Ninety-nine years ago today the British Parliament passed the Parliament Act. It limited the powers of the House of Lords and set up as official the idea that the chamber should be democratized. The Parliament Act 1911 also changed the way the House of Commons operated by reducing the maximum term of that chamber from seven to five years and introducing MP’s salaries (then at £400 p.a.). These Commons measures were along the lines of what the Chartists and others had long been campaigning for: shorter terms to give the electorate greater voice (because we can vote more often), and wages for MPs so that a private income is not needed to take up the political ‘hobby’.
It’s been about twelve years since I last had a fulsome swear.
I do swear
that I will be faithful
and bear true allegiance
to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,
her heirs and successors,
according to law:
So help me God.
All Church of England clergy have to make this Oath of Allegiance on the taking up of most church posts. The same oath is made by MPs at the beginning of the parliamentary term. Our MPs began swearing their new oaths last Wednesday (19 May), which just happens ironically to be the anniversary of the Declaration of the English Commonwealth (1649).
A pile of sacred tomes is deposited beside the government despatch box in the Commons for those who wish to hold something sacred while they swear. An alternative form of the oath that affirms rather than swears is available for those who object on principle to the swearing of oaths. The alternative was originally introduced to allow Quakers, who do not swear oaths, to take seats in Parliament. No Sinn Féin MP has taken their seat as there’d be no way they’d swear allegiance to the British monarchy. Some others cross their fingers, some add ‘and all who sail in her’, as a compromise of taking up their seats as duly elected without taking the forelock tugging too seriously.
- The House of Commons we elect this week will have four more MPs — 650 MPs in total — than the last due to population increase and boundary changes.
- This means that the entire UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each will elect one MP.
- The average number of registered voters in a constituency is 68,433.
- Actual numbers in constituencies can be a few thousand less or more than this. You can check your constituency over at Voter Power Index.
- The bigger a constituency the less of a voice one has nationally, as more people than average still get only one MP. The largest constituency is the Isle of Wight with 110,000 registered voters.
- The smaller a constituency the more of a voice one has nationally, as fewer people than average still get a full MP. The smallest constituency is Na h-Eileanan an Iar with 22,000 registered voters.
- A voting system called First Past The Post is used in each constituency to elect one MP; the candidate with the most votes wins.
- This means that often the winner does not receive more than half the votes, with most voters voting for someone else.
- Gordon Brown has proposed that a system called Alternative Vote be offered as an option in the future; under AV a candidate would have to secure more than half of valid votes to win.
- Neither First Past The Post nor Alternative Vote are proportional electoral systems. That means that if 30% of the electorate vote Conservative, neither system would ensure that 30% of our MPs are Conservatives, as only those who cast a vote for the winner in their constituency affect the composition of the House of Commons.
Essay warning: this is a long article in three parts.
Recently, I wrote an article here on POWER2010 and the People’s Charter. In passing I mentioned how I didn’t support the proposed policy for POWER2010 of ‘English votes on English laws’, something I now realise is a bit of a mantra among English nationalists, with its own camel-case acronym EVoEL (deliver us from…?)!
There were a lot of important ideas in that post, but was surprised by the complete focus on English nationalism in the comments. I was even more surprised by the poor quality of their argument, much of which was ad hominem (‘you are trash’ said one, another found me a traitor, another suggested that I was being anti-English and thus racist!). Then there was the misquoting and misrepresentation of my thoughts. For instance, I had written ‘In general, the promotion of English nationalism by a few fringe groups is very dodgy’. I should have been clearer about what I meant: that English identity and the nationalism based on it, promoted by a few fringe groups, is a minefield of problems that should be treated with care rather than emotional flag waving. However, the nationalists tweeted this as my saying ‘the English are dodgy’ (hmm, nice misquote there)! Aside from this there was demonstrable lack of understanding of our political constitution (I had to direct a commenter to read the 1911 Parliament Act). However, overall, I was shocked by the need to depict the English as persecuted, restricted and disempowered within a UK in which we make up around 83% of the population. If nationalism is about national liberation, nationalists feel the obvious need to conjure up an imagined captivity from which to liberate us.
I am English and proud to be English. I own an English football shirt (somewhere), but I’m not the flag waving type. Many of my friends are not English, and I find their perspective on Englishness very useful. I believe that it’s important to approach the issue dispassionately and practically, against the surging romanticism that can leave one delusional.