How Effective Is Parliament in Carrying Out Its Representative Role?

Government in the UK is a representative body elected for and by the people. The UK uses the parliamentary system as its model of representation; this means the different areas of government which are the legislative, judiciary and executive branches work in and through each other as opposed to the Presidential model which separates the powers. Westminster Parliament is the acting microcosm for the UK society; it is a small group of 365 MPs who are chosen to represent their constituencies. Each MP is given power through trusteeship when voted in, this meaning that they will try to carry out what is best for their constituency.

They are also once voted in known as a mandate, the authority granted by a constituency to an MP to act as its representative. In government the key stage of direct government representation comes from MP’s, these are the elected representatives from each of the constituencies who are voted into government in separate elections. The electoral system we have in the UK is debated whether it is a form of Parliament that is representative of its constituents. The first past the post system used in the UK is a system where the amount of votes gained within a constituency for a candidate has to have the most votes but not necessarily a majority.

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This then means the same for the amount of MPs who form parties, the amount of MPs voted in. Generally the party with a majority of constituencies can form a government but in the 2010 election a coalition has to be formed in the absence of a majority. Although this can be unfair to smaller parties this often creates strong government. Alternative vote (AV) is another electoral system by which voters place the candidates in their constituency in order of preference. After the count of first preference votes the candidate with least drops out and the second preference votes of those who voted for said candidate are redistributed.

This process continues moving down preferences until a candidate has a majority of the votes. Although this means the majority of voters in a constituency voted for their MP it does not eliminate safe seats and is not sufficiently proportional in its nature. Another more proportional electoral system is single transferable vote (STV). By this system a party can field as many candidates as there is seats to fill and each voter gets one vote which can transfer to a second or even third preference of their choice of candidate reaches a predetermined uota of votes. This would create multi-member constituencies perhaps undermining the accountability of MPs and is also questionable as the proportionality it brings about can greatly vary. When examining Parliament’s representative role you must examine the role of several groups who are severely misrepresented at Parliament. This is particularly for valid for women who make up half of the UK’s population. However, despite this there are only 143 female MPs as of the 2010 election which is only a paltry 22%; 28% less than the percentage of women in society.

Much of this is down to a policy of positive discrimination employed by the Labour Party prior to the 1997 election. In this landslide victory they had installed women candidates in safe seats to ensure more women were elected. This smacks of patronisation and is not an accurate way of telling what voters truly want but still underlines the gross misrepresentation of women at Parliament. Another severely misrepresented group is that of ethnic minority groups who at this current point make up about 10% of the national population. However, again in Parliament there are few with only 27 being elected as of 2010, a mere 4. % of MPs. This could be explained by institutionalized racism on the part of parties in picking candidates or perhaps show a reluctance on the part of ethnic minority groups in joining the political process. A very British problem is that of class and education which is not resigned to the past but is still an issue in representation. In Parliament MPs are predominantly middle-class with over four-fifths having a business or professional background. The manual working class is severely misrepresented in Parliament, even in the Labour Party, the main party traditionally most associated with the working class.

In terms of education this is also a contrast between the larger society and Parliament, with more MPs being graduates and more having attended private school, especially in the Conservative party. Another poorly representative aspect of Parliament is apparent in the House of Lords. The Lords still has real powers to stall votes for up to a year, propose its own legislation and is the highest court of appeal in the land. Despite this none of the peers in the House of Lords are elected. Hereditary peers are those who inherited their title but are still allowed to sit in the House of Lords.

Due to reforms in the system only 92 of these are allowed. Slightly more representative are life peeps that hold their title for life and are appointed by the Queen, but in practice it is the Prime Minister who truly decides. These peers dominate the workings of the House of Lords in the UK today. Another group in the House of Lords is the Lords Spiritual who are the most senior bishops and archbishops of the Church of England who number twenty-six and are appointed by the Church. As well as not being elected this also raises the question of the representation of non-Protestant religious groups.

Law Lords are the final group of Lords who are allowed to sit in the House but whose main role now is to sit outside the House of Lords in the Supreme Court, which under new legislation is the highest court of appeal. The entire issue revolving around the House of Lords in respect to representation is that no single member of the House is elected, giving no indication of public opinion. Another aspect of representation in Parliament is that of party control. Due to therefore mentioned doctrine of the mandate model of representation which dominates UK politics, parties have large amount of control.

MPs are not allowed to vote on their own judgment anymore except for free votes as the higher echelons of the party in Cabinet instead decides what the vote is. Due to this MPs cannot represent the views of their constituents if they clashed with those of the party, even if they wanted to due to the powerful whip system. By this MPs in each party are designated whips and it is their business to ensure MPs from their party vote along party lines. If MPs do not do this then they can have their status in a party removed.

As voters actually cannot influence their MP to a great degree this means that they are not truly representative of them. In conclusion, the answer to the above question is that parliament is not effective at all in its representative role. This is due to the fact many large groups are grossly misrepresented in Parliament and the electoral system allows parties to maintain control without a majority of support in the current. However, another question can be asked is that does it truly matter if we have strong government?

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