I'm afraid you can't do that, Dave. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Prime Minister should rethink his disastrous plan to shrink the Commons

David Cameron's silly solution to an imagined problem will only cause trouble - and many Conservative MPs agree, says Nigel Dodds.

During general election campaigns, long periods in opposition, and even unhappy periods in coalition, parties can say things which in retrospect aren’t always as sensible as they seemed to them at the time. One such example was the supposed innate unfairness of our electoral system and the consequent ‘need’ to reduce the House of Commons to just 600 members. This was always a deeply flawed proposal and the recent election result only goes to show how misplaced the reasoning was, not least as far as my Conservative friends are concerned.

However, if the government’s plans to weaken parliament by reducing the number of MPs while simultaneously providing no concrete assurances that the size of the government will be shrunk go ahead as currently planned, our democracy is going to be damaged. Put simply: a smaller parliament and a proportionately bigger government is bad for British democracy, and I’m confident that a majority of MPs are going to think this way. That’s why I asked the Prime Minister today whether he is committed to this policy, and that’s why I think he’s so wrong to say that he is.

Let’s consider the theoretical, principled problems before going on to the very real practical ones in a smaller parliament but a bigger government. A surprising number of Conservative colleagues for several parliaments now have quite seriously maintained that FPTP was ‘biased’: that somehow the operation of elections in this country was rigged against their party. Many statistics were quoted about how many voters it took to elect different shades of MPs and this was adduced to mean unfairness. We don’t hear those figures being bandied about any more for the simple reason that there never was such systemic ‘bias’. I’ve no doubt a lot of Tories sincerely meant these charges but as the recent general election conclusively shows, they are and always were a nonsense. All FPTP does is reward or punish a party depending on how it mobilises its votes in any particular election.

As the success of Lynton Crosby has, I hope, shown, FPTP is blind, just and even-handed. Do better in your campaigning and you’ll do better in the number of seats you get.

But this then brings me to how many MPs there should be. As part of the decade long complaints about the supposed but actually non-existent bias of FPTP, a boundary review shrinking the House of Commons was proposed as part of the answer to this fictional problem. Well, the problem didn’t really exist and therefore the solution really shouldn’t be applied.

As things stand, the 2011 Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act means that the next House of Commons is supposed to be reduced to only 600 members. As we’ve seen, the principal rationale – ‘FPTP discriminates against the Tory Party’ – is bunk, but the consequences of putting the law as it stands into effect are poorer still. The Act was a pretty shoddy piece of work, badly drafted and the result of a fairly unseemly stitch-up with the Lib Dems.

However its real failure today lies in the fact that the case was never coherently made why a smaller Commons is better for British voters. How are we better represented with fewer representatives? What distinguishes 600 from 650 or 500 or 635 or any other number you care to pluck out of the air as being the optimal figure for how many MPs there should be? And most fundamentally of all, how is the government better held to account when it stays the same but parliament gets smaller? No, the case for 600 wasn’t made and it shouldn’t be put into effect.

What will happen if the legislation in force proceeds as planned and the Commons shrinks down to 600 members? Without an accompanying, unbreakable commitment to reduce the size of the ministerial footprint – and there is nothing whatsoever in the legislation providing for such a reduction – the payroll votes swells dramatically in relation both to the opposition and to the government’s own backbenches. This can’t be good for politics. It can’t be good for the voters who now send fewer non-ministerial MPs to parliament than ever.

For all that some Tories did, perfectly sincerely, come to turn against FPTP, in my experience in the tearoom, plenty of Conservative friends never wavered in their support for our current electoral system. You don’t have to look far to see that the British way of doing elections holds its own quite comfortably against the international competition.

And those Tories who didn’t join in the chorus of abuse against FPTP share, I know, my profound doubts about the wisdom of needlessly reducing the size of the House of Commons. They see that in an organic constitution like ours, which seeks to see actual communities rather than abstract blocs represented in parliament, constituencies shouldn’t be entirely artificial, mathematically precise things. They have to grow out of the communities they’ll represent, not be derived from what a computer model says would deliver ‘equal representation’. And they know – and this include serving ministers – that a swollen, over-mighty government resting on a shrunken House of Commons is not the way of British parliamentary democracy.

