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Job shares for MPs?

February 21, 2013 12:16 AM
By Mary Reid in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Following the Mail's rant about the so-called 'jewelry tax' (from the Tax Policy consultation paper)*, we now have a more reasoned appraisal by the Guardian of one of the proposals in the consultation paper on Political and Constitutional Reform.

This major consultation is very wide ranging, and begins thus:

Our recent policy on constitutional and political reform has tended to focus on altering the democratic structures of the United Kingdom. We have sought pluralism in our electoral system, strength and legitimacy in our Parliament, and radical decentralisation of power to national, regional and local institutions.

One of the challenges for a working group whose remit also covers political engagement is to recognise that reforms to political structures and institutions are not in themselves sufficient to engage citizens in the running of their country.

To this end, we seek your views on how best to reaffirm a long-held Liberal commitment "to help organise people in communities to take and use power; to use our political skills to redress grievances; and to represent people at all levels of the political structure." Our challenge is to preserve "a dual approach to politics, acting both inside and outside the institutions of the political establishment"

The consultation asks members to consider 56 challenging questions, including these:

  • How should the Party square the objective of building cross-party consensus for constitutional change with the inevitable blockages caused by vested interests in the existing systems? What degree of compromise is acceptable?
  • Should the UK Parliament remain bi-cameral? Is there a place for bi-cameralism in the devolved institutions?
  • Should there be any amendment to the existing Human Rights Act?
  • How best can we anchor the concept of an entitlement to political power for units below the federal tier in the financial relationship between different levels of government?
  • What constitutional rights for local government do you believe should be enshrined in a written constitution?
  • In what circumstances are referenda appropriate?
  • How should politicians embrace online engagement without losing the benefits which representative liberal democracy brings in terms of balancing competing interests? Where is the right balance between meaningful engagement vs government by plebiscite?

Today the Guardian gives some welcome attention to another consultation question:

  • Do you support, in principle, the idea of a legal right for two people to stand for office jointly, and, if duly elected by constituents, to share the work of one Member of Parliament (or other elected representative)?

Under the headline "Lib Dems draw up job-share plans to boost number of women MPs the Guardian provides a direct quote from the consultation paper:

The rationale behind the proposal is that it could open up the role of MP to a much wider group of people than at present. Research shows that one of the main barriers to increasing women's participation in politics is perceived incompatibility with family life, while evidence from professions such as medicine, law and the senior civil service suggests that provision for part-time working significantly increases the talent pool of women progressing into senior roles.

Of course, this is a consultation, not a policy paper, so no detailed plans have yet been drawn up. Instead a sensible, but essentially pragmatic, idea has been floated and further discussion invited on it. Dinti Batstone, who chaired the policy working group, has long advocated job-shares for MPs, and last wrote about the subject in support of a Private Member's Bill in November.

It would also be good to open a public debate through the media on some of the other more philosophical questions in this consultation paper, but that seems unlikely.

If you copy your views and comments to they will be published on the website and add to the debate.

* Jeremy Hargreaves - Chair of the tax policy working group will be leading the debate on the Policy Consultation - Taxation - at East Midlands Spring Conference on Saturday 23 February - Tickets are still available.

* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.