Tom Brake writes… Job sharing for MPs – an idea whose time has come

There’s something about our system of electing one person to represent one, relatively small part of the country which makes MPs very territorial. Their constituency is “their patch” on which no one else must trespass, and by extension we all find ourselves utterly consumed by the job.

The consequence is that politics becomes available only to people who are able to give themselves to it to the exclusion of all else. Working age women in particular have been seen to self-select out of the job, and many more simply never enter it. Westminster hand-wrings often about how we achieve a more diverse, representative Parliament with more people who have, or have had, ‘real lives’ outside. At our conference in York, an FPC policy paper gives us one tool to achieve that end, in the form of a proposal to let candidates stand for a seat in the Commons on a job-share basis.

Among colleagues in Parliament, the concern I hear raised about that is that an MP’s job is so consuming and so personal that it is somehow uniquely indivisible. Yet if we want parliamentarians to know about life outside Westminster, we should be prepared to make it easier for them to have one. In business, the civil service and the trade unions, people have realised that job-sharing opens up their organisations to a much wider range of talent, of both genders and of all ages and family circumstances.

Just as it is for employers to decide whether to offer job shares in other professions, it would be for the electors, our employers, to decide whether to offer them for seats in Parliament. Candidates would put themselves forward on a joint ticket, and would share the work and salary of an MP if elected.

As with most changes in British politics, it is likely that job shares would start rare and become more common, as people get used to the idea. Voters may well find they get a better deal out of two part-timers than out of one (often exhausted) full-time parliamentarian. As so many of our councillors in multi-member wards know, there is great value in having a colleague with a different perspective and set of experiences to your own. Our un-reformed system of single-member, first-past-the-post seats in the Commons make the job-share option particularly important.

A Private Member’s Bill on this issue was introduced in 2012. It set out clearly how job sharing could work in Parliament. Most of the time, the sharers would delegate to each other responsibility for casting one whole vote in the Commons on behalf of them both. But if they did disagree, they could each take a “half-vote”, and would have to account for that decision to their constituents. If one of the sharers dies or resigns, the whole arrangement would come to an end, and there would be a fresh election.

Doubtless there would be discussion of these details if such a Bill is to become law, but on both counts this seems to me to be the right approach, enabling all involved to keep their integrity intact, particularly on issues of conscience, and ensuring the voters are always consulted if the arrangement changes in anyway.

The job of an MP is demanding and sometimes difficult. But leaving it open only to those who can be totally consumed by it unfairly and foolishly excludes people who have much to bring to the House of Commons and to their communities as MPs. Job sharing could work for men and women alike: it is an idea whose time came long ago in many areas of life. Parliament should now catch up.

* Tom Brake was the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington from 1997 to 2019.

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12 Comments

  • This seems to be a decent argument for multi-member constituencies but a lousy one for job-sharing.

    Half-votes? Surely not. What if I felt strongly about the issue where they disagreed and wanted to vote for one but not the other? I couldn’t do this on a joint ticket but I could in a multi-member election.

    How frustrating it would be to speak to one MP on Tuesday but then the other one voted a different way on Thursday?

    And in practice with our party’s work ethic, you’d end up with effectively 2 full-time MPs anyway. The hours MPs put in are generally phenomenal so what would part-time really look like?

    A better reform in this direction would be proper maternity / long-term sickness cover, where you’d have an interim but full time MP. I think this would be a stepping stone to looking at job-sharing, but I can’t support the proposal as outlined here so would encourage delegates not to pass it.

  • David Allen 7th Mar '14 - 12:51pm

    Job sharing should be compulsory. Every constituency should elect, in separate ballots, one MP who must be male and another who must be female.

    Instantly, 50% female MPs without the need for any gerrymandering, all-women shortlists and the like. Just open, fair competition on an open, fair basis.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Mar '14 - 1:25pm

    Part time investment managers aren’t as good as full time ones, so why would part time MPs?

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Mar '14 - 1:36pm

    To add to my above comment: I think job sharing is fine as long as nobody is pressured into it. It has positives and negatives.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Mar '14 - 4:45pm

    Job-sharing for MPs as such is a daft idea. Knowing what MPs are like and the demands of politics (particularly in marginal seats), it would result in twice the number of more-than-full-time MPs (on half the salary?)

    The way to share out areas between different MPs is by STV, not silly technical ways to fix the system.

    Tony Greaves

  • peter tyzack 8th Mar '14 - 8:30am

    This is an excellent idea that should at least be trialled before we make any decision either way on it.. but before you can share a job you need to define what the job actually is. The job at present is what the incumbent makes it (the same for Councillors), and one of very few jobs that doesn’t have the proper job description and conditions of service required under employment law..

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Mar '14 - 10:15am

    After thinking about this more I don’t think job sharing is a good idea. People don’t need to work crazy amounts of overtime to be good at something, but they should at least work full time.

  • David Allen 9th Mar '14 - 8:34pm

    Tony Greaves,

    “Job-sharing for MPs as such is a daft idea. … it would result in twice the number of more-than-full-time MPs (on half the salary?)”

    No, you double the size of each constituency, and on my proposals, elect one male and one female MP to that constituency. Same number of MPs, same salary.

    “The way to share out areas between different MPs is by STV”

    You could certainly use STV in place of FPTP. Then you would have (say) 10 constituencies combined into one, which elects 5 male and 5 female MPs by two separate but concurrent STV elections.

  • I appreciate where the negative comments are coming from, but it really could work and work well. Job sharing MPs would keep in touch with the real world in their other work and the electorate would get more for their money – two part timers will do way more work than a single full time MP.

    And at the end of the day if they don’t want job sharers they wont elect them. Keep at it Tom its a great idea, as was the rest of the Power To The People motion debated at conference

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