Does size matter in British politics?
It’s been a hot news period. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest and the freedom of Paul and Rachel Chandler from their kidnap ordeal in Somalia. So spare a thought for the future governance of the United Kingdom…or not.
The House of Commons has already effectively rubber stamped the Coalition Government’s plans to reduce the House of Commons by 50 seats, and to subject the electoral system to a referendum.
Tonight it’s the turn of the un-elected House of Lords to pass judgement on the views of the elected House of Commons as to how it should be elected and what it should actually be.
In theory, the House of Commons is supposed to hold the ‘Executive’ to account. But the Executive itself – the happy band of Ministers represents 20 per cent of the entire House of Commons.
In 1900 the Cabinet had 19 members. In 2010 it has 24. But Ministers outside the Cabinet have gone up vastly since 1900 – from 41 to 96 in 2010. What is particularly fascinating is that in the last 10 years, when Westminster is supposed to have devolved power to London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of Ministers at Westminster has gone UP by 20 Ministers! (And don’t begin to mention powers transferred to Brussels!)
So, if you push the number of MPs DOWN by 50 and the number of Ministers stays the same, or even goes on going UP, then the stranglehold the ‘payroll vote’ has on the Commons becomes ever stronger.
No wonder the un-elected are considering pursuing the elected with the prospect of referring the entire reform to a Lords Committee – ergo – no referendum for months, possibly years, to come.
Labour appears to have been discombobulated by the debate. ‘Just say no’, seems to have been the Party’s preferred option. What nobody seems keen to discuss is what sort of reform might actually improve Britain’s governance and the Government’s accountability.
How refreshing if a party would step forward with a coherent plan that would embrace a proper size for the Ministerial ranks, for the Commons, and a role for a reformed House of Lords itself.
Having lived and worked in the United States, I find it hard to imagine a viable Commons that needs to be larger than the 400 seat House of Representatives, nor a functioning House of Lords larger than the Senate’s 100 Senators. As for Ministers, who seriously believes that we need the present 119? What on Earth do they all do? Given devolution, and the need for much more to come – perish the thought – did the Victorians perhaps have it right at 60 Ministers in 1900?
As for the electoral system, and the size of individual Parliamentary constituencies? Please God, could I leave that to another blog?