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The UK Parliament and its representative function

Mike McCartney

8th December 2020

To gain easy marks if we wish to answer a question on this topic in the exam, we need to supplement points with good data. Read on.

We are looking at how well Parliament performs its functions this week, and we have spent one lesson looking at representation.

First, 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. So we need numbers at our finger tips for this bit (see below).

And, 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.

To both these ends, as a bit of fun, the lesson began with a little quiz, with figures drawn from the sources listed below – the Electoral Reform Society and the BBC.

A starter for 10.

  1. How many Green votes, on average, did it take to elect one MP?
  2. How may voters cast a ballot for the Brexit Party, who ended up with no MPs?
  3. Identify which party was most grossly over-represented.
  4. How many voters (% or in millions) voted for a losing candidate?
  5. How many votes, on average, did it take to elect one Conservative MP versus a Labour one?
  6. How many female MPs are there?
  7. How many BAME MPs were elected in 2019?
  8. What number of MPs are LGBT?
  9. How many have been educated in the independent sector (% or number)?
  10. How many MPs are Oxbridge graduates (% or number)?

Have a quick attempt, and then research the answers from the source documents.



Mike McCartney

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

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