Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why MPs should not job share

There is a danger, as a traditionally minded Liberal, of saying that you are in favour of more women MPs but finding yourself opposed to any measure proposed of bringing that end about.

That said, I do worry about the idea of two people sharing the role of constituency MP, as suggested in a proposal to be put to the spring Lib Dem Conference.

I worry because I fear it would further undermine the basic premise of representative democracy - that is that an MP uses his or her judgement on the issues that come before parliament and is judged by constituents at the next election.

Yes, that view ignores the overwhelming importance of parties, but I would not to see it undermined any further.

We seem now to be governed by politicians who regard elections, not as a chance to justify the way they have voted over the past few years, but as an occasional hazard thrown up by the profession they have chosen.

So all parties have found Europe too hot to handle in general elections and instead pushed the issue away, saying it will one day be the subject of a referendum - a referendum that ever seems to take place.

And at the last election there was something approaching a conspiracy between the parties that saw no one admitting just how severe were the economic problems we face.

Having people sharing the role of MP risks accepting the view that they party politicians are more or less interchangeable. The way that British MEPs think themselves justified in resigning their seats and passing them on to someone else on their party's list halfway through a term suggests it is already accepted in those circles.

And what happens if the two people sharing disagree on an issue? I suspect the answer would be that they would both abstain, which would do nothing for out politics either.

Perhaps this is too pessimistic. There are plenty of MPs who are not smooth professional politicians or party animals. In fact I suspect this parliament has set some sort of record for rebellions against the whip, thought that is probably a function of the unique circumstances of the coalition.

But I still cling to Edmund Burke's view of the role of an MP:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
I fear that job sharing would accelerate the retreat from that approach. Perhaps our problem is precisely that we now see being an MP as a 'job'.


Andrew Hickey said...

Couldn't agree more with this. It cuts away at representative democracy, it's utterly incompatible with STV, which is still supposed to be party policy, and it's just an utterly terrible idea in more ways than I could enumerate.

But of course it puts more power in the hands of party leaders, and takes it away from voters and local parties, and does so in the name of equality...

Simon said...

You take a very Berkian view of the reprasentative as 'deligate', licenced to use their judgement for the benefit of their constituents.
But, what about their role to reprasent those constituents whether they judge them as right or wrong? Isn't it your view that turns politicians into professionals for whome elections are little more than a 5 yearly appraisel?
I very much doubt whether job share MPs would significantly strengthen the role of parties, but I do think it could open up the role to a wider section of the public and as such deserves our serious consideration

Simon Titley said...

There are also a whole host of practical difficulties.

If there are two people job-sharing as an MP, what happens if one dies or resigns? Hold half a by-election?

And what if the half-MP elected in the half-by-election belongs to a different party to the other one?

What happens if one of a pair defects to another party?

The more you think about this idea, the sillier it seems.

Simon Titley said...

See also this Huffington Post report: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/02/20/lib-dem-mp-job-share-plan_n_2722877.html

Paul McKeown said...

Hmmm, it now turns out that the problem the Lib Dems have had with women might be due to priapic knee trembling at the top. That needs sorting, long before any guff about job sharing.

Michael Meadowcroft said...

Jobsharing for MPs is an idea worth investigating, although the detailed protocols required to make it work may be so complicated as to make it impossible. However, there is a very practical method of bringing it in through the electoral system, and that is by having multi-member constituencies. Barbara Castle always said that had her Blackburn constituency not bee na two member seat, her local Labour party would never have selected her - a young woman - as a candidate. With the Single Transferable Vote, and constituencies of, say, three or four MPs, there is no guarantee of gender equality, but there is considerable pressure to have a team of candidates who are representative of the whole constituentcy in order to attract voting preferences from the widest possible range of electors.

Michael Meadowcroft