Job shares for MPs?

reformIt seems that journalists in the national media now make time to read Liberal Democrat policy consultation papers, even before they are discussed at Conference.

Following the Mail’s rant about the so-called ‘jewelry tax‘ (from the Tax Policy consultation paper), we now have a more reasoned appraisal by the Guardian of one of the proposals in the consultation paper on Political and Constitutional Reform.

This major consultation is very wide ranging, and begins thus:

Our recent policy on constitutional and political reform has tended to focus on altering the democratic structures of the United Kingdom. We have sought pluralism in our electoral system, strength and legitimacy in our Parliament, and radical decentralisation of power to national, regional and local institutions.

One of the challenges for a working group whose remit also covers political engagement is to recognise that reforms to political structures and institutions are not in themselves sufficient to engage citizens in the running of their country.

To this end, we seek your views on how best to reaffirm a long-held Liberal commitment “to help organise people in communities to take and use power; to use our political skills to redress grievances; and to represent people at all levels of the political structure.” Our challenge is to preserve “a dual approach to politics, acting both inside and outside the institutions of the political establishment”

The consultation asks members to consider 56 challenging questions, including these:

  • How should the Party square the objective of building cross-party consensus for constitutional change  with the inevitable blockages caused by vested interests in the existing systems? What degree of compromise is acceptable?
  • Should the UK Parliament remain bi-cameral? Is there a place for bi-cameralism in the devolved institutions?
  • Should there be any amendment to the existing Human Rights Act?
  • How best can we anchor the concept of an entitlement to political power for units below the federal tier in the financial relationship between different levels of government?
  • What constitutional rights for local government do you believe should be enshrined in a written constitution?
  • In what circumstances are referenda appropriate?
  • How should politicians embrace online engagement without losing the benefits which representative liberal democracy brings in terms of balancing competing interests? Where is the right balance between meaningful engagement vs government by plebiscite?

Today the Guardian gives some welcome attention to another consultation question:

  • Do you support, in principle, the idea of a legal right for two people to stand for office jointly, and, if duly elected by constituents, to share the work of one Member of Parliament (or other elected representative)?

Under the headline  Lib Dems draw up job-share plans to boost number of women MPs  the Guardian provides a direct quote from the consultation paper:

The rationale behind the proposal is that it could open up the role of MP to a much wider group of people than at present. Research shows that one of the main barriers to increasing women’s participation in politics is perceived incompatibility with family life, while evidence from professions such as medicine, law and the senior civil service suggests that provision for part-time working significantly increases the talent pool of women progressing into senior roles.

Of course, this is a consultation, not a policy paper, so no detailed plans have yet been drawn up.  Instead a sensible, but essentially pragmatic, idea has been floated and further discussion invited on it. Dinti Batstone, who chaired the policy working group, has long advocated job-shares for MPs, and last wrote about the subject in support of a Private Member’s Bill in November.

It would also be good to open a public debate through the media on some of the other more philosophical questions in this consultation paper, but that seems unlikely.

 

 

 

* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.

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20 Comments

  • Andrew Martin 19th Feb '13 - 4:07pm

    “Lib Dems draw up job-share plans to boost number of women MPs”.
    Hopefully it would have the potential boost the number of disabled MPs too.

  • Dinti Batstone 19th Feb '13 - 4:15pm

    Yes indeed Andrew – that’s one of the reasons why the proposal is supported by organisations like Disability Politics: http://www.disabilitypolitics.org.uk/

    Details of how to respond to our consultation are in the paper itself, which is available via the Conference section of the party’s website.

  • tonygreaves 19th Feb '13 - 4:22pm

    Job-sharing for MPs (or any other elected representatives) is an unbelievably silly idea. You only have to start to work out how it would work in practice to realise how completely impractical (and indeed undermining of democracy) it really is.

    Tony Greaves

  • Following the success of job-sharing in some party roles, I can’t see a problem with job-share MPs. Of course I would suggest to Lord Greaves that the key would be to leave it up to the electorate to decide on whether or not they would like a job-share, and not the constitution… It is therefore certainly not an undermining of democracy, and I cannot see any problem with how it works in practice any more than any other job-shares.

  • Richard Dean 19th Feb '13 - 5:11pm

    Job-sharing makes sense if work outputs that can be defined and measured. If you have 100 walnuts to crack by Friday, or 100 letters to type, or 100 shelves to fill, it probably doesn’t matter too much if one person does it or several person share the work. It’s probably more complicated if the work involves processing conflicting information from multiple sources and coming to single decision on that basis.

    Many MPs spouses probably do share quite a bit in the MP’s work, and if I was an MP I’d certainly want my wife to be able to represent me when I was busy elsewhere, including in parliament . Ideally I’d want the electorate to elect us both as a team, but that would not be job-sharing, would it? it would be two jobs.

  • Andrew Martin 19th Feb '13 - 5:16pm

    Thanks Dinti

    Tony – this is a consultation and surely the whole point of such an exercise is to examine all the evidence and see if there is a workable solution – which may not be one of the “unbelievable silly” suggestions you have encountered. For example, MPs might be elected on a ticket, i.e. with a second-in-command ready to take over (I don’t know if this is a good idea or not because I haven’t personally examined all the evidence).

