Parliament: more global, less local (part 2)

by | Oct 20, 2009


In a post yesterday, I discussed the failure of either Iain Dale or Rory Stewart to get selected for the Bracknell parliamentary seat, arguing that we need to create incentives for our MPs to focus more on global issues, and less on the hyper-local bread-and-butter of constituency politics.

(Local GP, Phillip Lee, who won the Conservative Party’s open primary was roughly handled – but I want to underline this is not an attack on him personally, more criticism of a system that favours a ‘local, local, local’ candidate, rather than ones with international experience.)

There’s never been a better moment to reform Parliament – with the expenses scandal continuing to fester. Probably the status quo will prevail, but if it doesn’t, here’s how we should prepare our political system for what looks like being a very rocky period for globalisation.

First, we need to get serious about subsidiarity. Resilient societies devolve powers down to the lowest possible levels, but the British system is still highly centralised. As a result, MPs spend far too much time dealing with issues that should be handled by local councillors. Re-draw the lines and we can improve both local and national government.

At the moments, councils spend a lot, but central government raises much of the cash (a disastrous mismatch). National taxes should be cut. Local taxes raised. And national spending on local government made purely redistributive – aimed at areas with a low tax base but high social need (according to an algorithm that is tweaked to reflect the priorities of the government of the day).

We should then tackle reform of the House of Commons. With MPs  workload pared back, we’d be able to drastically cut the size of the lower chamber– aiming for fewer MPs, with bigger constituencies, higher media profile, and a much stronger committee structure to allow them to hold government to account.

At the moment, we have 645 MPs – that’s roughly one for every 100,000. By contrast, the US has only 435 members of Congress – one for every 700,000 citizens. We need a bigger lower house than the US, of course, as it’s where most members of government are drawn from.

But I’d happily have half as many MPs as at present (and wouldn’t mind paying them double what they get now, too). Backbench MPs, in particular, would have a far greater opportunity to gain national, and even international, profile. The job would become much more attractive to those who could make use of the platform Parliament provided them with.

Next, we need to grasp the nettle of House of Lords reform. More on that in part 3 of this series.

Author

  • David Steven is a senior fellow at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.


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