Today I found myself in a meeting in London listening to a number of cross-party political types. ‘More fool you’ I hear you cry, don’t come to me with your self inflicted miseries.
Most of the attendees were urging people to become more active in the political process and bemoaning the continuing disengagement from politics by the general population.
At one point, we were referred to the comments of a handful of MP’s complaining about their increased workload. – Why MP’s should feel they are immune from increasing workloads is slightly beyond me – but I digress.
I couldn’t help but wonder how politicians pre 1970 managed to handle their roles. Whilst not making a deliberately anti-EU point, presumably much of the work now delegated or transferred to Brussels must have previously been performed by national governments with additional demands on MP’s, select committees and ministers?
The past thirty years has also seen significant swathes of secondary legislation empowering town and borough councils to take on local responsibility for items as wide ranging as highways and recycling. At least a proportion of this workload presumable fell to Westminster prior to the responsibilities being spread to local authorities? With the growth of quangos (quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations) still moving forward with vigour I can only assume a significant amount of their activity left Westminster some time ago. Whilst there is bound to be a degree of retained central oversight and management the day-to-day functions have been marching out of Whitehall since the 70’s
In a similar way, the introduction of regional assemblies, the Scottish Parliament and regional development agencies/areas has further removed areas of responsibility previously run on a day to day basis through ministers and wider government. So the devil in me can’t help wondering what exactly is there left for them to be doing ?
The obvious answer would be the creation and scrutiny of legislation. However, most first year politics students would be able to tell you most drafting is now done by the civil service. Scrutiny is certainly part of the parliamentary process but can it really keep 650+ MP’s fully occupied. In recent years much of the real scrutiny and challenge has come from the House of Lords where the whipping system is slightly less powerful.
The recent expenses scandal was strongly indicative that the majority of an MP’s time is now spent in London, so the idea that the spare time has been transferred to local constituency matters is somewhat suspect. I would ask my own MP but unfortunately my question arises during his six week summer break. Even then, I would have to be quick as two weeks after returning they break again for the party conference season and then it’s a skip and a jump to the Christmas recess.
So I’m left wondering why we have as many MP’s now as we did before these various releases of responsibility and accountability. We appear to be over-represented in comparison to most of our European neighbours. Perhaps we should look to a smaller and more committed and connected first chamber and ditch some of the career politicians for whom work pressures seem to be something strange and exotic.