Thursday, 4 November 2010

How many MPs is enough?

It’s nice to see so many of Wales’ MPs exercised about a single subject and almost saying the same thing; it’s just a pity that the subject in question is how many of them there should be.  It’s hardly the top item on most people’s agenda; fewer politicians (however achieved) rather than more is definitely the flavour of the moment. 
(As an aside, I remember someone once saying to me that ‘if the answer to a question is more politicians, then it must be a very curious question indeed’.)
There are different ways of looking at the issue, of course; a lot depends on one’s perspective.  From a nationalist point of view, the target number of MPs at Westminster is obviously zero, once the constitutional objective is attained.  That’s the easy part; the hard part is, how many should there be in the interim, and what are the factors which should drive change?
Some have argued that as more powers are transferred to the Assembly, then the numbers should be reduced accordingly.  Given the tight control that Westminster still maintains over so much of our lives – and most importantly, over the purse-strings – that seems to me to be superficially logical, but over-simplistic.
If Wales is treated just as a region sending representatives to a unitary parliament, then there is absolutely no basis for continued over-representation, or for treating Wales any differently from any other area in the UK.  Indeed (dare I say it?), from that strongly unionist perspective there is no real logic in the rigid rule that parliamentary constituencies should not cross national boundaries.
If, however, Wales is sending representatives to what may well increasingly become a federal-type parliament, with ‘England-only’ decisions being taken by English MPs only, then there is an argument to be made for deliberate over-representation of Wales.  Many less unitary states than the UK do indeed provide for over-representation of smaller parts, and the UK Parliament is so dominated by English MPs that even our current modest over-representation still leaves Wales with fairly minimal influence.
Plaid’s pitch at European level has long included the statement that, as an independent nation, we would be entitled to about 11 MEPs instead of the current 4.  So treating Wales as a nation within Europe leads to a different approach than treating us as a region within the UK.  Why should the same not apply to Westminster for as long as Wales is part of the UK?
I wish that I could be certain that the heightened levels of awareness of the distinctiveness of Wales amongst Wales’ MPs were motivated by such considerations rather than mere self-preservation.  At the moment, the image which keeps coming to mind is of Harri Webb’s budgie.


Anonymous said...

Plaid can't be seen to want more powers for the Assembly and then 'whinge' that Wales is losing MPs. Makes Plaid and Welsh nationalism look weak and unprincipled.

I think going down to 30 MPs is fair enough.

I'm more interested in Harry Webb's budgie? What was that - any links?


John Dixon said...


"Plaid can't be seen to want more powers for the Assembly and then 'whinge' that Wales is losing MPs. Makes Plaid and Welsh nationalism look weak and unprincipled."

If the end-game is Independence, and that is within reach, then I'd agree. But I wonder whether we're all signed up to the end-game any more when I read some statements; and it's certainly some distance in the future.

As far as the budgie is concerned, try this, at page 23.