At a quick count there are 127 problems with the current British political system. But a couple of key problems are the significant disconnect between popular assessment of the worth of MPs and their own assessment, and an electoral system that renders a huge proportion of votes worthless and grossly over-represents the votes given to Labour and the Conservatives in the number of MPs they get.
I think both of these can be addressed fairly straightforwardly by splitting up the duties of MPs. Currently they have a dual role, both as those who draft and pass legislation and also as representatives of their constituencies. These roles don’t really mesh particularly well, either in terms of skills required or in terms of overlap of duties. MPs who may be very responsive to the complaints and issues of their constituents may not have the understanding and insight to be good at helping to create good legislation or at holding the executive to account. It also requires MPs to have a home in London (for practical reasons) and one in their constituencies (for political reasons) – one of the factors that have strongly contributed to recent expenses “scandals”.
A well-qualified, well-paid legislature is vital for the country. While the idea that paying more will inexorably lead to better performance is flawed, its equally the case that if politics is underpaid compared to professional jobs then almost inevitably it will be filled by mediocrities or ideologues, as well as increasing the likelihood of corruption. It’s a false economy to pay low salaries to a few hundred individuals if by paying more they could better spend the billions they control. Equally, it seems unfair that millions of people in crucial public sector jobs (teachers, nurses, police, you know the roll call) are paid less than backbench MPs who contribute precious little to running the country. Particularly if they are idiots like David Tredinnick and John Robertson.
So, my solution is to dramatically reduce the number of MPs. Although there are a significant government positions to fill, as well as the need to staff committees to scrutinise them, no more than 200 MPs required. Those left should however be well paid and well resourced. To allow them to focus their energies on ensuring good legislation and governance, their constituency responsibilities would be removed. This would mean they would no longer have to have second homes outside London.
Meanwhile the job of dealing with constituency issues would be dealt with by another set of elected responsibilities, covering the same constituencies as exist currently. Being able to devote themselves wholly to dealing with those issues should make them more responsive and effective, plus people would soon realise the benefit of electing the best performance of individuals rather than voting for whoever was representing the national party they supported. As this job could be perfectly adequately performed by mediocrities and ideologues, the pay would not have to be that high. The jobs would also be based in the constituencies – so no need to fund a second home in the capital.
The next question would be as to how to elect representatives under this system. First Past The Post (FPTP) has very few merits as an electoral system except that it provides a link between MPs and constituencies (largely redundant under these proposals) and it tends to provide a clear winner in elections. On the debit side, it effectively disenfranchises millions of people, it is deeply unproportional, it perpetuates a two party system and regularly gives almost unlimited powers to parties with only 40% of the vote. In its place, I’d suggest using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for the legislative MPs. STV isn’t wholly proportional, but does tend to be more so than FPTP. More importantly it means that voters still get to choose on candidates rather than on party which minimises the scope for dubious candidates to get in through party lists as can happen with PR systems. By giving weight to second and third preferences it also recognises reality that most people have a number of political positions rather than simply sharing the platform of one single party. FPTP could be kept for the constituency representatives where its defects would not be so significant.
The potential benefits of these changes are manifold. Amongst other things, it would make our government significantly more representative, allow proper scrutiny of legislation, give each constituent a dedicated individual to deal with their issues, accountable only for themselves rather than the party they represent. The overall cost would probably rise slightly with an extra 200 or so elected representatives, though this would be partly offset by most of them no longer being based in London and none of them requiring two homes.