Tuesday 3 March 2009

What Trevor's term limits would do to the Cabinet

Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Alistair Darling and Jack Straw may just get to carry on in politics as Trevor Phillips and the Equality Commission are (rightly) becoming lukewarm about their controversial proposal for term limits to increase Parliamentary diversity.

Here is their press release, offering less than full-throated endorsement of the plan.(My emphasis).

The Commission believes that one way of speeding up turnover would be to impose a term limit for MPs. Limiting MPs to serving a maximum of four parliamentary terms - or roughly 20 years – would allow more people from a wider range of backgrounds to enter the House. These limits could also be considered for the House of Lords. However the proposals would need careful consideration as, for example, it would be important to ensure time limits didn’t prevent Parliament benefiting from the experience of long-serving members.

But they would, wouldn't they? That's the whole point of term limits: to get long-serving MPs out so others can come in. You can't have term limits with exemptions for the long-serving

It is a welcome sign that this is seen as a non-runner. And you don't have to be a turkey on Christmas eve to think so. The problem is that term limits would have a much greater impact on age than on gender or race. The impact on gender or race is to speed up by a factor of 1.5 any changes which are happening anyway. (They would achieve in four Parliaments whatever the current system would achieve in six).

The impact on age would be much more dramatic. This can be illustrated by looking at the current Cabinet.

There are currently eight members of the Cabinet over 55. Seven of the over 55s would now be barred from Parliament. The average age of the Cabinet would fall from 52 to 46, leaving only Alan Johnson in the Cabinet aged over 55, alongside nine under 45s.

Here are those who would have to leave, with their age now, and when the four term limit would have guillotined them.

Gordon Brown. 58 (out aged 50 in 2001)
Alistair Darling, 55 (out aged 51 in 2005)
Jack Straw, 62 (out aged 50 in 1997)
Harriet Harman, 58 (out aged 50 in 2001)
Paul Murphy, 60 (out aged 58 in 2005)
Nick Brown, 58 (out aged 50, in 2001)
Margaret Beckett, 65 (out aged 48 in 1992)

Compare those who would get to stay on, and when they first came into parliament, and when the term limits cull would cut them too.

John Hutton, 53 (1992, barred from fighting 2010; age 54)
John Denham 55, (1992; barred from fighting 2010: age 56)
Alan Johnson, 58 (1997; out by 65, in 2015)
Geoff Hoon, 55 (1997, out by 61)
Hazel Blears, 52 (1997, out by 58)
Tony McNulty, 50, (1997, out by 56)
Shaun Woodward, 50 (1997, out by 56)
Jacqui Smith, 46 (1997, out by 53)
Jim Murphy MP, 41 (1997, out by 48)
Douglas Alexander, 41 (1997, out by 48)
Yvette Cooper, 39 (1997, out by 45)

Hilary Benn, 55 (1999; out by 62)
David Miliband, 43 (2001; out by 55)
Andy Burnham, 39 (2001, out by 50)
James Purnell, 38 (2001, out by 49)

Liam Byrne MP, 38 (2004, out by 55)
Ed Balls, 42 (2005, out by 58)
Ed Miliband, 39 (2005, out by 55)

Note how the young Turks all have to get out before they are in their mid-50s too. The presence of those over 60 in government or Parliament would become much rarer, though they are the fastest-growing section of the population. The age effects would be dramatic - unless kicking so many older MPs out of Parliament saw a dramatic shift to selecting much older MPs as new candidates.

Given the Equality Commission's responsibility for preventing age discrimination, I doubt we will hear about this again.

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