Thursday 6 August 2009

Last dance for no-links candidates

The last bell may be tolling for parliamentary candidates without a connection to the constituency they represent. Just as unacceptable is the choice of some MPs to reject localism by living a hundred miles or more away from their constituencies.
When the expenses row shined a spotlight on some of the ancient practises of MPs, one thing it brought home was the ludicrousness of a MP having a constituency home nowhere near their constituents.
As the recent by-election in Norwich North, and the open primary selection of a Conservative candidate in Totnes show, people increasingly expect to have someone represent them who knows their area.
Political parties of all persuasions may find it increasingly difficult to parachute in a clever, young in-favour candidate, who has never been near the constituency before, just because they fancy this person as a future mover and shaker. We, the public, are smart to this now, and we just don't like it.
The public expect more. They want someone who has lived there -- at some point -- before they are elected, not because of being elected.
Contrastingly, however, I would argue once elected MPs need to be wary of just becoming an souped-up version of a local councillor.
Satisfying though it may be to help solve local problems, MPs need to have a role in Westminster in crafting and testing legislation. Increasingly influential select committees have a strong place in this process, but far too often they are badly attended by MPs who have agreed to take a place on them.
With select committee reports having a more powerful voice in agenda setting (surely there have been at least five committee reports on the Today programme this week), and increased expectations on the committee to do detailed scrutiny of the work of the department they observe, MPs should embrace the opportunity of a seat on a select committee to help get the legislation we need and deserve.


Jim Jepps said...

*This* is a very good post - thanks.

Newmania said...

There are more implications to this than I feel you have considered.If , as seems likely an open Primary confer a significant advantage on the candidate , New Labour may be forced to follow suit.
What happens then to the issues where the Party disagrees with most of its voters
1 Immigration
2 Criminal Justice
3 Social progressivism ( in all its forms )

The left have avoided the debate with real people by the use of class entryism into the Party and its positions of power. Could you parachute a Caroline Flint onto a Working Class Constituency represented by male miners for a century ?

Open and properly accountable democracy is adanger to the left hence their liking for the Eu , PR and other ways of avoiding it

donpaskini said...

Hi Rachel,

Worth noting that one effect of this will be to increase the cost of trying to become an MP.

If, in addition to all the current costs involved in trying to seek selection, people need to have a home in the constituency then it reduces the number of people who can afford to put themselves forward.

Anonymous said...

OK so we have open primaries - so how then do you ensure that your strongest candidates - your experienced cabinet ministers - get placed in the seats most likely to secure election ?

Not a problem ? Well maybe it's a problem that no one living in a strong Tory area will be able to secure a seat in parliament, because where I live it wouldn't really matter whether they had an open primary or they drew the names out of a hat - it ain't gonna be Labour winning this seat any time soon. Actually though if it were an open primary I'd far sooner vote for a Minister as a candidate than someone unknown outside the local area who was chancing his arm.

If a party is a party, then the idea is that the members act together in concerted efforts to promote the party - not get non-members to vote for whoever they want to stand for them.

If a non-member gets to vote in a primary what on earth is the point of being a member ?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I increasingly think the constituency-tie aspect of our democracy is slightly nuts.

Constituents increasingly expect their MP to sort out problems for them which until relatively recently would have been taken to councillors (as you say in the OP). More and more it seems to go direct to the MP now.

Which would be fine...except that the MP is also supposed to be a national legislator, either taking part in active government or holding government to account, usually many miles from the constituency seat.

The situation is one where MPs are effectively being asked to do two jobs: by a local problem-fixer and grass-roots issue solver, whilst also being a national lawmaker/scrutinser.

The result is that it's very, very difficult to do both jobs properly or fully.

Originally, the idea of the constituency link was that the MP would go off and represent the interests of the contituents in Parliament. Now the MP is expected to deal with the interests of constituents locally *as well as* representing in Parliament.

Constituents demanding that MPs increasingly herald from their town seems to me part of this trend of expecting MPs to be local people sorting out local problems, rather than national legislators.

Which is why I think worthwhile constitutional reform might consider having elected local mayors to take on the casework-style aspects of an MP's job in the form of one directly elected public figurehead (as oppose to many councillors), with MPs being dedicated to national legislation, scrutiny and oversight. They could retain a constituency link, insofar as they are elected by the constituency and are expected (when appropriate) to work nationally for that constituency, and be assessed on that basis.

But it's nuts to expect our MPs to be sorting out the issue of dog poo on local playing fields one minute, and scrutinising passages of the Finance Bill the next.

[Sorry for repeating some of your points a bit, my head is a mush tonight. ps I work for an MP)