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Great podcast on Parliament and its representative function

Mike McCartney

16th March 2023

Presented by Professor Rosie Campbell from King's College, London, it's well worth a listen

There are different ideas about representation, and also the extent to which Parliament achieves certain criteria.

One the one hand we can ask how well does the Commons represent the electorate politically.

In its favour, we can argue that the single member electoral system, what we euphemistically refer to as first-past-the-post, means that all constituency members have a clear link with their elected representative. In other words, the geographic linkage is strong with 650 clearly defined areas and this contrasts sharply with some countries that use multi-member electoral systems (and serve to allocate seats on a proportional basis).

But there are some questions about whether MPs are delegates, trustees, or act as loyal to the manifesto they campaigned on adhere to the party mandate model.

Though the key point is probably in relation to the distorting effects of first past the post.

Secondly, according to the resemblance model, Parliament should be a microcosm of society. This means that some political thinkers suggest that representatives should mirror society in socio-economic terms. This is sometimes called “descriptive representation” – i.e. if 50% of the adult population are female, then 50% of legislators should be women, and so on. We can use data from the 2019 General Election to see how well the Commons stacks up in this regard.

And this is where the podcast from BBC Sounds septs in. According to the blurb:

"Classic theories of representative democracy argue that it’s the representation of ideas not our personal characteristics - such as age, gender, race or class - that should matter. But current debates about the diversity of our politicians suggest many of us are interested in who our MPs are and that they represent us. We have more women and more ethnic minority MPs than ever before, we have had three women Prime Ministers and our first Prime Minister with an Asian heritage and yet attention has been drawn to the fact that the majority of the current cabinet, unlike the British population, attended private schools. Some have never worked outside of politics. Does this matter? Is personal background and history the most critical factor leading to good political representation? Do the backgrounds of our politicians influence voters’ choices at the ballot box? And how do political parties react?"

This is the link. Ideal for a flipped classroom or prep for a class debate.

By the way, while on the subject of Parliament and representation, I can give you a link that will certainly be worth listening to with a deep interest in British history. It's presented by Melvyn Bragg and delves deep into the 1832 Great Reform Act. This is the link.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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