Why are there so many MP's

(28 Posts)
Dolly80 Fri 15-Jan-16 07:27:16

In light of public sector cuts, junior doctors strikes etc can anyone shed some light for me on why we have so many MP's in the UK?

I understand the American political system is different but they have 535 people in the House of Representatives and Senate, which is 115 less than the number of MP's we have in the Houses of Parliament, of whom there are currently 650.

I'm genuinely interested in why we have so many, given our population size. Could this be reduced? Do we actually need so many? Who decides to reform if that's the case? (I'm assuming the government would have to do this but isn't it unlikely they would ever vote in favour of cutting their own/their colleagues jobs).

With the money that needs to be saved in many sectors of society it feels somewhat unfair that our political leaders are immune from job cuts/workplace reform.

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 07:41:32

You might be interested in some of the campaigns of the Electoral Reform Society. The huge disparity in the size of constituencies (which could be resolved by merging some of the smaller ones) and the first past the post system means some parties have disproportionately more MPs than others - some info here.

It's a very interesting area, and surely crazy that the House of Commons doesn't even have room for all MPs at the same time. Now, there are also problems with the Palace of Westminster (like the fact it's falling down) which might mean the solution is to build a bigger debating chamber, rather than reduce the number of MPs but I think it does bear looking at.

RancidOldHag Fri 15-Jan-16 07:46:25

There have been proposals to make constituency size more equal for some time.

But it was resisted by the party which benefited from the current anomalies. Though I think it is going to be unstoppable.

I suppose the number required depends on how many constituents can reasonably be represented by one person.

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 10:26:49

I agree up to a point, Rancid - MPs (at least the good ones) already have a huge amount of casework to do, and I don't know if the ones with more constituents get a larger allowance to employ staff than the ones representing three men and a dog. Yet the current situation is insane - the largest constituency, the Isle of Wight, has an electorate (so a smaller group than population) of 108,804 vs the smallest, Na h-Eileanan an Iar (aka the Western Isles) at 21,769. So in a pure numbers game we could clearly distribute the population more evenly across fewer MPs.

I'm sure the counter argument, since the smaller constituencies cover large geographical areas (Ross, Skye & Lochaber must be a good 100 miles end-to-end) is how big a constituency an MP can cover (noting the point that US officials have vast geographies in comparison - Texas is 770 miles across and 790 miles high).

Dolly80 Fri 15-Jan-16 14:28:06

Thanks for your responses, some interesting points raised and I'll definitely have a look at the links posted.

Geographical distances aside, it does seem disproportionate that some MPs are representing apx 22,000 people and others apx 70-80,000 (this seems about the average for city constituencies)

Whilst I understand casework for MP's must be demanding we have been/are in a time of austerity and they've been, as yet, immune from cuts. If other public services are having to do the same job with less staff what exempts them from doing the same?

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 17:38:57

I think it's probably unrealistic to think about cutting the number of MPs purely as a response to current economic conditions as it takes a great deal of time and red tape (in other words money) to achieve it. So MPs could try to contribute to the austerity regime in other ways, such as reducing their expenses and losing the subsidised bars and restaurants inside the Houses of Parliament. (That said there has been an expenses clamp down this year).

crappyday Fri 15-Jan-16 18:18:58

The conservatives wanted to reduce the number to 600, but the libdems blocked it. They are going to try again this parliament.

tribpot the expense allowances are the same for each non-london constituency, no matter how many constituents there are.

The travel allowance is uncapped, so allow for eg travel to & around Scotland being much further than travel to and around Hampshire.

London MPs get slightly higher expense allowances, as they are allowed to pay their staff more.

SSargassoSea Fri 15-Jan-16 18:36:32

If you live in an area of low pop density you get utterly ignored as the number in the high density areas (towns, cities) get precedence.

So I may as well not vote. And my views and knowledge of the countryside count for nothing as town dwellers, with their large number of votes, take priority.

A good example was DC's info on how much was spent per head of pop in which area on flood repairs. Sorry I can't find the figures but it was eg 250 p head in London but, oh goodness how generous, 260 in the NE.

The fact that there are 8 million in the London area so roughly 2000 million spent on that area but say 260 million in the NE. That may not be entirely right but you get my gist - the numbers of votes aren't enough to count.

Dolly80 Fri 15-Jan-16 18:50:18

Ok perhaps not as a response to economic conditions, as the red tape/money it would cost makes sense. However do we need 650 when a much larger nation, the USA, has 535 in the senate & House of Representatives (bearing in mind my knowledge of American politics is limited).

As a PP mentioned people in rural communities may feel ignored but, as a city dweller, I can't say I feel my local MP is particularly in touch with my needs or the needs of the community either.

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 18:50:40

So do you think it would be better if the rural constituencies were bigger, SSargassoSea, i.e. the MP could say 'I represent 65,000 people you know' rather than 'I represent my wife, myself and our next-door neighbour'? Or would it perhaps be better if more constituencies covered a mix of rural and a metropolitan areas - mine is on the edge of Leeds so takes in a separate town and the area in between, for example. Reducing the number of MPs, and thus expanding existing constituency areas, would probably help with that.

