Are Constituency MPs Obsolete?

The 2016 Brexit referendum was unlike a general election in that every vote was equal: there were no wasted votes in safe seats. The referendum and Boris Johnson’s cull in September 2019 of 21 Conservative MPs destroyed the alleged importance of constituency politics. Johnson’s downgrading of MPs proved that ideas, not people, mattered.The proposition being discussed is the abolition ofdiscrete constituencieswith their replacement beinga single political entity: the country.Subsequent general elections would be truly national with every vote having equal weight.Parliamentaryseatswould be allocated by proportional representation from pre-prepared lists.

Dominic Grieve had animpregnable 65.3% of the vote in 2017 in his Beaconsfield constituency. He was an iconic victim of Johnson’s cull. He stood as an Independent in 2019 and was crushed by Joy Morrissey,* a political novice.Herpoliticalcareer was a series of failures in local elections.Her nomination is suggestive of significant political patronage. Grieve achieved 29% of the vote in 2019 (see addendum one). Twenty-two years as Beaconsfield’s MP was dismissedbyConservatism.

Grieve’s principled opposition to parts of Brexit were rejected by Beaconsfield’s voters.They endorsed the Conservative party’sstance. MPs on this reading are in parliamentas servants of the party, not to exercise independent judgement. MPs must slavishly vote for their party’s propositions so why is it necessary for constituencies to endorse them as if they’ve a personal connexion? Voters demonstrably vote for a party with a name attached.

MPs who believe they’re representatives are deluded. Political life in 2020 is visceral. Opinions are held as though they’re eternal truths. Voters’ opinions are endorsed by confirmatory echo groups on social media. The Brexit referendum shifted political reality to the point that Michael Gove, a cabinet minister, claimed he was uninterested in expert opinions.** The electorate likewise is uninterested in expertise. Grieve’s erstwhile voters didn’t ask whether he was objectively correct in his anti – No Deal assertions. They simply replaced him with a novice who was also a member of Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group who would toe Johnson’s line.

MPs hold the notion that they’re an essential conduit to ministerial ears where action can be taken to meet their constituents’ needs. Abolishing constituencies means this would end. So what? Presumably in his twenty-two years Grieve did case work, which counted for nothing. An enhanced Ombudsman would provide a better service. Most MPs aren’t as clever or diligent as Grieve and probably lack the skills necessary to pursue complex cases to fruition. National list MPs wouldn’t have case work but the electorate would get an improved service from the Ombudsman.

The national list of prospective MPs would be created by party managers, giving them enormous power. Is that any worse than party faithful selecting candidates for constituencies? The gender and racial imbalance in parliament is caused by biases at constituency level. The absurdity of first-past-the-post was demonstrated in 2015 when UKIP got nearly 4 million votes and a single seat. The Liberal Democrats are routinely under-represented and the SNP is over-represented. (see addendum two) *** National lists would reflect the demography of the electorate and minority groups could campaign to achieve the agreed eligibility threshold.

It’s time for a critical analysis of parliamentary democracy in Britain. The 2015 general election and the 2016 referendum were seismic and the issues identified need addressing urgently. Johnson’s cull was a master class in power politics with the unforeseen consequence that he shattered cosy parliamentary politics. Treating ex-cabinet ministers with contempt diminished every MP. Let’s end the charade of constituency MPs once and for all.

Addendum One: Dominic Grieve’s election results 2017 and 2019

Beaconsfield 2017

Beaconsfield 2019

Addendum Two: The absurd first-past-the-post result 2015

Graph showing number of votes and seats won

* Fellow American Jennifer Acuri was a close friend of Johnson’s but it’s unknown if there’s any connexion.

** https://www.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c

*** https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

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