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’.
- 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.
We, the elite, do not believe in the kind of constitution most other advanced nations have — those that boast a belief in popular sovereignty; with resounding declarations such as ‘we, the people’, and that tend to contain rules about how government should act.
We describe ours as the ‘unwritten constitution’. It is a collection of laws, fictions, powers left over from the old monarchy and powers that we make up as we go along. It allows us to decide what governments can do; and best of all, only we have the power to change it.