Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bring back the Oxford and Cambridge MPs?
A new proposal from Left Outside 

The title of my post is rather misleading: although before 1950 Oxford and Cambridge did used to return University MPs, they weren't elected by the students. The electorate was composed of holders of MAs, effectively a property qualification. Although abolished by an earlier incarnation of the Representation of the People Act, the seats didn't disappear until the 1950 general election.

Left Outside has an altogether more interesting idea:

But, I would like to delve a little deeper into the specifics of a new system. I would like see a change to the narrow geographical boundaries which mark out our constituencies. If a more proportional system is introduced, and lets hope it is, then I think it is time to reintroduce some quirkier features of our democracy. This is why I advocate a reintroduction of multi-member University Constituencies.

We are used to constituencies being constructed on a continuous geographical basis. For example and for no particular reason consider NewburySedgefieldDundee Westand Warrington North [1], these constituencies exist because they loosely represent the community which will elect that area’s MP. This is big bonus of the Constituency system, people are directly connected with their local representative. However, the cohesiveness of these seats also leads to them becoming safely RedBlue or Yellow. This is bad for democracy because elections are then only really conducted in 150 marginal seats, and millions of votes cease to matter.


However, constituencies do not need a continuous area in order to be representative of those who would be its electors. There can be circumstances that link me more culturally, emotionally and politically with a call centre worker in France than a Tory Grandee in Sleaford and North Hykeham. As an ex-student, there are also very obvious reasons to believe that I have more in common with the people I eat with, drink with and study with across the country than the community I visited for 3 months out of every 12.

As a student, for 3 years (and sometimes more) half the young people in this country leave their homes and enter a new community that isn’t so much described by geography as by its “Studentness.”

These would be more representative in two main ways. First of all they would give students a say in the community to which they belong (should they choose to register there of course). Secondly, as a consequence of the reallocation of voters, local communities which the students have left will have a more equitably and fairer say in their own affairs. -[source]

I think a version of this might be very practical: but why stop at the Universities? Voters might very well have more in common with fellow union, church, or professional body members than they do with others who are merely geographically close. All constituencies will become "empires of the mind" - free associations of sovereign people. If we are really serious about abolishing the "tyranny of geography", this is the way to do it. However, we are left with a problem - most people don't have a single identity, they are former members of universities, workplaces, unions, Doctor Who appreciation societies, and so forth. In Dsquared's plan to replace the House of Lords with a House of Chiefs, everyone had to endorse one, and only one person as their Chief, subject to a threshold of e.g. 4000 signatures. I suggest you can belong to more than one constituency, provided (a) that number is less than, say, 20, and (b) you have a total of one vote, but you can divide it between the constituencies you belong (say, 1/3 to your union, 1/2 to your church, 1/6 to your university), (c) there is some threshold that a constituency needs to get a seat.

[I hope to discuss my favourite PR system, Random Dictator with Barrage, in a future post]


Left said...

You raise some interesting points (Just one thing, I blog as Left Outside, Next Left is the Fabian Society Blog).

Your right, it doesn't just have to only be a Universities system or only MPs.

There's a huge amount of variation that political reform opens up and we've just got to make sure we take advantage.

[I look forward with great anticipation for your "Dictator with Barrage" call to arms!]

Political Scientist said...

Hello Left Outside,

Sorry - just fixed it! Must have been thinking about the Fabians while I was typing. I really liked your post - a very interesting idea.

["Dictator with Barrage" does have a proper psephological name, if only I could remember it, it involves counting all the votes, excluding those parties that get less than the barrage, and then picking a vote at random from the remaining votes. The chance of winning is proportional to the fraction of the vote the parties got. It means areas where I live, which under FPTP will have a Tory MP till Doomsday, would have a Labour or LibDem MP for a fraction of the time]

Left said...

Cheers, those Fabians do get around!

That does sound pretty interesting, might be good for an upper chamber. Given an element of chance we could get less careerists and more "regular people"

Having two houses we can play with means we electoral reform obsessives can invent all the crazy systems we want.