Monday, 17 March 2014

Wise men and politicians

A wise man once said that it must be a very strange problem indeed if the solution is “more politicians”.  It sums up the attitude which will colour the response of many to the Silk proposal to increase the number of AMs; it’s a proposal which is unlikely to prove popular except amongst those who would rather like to join their ranks.
It’s not a new proposal; Richard proposed the same some years ago.  And the current number of 60 always looked like a number plucked out of the air.  Based on the number of MPs end the extant constituency boundaries (factors which have never been static anyway) it always looked like another of Ron Davies’s fudges – what would his party allow him to get away with.
There’s a sense in which any other number suggested is equally arbitrary; any nice round number such as 80 or 100 will always appear thus.  And it probably is, ultimately, simply a matter of opinion.  For what it’s worth, I’d support an increase – I’m simply recognising that there’s a large subjective element in that opinion.
One of the reasons given for an increase is the workload of the current AMs; and another is the fact that taking the “payroll” vote out – ministers, whips etc. – leaves an excessively small pool of backbenchers to cover an increasing range of subject areas.  That in turn makes it harder for AMs to become masters of one aspect of policy, obliging them instead to remain jacks of all trades.  I have a lot of sympathy with those arguments; but I’ll admit that I'd have even more if there weren’t AMs holding other jobs outside the Assembly - whether as councillors or running businesses or whatever - and if some of them didn’t appear at times to be merely reading the scripts they’ve been given.
One aspect of increasing the numbers of AMs that leaves me cold however is the instant suggestion that any increase needs to be accompanied by a decrease in the numbers of MPs or councillors or both.  It’s not that there aren’t arguments for a change in the numbers of either or both; it’s more that the relationship between the numbers in different roles is tenuous at best and is not really being based on any objective analysis of the responsibilities or workload.
It seems to be based partly on an unsubstantiated premise that there is a “right” number of politicians in total, and partly on politicians’ fear of telling the electorate that we need more of them.  I can understand the second; but being afraid to say what’s needed simply plays to that antipathy and strengthens it.
We’re not afraid to say if we think we need more teachers or police – why be so defensive and fearful about the requirements of a properly operating democracy?

1 comment:

Cibwr said...

A law of conservation of politicians?

Well the Assembly in its 1979 incarnation was to have 72 members... councils are thought to need a minimum of 30 to be effective. The public mood is for less politicians and its difficult to persuade otherwise.