Tony Banks has been unfairly attacked for admitting constituency work is tedious. Of course it is and any MP who regards it as a privilege has probably given up on their career. The UK has 659 MPs and 707 peers, while the USA only needs 535 legislators across its two houses. Despite our highly centralised political system, only 92 of Labour’s 407 MPs have jobs in government. The rest dedicate their days to parallel careers and dealing with constituents’ problems, which means acting like amateur Citizens Advice Bureaux. On top of that we have more than 21,000 local councillors doing much the same.
But at least Banks admits to being ‘intellectually numbed’ after 22 years of dealing with same problems over and over. Over on the other side we have Oliver Letwin who, because of his public schooling and book writing, is often mistaken by Tories for an intellectual. Yet his big idea, is to simply cut back bureaucracy more effectively than Labour is already and hope we don’t realise that whoever’s in power will turn to the same set of management consultants to work out how to run things most efficiently.
The Banks issue could be solved by cutting back MP and councillor numbers to about a third. (I’ve got three no mark councillors, and can’t imagine anyone missing two.) This would still leave plenty of opposition and backbench MPs to scrutinise legislation, especially if the money saved was ploughed into Citizens Advice Bureaux who would provide properly trained and party politically neutral staff to take on the constituency work. Devolving real power to local government, whose current job is to make sure local services meet national criteria, would also relive MPs’ workloads while giving the remaining councillors something meaningful to do.
The Letwin issue will not be solved until an opposition party finds a brain.