  • Laura Gordon 19th Feb '13 - 7:40pm

    I’ve often thought this would be a good way to address what I see as a flaw in the current system – MPs, quite rightly, can take parental leave, but that leaves their constituents unrepresented for several months at least, which seems undemocratic. Having a job share (or a second-in-command) would solve that issue.

  • Remember the Highlands and Islands Alliance?
    No, well they were formed prior to the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, with the aim to represent the H&I in said parliament. They got a favourable reception when they formed and the Highland Lib Dems were frankly bricking it. However, they made job sharing for MSPs a central plank of their campaign and sank without trace.
    In the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the terms and conditions of MPs’ employment is not something worth campaigning on.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '13 - 8:13pm

    Proportional Representation under the multi-party system would solve the problem.

  • Joseph Donnelly 19th Feb '13 - 8:43pm

    I completely agree with Tony Greaves.

    @Henry

    The problem is a robust and functioning democracy is not just about letting the people decide whether they want something or not…that might seem counter-intuitive but its easily demonstrable e.g. tyranny of the majority problems.

  • Tony – I think the proposal of 0.5 of a vote each is perfectly workable. The issue then becomes why should a jobshare stop at 2 – why not 3, 4 or even 50 with 0.02 of a vote each.

    The system we have already allows for the election of an MP who has no intention of doing a fundamental part of the job (Sinn Fein) – I don’t see why this is any more undermining of democracy than that.

    Though I do wonder what happened to the power of recall. How hard can it be to pass legislation which all three party leaders supported!

  • Dinti Batstone 19th Feb '13 - 10:07pm

    Judging by the comments above, I look forward to a typically robust Lib Dem debate at the consultation session in Brighton!

    Tony – “unbelievably silly” is what people said a century ago about giving women the vote. I’m disappointed to hear such a knee jerk dismissal from someone with your impeccable radical pedigree. I’ve thought about this a great deal and so have various others, including leading academics in the field. Hope you can make the consultation session so we can have a sensible discussion…

  • Miranda Whitehead 20th Feb '13 - 7:51am

    I have read the comments above ,and also a stream of comments containing a fair bit of misogynistic abuse on the Guardian link. This isn’t about getting more women into Parliament by the back door; this is a well thought out idea which could re invigorate an out dated job description and support the family life of Members, male or female. . Job Sharing is not only possible, it is workable. As a doctor I have job shared all my working life, with men and women, working full time and part time. I have also shared work as a local councillor. None of this has been labelled job sharing, but it has certainly shared the available work out to make the job possible. Why not for members of Parliament?

  • A job share only works if you propose that both pseudo-mp’s will agree and vote identically on absolutely everything. How does the constituency voting work? One tick for Lib Dem Mr A/Mr B. What if you agree on say Mr A’s position on abortion but not Mr B’s? A list system? What happens when you have a vote on an issue where the two pseudo-mp’s have differing opinions. Is it simply down to the vagaries of the parliamentary calender as to who is on ‘shift’ that day?

    And under the current expenses system where the taxpayer is paying for MP’s rent in London, is it wise to propose potentially doubling the number of houses the taxpayer pays for? Not to mention the ridiculously gold plated pensions.

  • Peter Watson 20th Feb '13 - 2:55pm

    I remain to be convinced that job-sharing for MPs is workable and that it would deliver the results hoped for. Beyond the obvious issues and practicalities that need to be addressed, perhaps it could even be counter-productive.

    I certainly accept that job-sharing is great in many areas, and could bring a lot of benefits to MPs. They could cover each other’s absences, split constituency work from parliamentary work, specialise in separate policy areas, have one spin-doctor and one worker, campaign twice as widely, tag-team in parliamentary debates to wear down opponents, perhaps be easier for whips to keep in line if only one of a pair needs to be persuaded to vote, etc. In fact, two (or more) job-sharing MPs could be so much more effective than a single MP that it becomes the norm, because no single MP could possibly compete or be as productive or efficient. But then what?
    Do we end up with two full-time MPs sharing a role and a salary? Do we effectively create a parliament of 1300 MPs instead of 650 and still exclude those unable to work full-time? Do we discourage MPs from a range of backgrounds who can’t afford to work for half the salary because they lack personal wealth or outside financial interests?

  • Kmag – those are fair questions – but ultimately the voters can make that choice.

    AIUI the proposals by John O’Connell were that the expenses & salary were the same for an MP whether job share or not so the costs would be the same – though I suppose there will be an increase in travel costs. In practical terms I’m not sure how this will work as findign two lots of accomodation within the accomodation budget will not be easy.

  • Like proportional representation this idea assumes that party politicians are automatons who only operate according to party wishes and whose actions are determined centrally by the party machine. Again, like proportional representation, it is not a silly idea but it is one that could only be rescued from absurdity if we were first to change the entire basis of this country’s political organisation by giving many more powers to local and regional government and making central government a system based solely on the implementation of manifestoes rather than the election of constituency representatives.

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