LETTER: Fairer voting
Tuesday 15 September 1998
Sir: Mike Gapes MP ("Right of Reply", 10 September) argues that the Jenkins Commission on proportional representation should recognise "the overriding importance of keeping the link between MP and constituency." Why?
Surveys show that few of us can even name our local MP. Even fewer bother to attend their meetings or surgeries. And the 1997 election surely dispelled the myth of the "personal vote" (more a product of Members' vanity than a reflection of psephological reality).
The fact is, constituency MPs are neither one thing nor the other. Ward councillors are better placed to handle truly local concerns than MPs who, all too often, are parachuted in from distant parts of the country, spend much of their time in London and have little real commitment to their constituencies (witness the pre-election "chicken run" as senior Tories dumped their adopted political "homes" with barely a second glance in their rear-view mirrors). Citizens' Advice Bureaux, too, generally provide rather more practical assistance than MPs, despite their much vaunted "special access" to ministers or civil servants.
As for the bigger local issues, regional representatives (within larger, multi-member constituencies) would surely be better placed to fight their constituents' corner with Whitehall and big business.
And after all, when push comes to shove, are Mr Gapes and his colleagues ever likely to defy the party whip - even when "their" constituents' interests are compromised? In your dreams.
The fact is people vote for parties, not individuals, and a fair electoral system must reflect that fact. Sadly, if Mike Gapes's column is anything to go by, there are still plenty of turkeys at Westminster who won't be voting for Christmas. Fortunately, the decision will be ours, not theirs.
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