All of which is why I want to make it clear: my party, like a significant number of the David Cameron’s colleagues, does not support the current proposal to make parliament a smaller, lesser thing. I’d advise the Prime Minister to think again, and very carefully, on this one.

 

Rt Hon Nigel Dodds is deputy leader of the DUP and leads the party at Westminster

 

Nigel Dodds is MP for North Belfast and leads the DUP at Westminster

Getty
Show Hide image

If there’s no booze or naked women, what’s the point of being a footballer?

Peter Crouch came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

At a professional league ground near you, the following conversation will be taking place. After an excellent morning training session, in which the players all worked hard, and didn’t wind up the assistant coach they all hate, or cut the crotch out of the new trousers belonging to the reserve goalie, the captain or some senior player will go into the manager’s office.

“Hi, gaffer. Just thought I’d let you know that we’ve booked the Salvation Hall. They’ll leave the table-tennis tables in place, so we’ll probably have a few games, as it’s the players’ Christmas party, OK?”

“FECKING CHRISTMAS PARTY!? I TOLD YOU NO CHRISTMAS PARTIES THIS YEAR. NOT AFTER LAST YEAR. GERROUT . . .”

So the captain has to cancel the booking – which was actually at the Salvation Go Go Gentlemen’s Club on the high street, plus the Saucy Sporty Strippers, who specialise in naked table tennis.

One of the attractions for youths, when they dream of being a footballer or a pop star, is not just imagining themselves number one in the Prem or number one in the hit parade, but all the girls who’ll be clambering for them. Young, thrusting politicians have similar fantasies. Alas, it doesn’t always work out.

Today, we have all these foreign managers and foreign players coming here, not pinching our women (they’re too busy for that), but bringing foreign customs about diet and drink and no sex at half-time. Rotters, ruining the simple pleasures of our brave British lads which they’ve enjoyed for over a century.

The tabloids recently went all pious when poor old Wayne Rooney was seen standing around drinking till the early hours at the England team hotel after their win over Scotland. He’d apparently been invited to a wedding that happened to be going on there. What I can’t understand is: why join a wedding party for total strangers? Nothing more boring than someone else’s wedding. Why didn’t he stay in the bar and get smashed?

Even odder was the behaviour of two other England stars, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. They made a 220-mile round trip from their hotel in Hertfordshire to visit a strip club, For Your Eyes Only, in Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Don’t they have naked women in Herts? I thought one of the points of having all these millions – and a vast office staff employed by your agent – is that anything you want gets fixed for you. Why couldn’t dancing girls have been shuttled into another hotel down the road? Or even to the lads’ own hotel, dressed as French maids?

In the years when I travelled with the Spurs team, it was quite common in provincial towns, after a Saturday game, for players to pick up girls at a local club and share them out.

Like top pop stars, top clubs have fixers who can sort out most problems, and pleasures, as well as smart solicitors and willing police superintendents to clear up the mess afterwards.

The England players had a night off, so they weren’t breaking any rules, even though they were going to play Spain 48 hours later. It sounds like off-the-cuff, spontaneous, home-made fun. In Wayne’s case, he probably thought he was doing good, being approachable, as England captain.

Quite why the other two went to Bournemouth was eventually revealed by one of the tabloids. It is Lallana’s home town. He obviously said to Jordan Henderson, “Hey Hendo, I know a cool club. They always look after me. Quick, jump into my Bentley . . .”

They spent only two hours at the club. Henderson drank water. Lallana had a beer. Don’t call that much of a night out.

In the days of Jimmy Greaves, Tony Adams, Roy Keane, or Gazza in his pomp, they’d have been paralytic. It was common for players to arrive for training still drunk, not having been to bed.

Peter Crouch, the former England player, 6ft 7in, now on the fringes at Stoke, came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage