Still dining out on watching a veritable feast of BBC Parliament + a debate on parliamentary reform (the perfect combo) on Monday evening, where Nick Clegg was the star of the show (*pinch*, *pinch*… no, this is not a dream), it has to be worth another blogpost… surely?
An issue that came up a few times during the debate, a very reasonable one, was that if you cut the number of MPs by some 7%, then you simply must cut the executive by a similar amount. Or, better still, more.
One of the problems of Parliament, and the overlap between the executive and the legislature, is that there are over 100MPs who are either on the government payroll, or are a bag-carrier for a payroll MP. In fact, in October 2008, there were 141. It means that no matter what the issue, no matter when, the government of the day has a banker number of votes on its side.
The logical conclusion of this process is that if you reduce the number of MPs without reducing the size of the payroll vote, you are actually strengthening the proportional power of the executive in some votes.
But what I found most irritating about this argument on Monday was the only bit where Nick Clegg let himself down.
The argument was made only by Labour MPs, and though Chris Bryant, who first raised it, did so in a partisan fashion, it was later put in more measured terms by Chris Leslie…
If there is a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament but not in the number of Ministers as set out in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975, there will be an increase in the ratio between the number of Ministers and the number of Back Benchers. Does he understand that point, and will he now address it?
Clegg’s response was wholly unsatisfying
I simply do not accept that there is an imbalance between the number of Ministers and the manner in which they are held to account by a House which will be about 7.7% smaller. I believe that a House with 600 Members will be as well equipped to hold this and, indeed, any other Government to account as the present House is with 650.
Simply put, it does not answer the question. In fact, it is unashamed, wilful ignorance of the issue in order to play the petty-political game whereby everything we say is right, and everything you say is wrong.
After all, the Lib Dems once supported cutting the number of ministers to 73. And I can guarantee that if the Lib Dems were in opposition too, they would be joining it. Attempting to improve the strength of non-frontbenchers, on any side of the House, is a standard liberal argument. We come out of the womb ready to take on the overweening executive.
The tendency of governments to ignore good ideas if they come from the opposite side was something I thought we might get away from in this coalition.
Whenever I watch BBC Parliament, I realise just how naive I am sometimes…