Dolly80 Fri 15-Jan-16 18:50:53

Realised I mean low population density as opposed to rural.

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 19:01:36

I understand where you're coming from with the comparison with the US, Dolly80, although of course it is a federal system with much more decision making devolved to the individual states, so there is a whole apparatus of government that we don't have in England, although arguably something similar exists in the devolved administrations.

Googling led me to this paper from 2010, which helpfully includes a comparison table of number of representatives per head of population (page 3) showing the UK appears to have way too many, but notes that the table fails to take into account how many of the countries listed have federal systems (US, Germany, Australia) and thus state level governments as well. It notes In 1992 there were 513,000 elected officials in the United States, or one per 485 people. Achieving a similar ratio of elected politicians to people in Britain would mean having around 125,000 elected officials rather than the current total of around 21,000.

The report is well worth reading. I still think there is a strong case for altering constituency boundaries to make the electorates more even - which would have a modest reduction in the number of MPs if done to achieve parity with the average electorate now.

caroldecker Fri 15-Jan-16 19:28:37

On the US, the Texan federal govt has a senate and house of representatives with 181 elected people for 27m population, so about the same ratio as the UK

Dolly80 Fri 15-Jan-16 19:45:32

Thanks I'll have a look at the paper, I find it a really interesting area.

SuzieSheepsSister Fri 15-Jan-16 20:01:42

As others have said, I think comparison to the a Federal System in America simply doesn't work as it's not like for like. Members of the Senate or House of Representatives don't have the same expectation of local access/constituency links and certainly wouldn't spend time each week in the area they represent (partly because of the sheer size covered).

You might think that our form of constituency based representative democracy isn't worth it - but you would be changing the entire system.

SuzieSheepsSister Fri 15-Jan-16 20:02:05

In terms of thinking you'd like to cut the staffing available to MPs - they generally have enough funding for 3.5/4 staff Members, at least one of which will be in Westminster. That's only 2 or perhaps 3 in the Constituency office seeing constituents and doing the Casework. I think cutting this would be a false economy - especially as the Casework general involves trying to fix things for people who have been failed by Government agencies (so casework has increased massively since all the public sector cuts). Again, you might feel that you don't want a system where MPs do Casework (in America they generally don't), but I think it's a good way of keeping MPs in touch with what sort of problems their constituents face and how public services function.

tribpot Fri 15-Jan-16 22:20:08

Yes, I don't think 3.5-4 staff seems excessive given the amount of work an MP has to do. Equally, Dolly's point was that all other public bodies are having to try and make do with less staff, so why should MPs not also feel the chill wind of austerity? Yes, ultimately it's the public who suffer but that's true across all public services.

SSargassoSea Sat 16-Jan-16 06:18:02

We already have 2 less MPs since 2011. It makes a difference as country areas vote traditionally Cons or Lib, the towns vote Lab SNP. (Generalising there).
So we have in Dumfries and Galloway the one and only Cons (in the east where there are no large towns) and SNP, though previously Lab in the west which contains the biggest town in the area.

Though I agree that fewer MPs is probably a good idea - though you can't resolve the issue of a smaller constituency being swallowed by a larger city and their resulting MP being the political choice of the larger city.

In theory the local councilors would make more balanced decision making in the area regardless of the MP. In my area they are 50:50 Lab or Cons. Not sure what that proves (and seem to vote along party lines).

SuzieSheepsSister Sat 16-Jan-16 09:36:01

If all this devolution stuff actually happens in a meaningful way, then yes - but for now I don't think it's a great idea

BungoWomble Sun 17-Jan-16 18:03:50

The question we should be asking with respect to numbers is how well do our MPs represent our people's views. In contrast to your US example, I'd remind you that our MP numbers have not increased on those of a century ago, when the population was substantially smaller. I think the US has had several examples of events proving how limited their ability to represent their people - all their people not just the rich white males - really is and so their 'democracy' is in an even worse state than ours.

I think we need more MPs. I don't think the current system represents ordinary people very well, which increases the alienation of huge numbers of the electorate. It also would reduce their caseload and cut out one of their major justifications for the remarkable wage increases they've been voting themselves.

BungoWomble Sun 17-Jan-16 18:06:20

Reduce their workload, that should have said.

HirplesWithHaggis Sun 17-Jan-16 18:17:43

Doing away with the House of Lords would be a start. There's nearly 800 of them, each entitled to £300 per day just for turning up the snooze after a subsidised boozy lunch.

SuzieSheepsSister Sun 17-Jan-16 18:35:15

Hi BungoWomble - I'm not aware of MPs voting for wage increases. MPs don't set their own wages...?

Hirplies - Entirely reforming the House of Lords into a drastically smaller, democratic second chamber would be an excellent start!

BungoWomble Mon 18-Jan-16 07:19:56

Ok, poor phraseology. Not sure what to do with the House of Lords. I don't agree with it in principle but it has checked some extremes of the Commons, which I agree with even less, from time to time. Cut the hereditary peers out in favour of a consulting body of half academics/ half ordinary folks on a jury service system?

BungoWomble Mon 18-Jan-16 07:26:37

They should do a public consultation for ideas. They'd probably get even stranger ones smile. though hopefully still polite

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