democratic. In my own constituency (Wokingham) regardless of who I vote for the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Best Regards etc.

  2. Posted 05/05/2009 at 12:44 | Permalink

    Mr Myddelton ~ an interesting article (over which I tend to believe that you may have been musing for more than an hour !) with which I am in broad agreement… Especially your remarks RE: “most people dont vote for individual MPs; the vote for parties, whoever is representing them”. I believe that the current parliamentary system of representation in the UK has long been due for an overhaul ~ and while I am a great believer and advocate of the Nations traditions & heritage ~ I further belive that the current model is “out-dated”, impractical and even (!) non-democratic. In my own constituency (Wokingham) regardless of who I vote for the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Best Regards etc.

  3. Posted 05/05/2009 at 13:30 | Permalink

    While we’re at it… why not have much larger constituencies but with two members in each, one man and one woman (we could all vote for one of each)? At a stroke we get equal gender representation without the dubious practice of all-women shortlists and the perpetual whingeing from all sides which accompanies them. As in the past when we had multi-member constituencies, we might get different parties representing the same constituency, breaking up the old “safe seat” thing a bit. And the “welfare worker” aspect of the MP’s role, which I agree is inappropriate, would be diluted as there would be no one individual member.

  4. Posted 05/05/2009 at 13:30 | Permalink

    While we’re at it… why not have much larger constituencies but with two members in each, one man and one woman (we could all vote for one of each)? At a stroke we get equal gender representation without the dubious practice of all-women shortlists and the perpetual whingeing from all sides which accompanies them. As in the past when we had multi-member constituencies, we might get different parties representing the same constituency, breaking up the old “safe seat” thing a bit. And the “welfare worker” aspect of the MP’s role, which I agree is inappropriate, would be diluted as there would be no one individual member.

  5. Posted 05/05/2009 at 13:57 | Permalink

    “Most people don’t vote for individual members of parliament: they vote for parties”
    Unfortunately, this also means that all votes are package votes, while I would prefer to vote for the tax policy of party A, social policy of party B, and educational policy of party C. This can be achieved by referenda, but these only make sense at a lower jurisdictional level, hence the case for decentralisation. This, in turn, only makes sense if each jurisdiction is responsible for its own finances.
    In short, the formula for the way forward is:
    The system of Switzerland minus the national income tax minus the national pension plan minus the national agricultural policy.

  6. Posted 05/05/2009 at 13:57 | Permalink

    “Most people don’t vote for individual members of parliament: they vote for parties”
    Unfortunately, this also means that all votes are package votes, while I would prefer to vote for the tax policy of party A, social policy of party B, and educational policy of party C. This can be achieved by referenda, but these only make sense at a lower jurisdictional level, hence the case for decentralisation. This, in turn, only makes sense if each jurisdiction is responsible for its own finances.
    In short, the formula for the way forward is:
    The system of Switzerland minus the national income tax minus the national pension plan minus the national agricultural policy.

  7. Posted 06/05/2009 at 08:59 | Permalink

    I am not sure that such a system would reduce the volume of legislation. Parliament sits shorter hours now than in 1997 and it just means that the (increased) legislation is debated less. I am certainly not convinced by Len’s suggestion of two member constituencies – MPs represent everybody not just a particular subset of the constituency. The idea would fundamentally change the relationship between the MP and the people. If this is a good idea, why not go further? We could have six 100 member constituencies where four candidates had to be Catholic (two men, two women), three Muslim, three practising Anglicans, so many black, so many self employed and so on.

  8. Posted 06/05/2009 at 08:59 | Permalink

    I am not sure that such a system would reduce the volume of legislation. Parliament sits shorter hours now than in 1997 and it just means that the (increased) legislation is debated less. I am certainly not convinced by Len’s suggestion of two member constituencies – MPs represent everybody not just a particular subset of the constituency. The idea would fundamentally change the relationship between the MP and the people. If this is a good idea, why not go further? We could have six 100 member constituencies where four candidates had to be Catholic (two men, two women), three Muslim, three practising Anglicans, so many black, so many self employed and so on.

  9. Posted 06/05/2009 at 16:58 | Permalink

    I don’t know if this is true, but a Republican once told me that Washington was chosen for the seat of government in America because it is in the middle of a swamp whose climate was so unpleasant that it would make it difficult for government to sit for more than a few months a year. It all went wrong with the invention of air-conditioning.

    Perhaps we could move our houses of parliament to one of the further reaches of Scotland, and make it an open-air forum. The cold in winter and the cleggs in summer would encourage business to be limited to matters of real import. (Cleggs are small, irritating, blood-sucking insects that serve no discernible purpose.)

  10. Posted 06/05/2009 at 16:58 | Permalink

    I don’t know if this is true, but a Republican once told me that Washington was chosen for the seat of government in America because it is in the middle of a swamp whose climate was so unpleasant that it would make it difficult for government to sit for more than a few months a year. It all went wrong with the invention of air-conditioning.

    Perhaps we could move our houses of parliament to one of the further reaches of Scotland, and make it an open-air forum. The cold in winter and the cleggs in summer would encourage business to be limited to matters of real import. (Cleggs are small, irritating, blood-sucking insects that serve no discernible purpose.)

  11. Posted 07/05/2009 at 08:28 | Permalink

    Much easier than that it could just move into the Globe Theatre. That is open air; accommodation is limited; it is the right shape for a parliament and it would be much closer to where people actually live and work.

  12. Posted 07/05/2009 at 08:28 | Permalink

    Much easier than that it could just move into the Globe Theatre. That is open air; accommodation is limited; it is the right shape for a parliament and it would be much closer to where people actually live and work.

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