Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Too Many Politicians.

Today there's been much coverage of information released after a FoI request about the number of politicians which are paid within the structure of British democracy. It seems that the political payroll is now over 29,000, up from 3,000 just 30 years ago. The main reasons for this are devolution and the decision to pay councillors. unsurprisingly, the cost of our democracy has gone through the roof as well. Question is what's to be done about it, and if anything should be done. Let's look at the possibilities, within the range of what seems achievable.

I don't think there will be much change at the European Parliament level. However, I do think there will be a reduction in the number of MPs - probably by around 10%. Personally, I think it should be reduced further. Its difficult to be precise about how many members of the National Assembly for Wales there should be. Daresay some think we should scrap the lot, but I don't think that's on the table at all. When it was established in 1999, the current number of 60 AMs was probably about right. But 60 would not be enough if full law making powers were to be devolved, as envisaged in Part Four of the 2006 Government of Wales Act. 80 AMs would probably be needed. Since power is being devolved bit by bit via the ridiculously complex process of Legislative Competence Orders, its not at all clear when the number of AMs should be reviewed. And finally, there is an irresistible case for reducing the number of councillors. When they were not being paid, it didn't matter what how many there were. But now, we should have no more than are needed to do the job. In Powys, where I live, I expect the current 73 councillors to be reduced to below 60 - and soon. There will be howls of rage, but this is difficult to argue against.

Tell me what you think. I'm sure there is plenty of contrary opinion out there.


Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...


I do think we are over governed in Wales, given our size. I say over ‘governed’ because I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying we should cut representation, which is a stick people use to beat us with.

The problem is that it takes a pretty astute politician to be able to call for less politicians while fighting the charge of ‘cutting representation’. I think the first stage has to be stripping out unnecessary representation, with the Welsh MPs being the first of the lot.

Glyn Davies said...

SaTH - Three aspects to this I think. Firstly, there is the likelihood of an overall cut in the number of MPs - which seems to growing as a possibility. Secondly there's the issue of a greater percentage cut in Wales, because we have a much lower ratio of MP to constituent. This change could be incorporated into a general cut in numbers, and probably will be. And thirdly, there's the consequences of transferring law making powers which is not at all clear. None of us know when the current 'bit by bit' process of law making transfer will be completed - and because of the daft way its being done, MPs can reasonably argue that their workload has actually increased!

Frank H Little said...

You can't remove all the MPs from Wales. Welsh citizens still need representation in respect of UK-wide matters, such as foreign policy and defence (especially when Welsh men and women are fighting for us in the world's trouble spots).

Glyn, I agree with you generally about the reduction to the UK average - or beyond - of the number of Welsh MPs per elector. (I seem to recall this as part of the Liberal Party's proposals for devolution.) I think, though, there are problems of remoteness when dealing with rural constituencies. This applies to large parts of England, too, of course.

Penddu said...

We should cut the number of Welsh MPs but this should not be a knee-jerk reaction to over-reprsentation and expanses scandal, but should be part of a major overhaul of the UK constitution, which must take into account the current and future devolutionary settlements.

I would like to see a fully federalised UK with a Welsh parliament having say 80 AMs dealing with all internal affairs, and with only limited central functions (defence, foreign affairs etc) dealt with by a central 'Union' parliament. Providing there was a sepaerate English Parliament of say 200 MP(E)s , then the Union parliament could contain as few as 100 MP(U)s with Wales only contributing 5% of the total!!

Penddu said...

As I wrote my previous comment, and thought about the name for Members of Union Parliament - surely nobody would call the MUPs Muppets - would they??

Jeff Jones said...

Most Scottish unitary authorities have half the number of councillors of the Welsh councils of a similar size. When Scottish local government was reorganised in the 1990s they also looked at the number of councillors. For some reason this wasn't carried out in Wales. This was first drawn to be attention by a Scottish MP who had been a former Council Leader. He was explaining to me that all the councillors on his council were supplied with mobile phones and laptops. He was astonished when I explained that such a move would be pretty costly in my own authority because there were 54 councillors. He had been the Leader of an authority of similar size to Bridgend with just 30 councillors. Adopting the Scottish model in some authorities such as Bridgend I estimate could save about £317000 a year. When I suggested this to some councillors you can imagine the reaction. Although I understand that there will be change because the reviews are looking at a minimum of 1750 voters per ward and single member wards. In Cardiff the average councillor already represents over 3000 voters. For years as a County Councillor I represented over 4200 with no difficulty whatsoever. In fact before 1974 there were only 2 county councillors for the whole of my valley. There are now 7. Although as I stated earlier any reduction is not going to be popular with sitting members.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...


Agreed - but I think there will have to be an increase in AMs sooner ratehr than later,.

Anonymous said...

Did you catch Quentin Letts’s article in the Daily Mail yesterday in which he suggested that the Northern Ireland assembly is hard to scrap but that the Welsh Assembly is expendable?

I sent a deliberately provocative comment to the Mail to the effect that Letts no doubt thinks the Northern Ireland assembly is hard to scrap because it would lead to violence. In other words the nail-bombers and child-killers get to keep their assembly but you can ride rough-shod over those who have campaigned for elective devolution through constitutional means. I questioned whether the Daily Mail endorsed such pro-violence, anti-democratic sentiments. Should any in the Conservative Party feel tempted to parrot Quentin Lett’s line perhaps they might like to reflect on that.

Anonymous said...

Surely an alternative to cutting the number of councillors is to make them unpaid (except for out of pocket expenses) voluntary positions against

Glyn Davies said...

Frank - We agree on all points.

Peddu - Logical but too radical for me. I suffer gradualist tendancies on constitutional matters. Much in line with what my colleague, David Melding thinks.

Jeff - And we are in agreement as well. Though I do think 1750 will be a reasonable average in a rural county.

Anon - There are many people who believe that the National Assembly should be abolished, but its not going to happen, No-one in Wales has ever heard of Quentin Letts.

Anon 2 - The stuff of dreams. There's more chance of abolishing the Assembly than this happening.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think Quentin Letts will be losing too much sleep over any lack of profile in Wales!

What I found rather depressing about Lett’s article was the casual dismissal of constitutional process. There’s a certain irony in the fact that Labour at one point did not intend holding devolution referendums but then Blair, for whatever reason, changed his mind. Blair in effect has been responsible for ‘locking in’ the current devolution settlement by a popular referendum so that no democrat could seriously suggest its abolition without recourse to a further referendum.

Ten years on you still get the impression that many in the London media ‘just don’t get it’.

John Blake said...

I think councillors should be given much more power at all levels.

The Welsh Assembly is trying desperately to acquire more power from both national and local government. It is a sinister and undesirable process and should be stopped.

As a Conservative, you should see that for yourself.

I take it you do consider yourself a Conservative. Or are you a Melding-style Tory Lite?