What are Members of Parliament (MPs) like?
MPs are almost always elected under a party political label:
- The members of a political party in a constituency choose a candidate to stand in the general election and expect that, if elected, they will follow the policies of that party in Parliamentary votes. The Conservatives broke with this practice in 2010 with open primaries in two constituencies in which all voters are able to choose the candidate from a shortlist chosen by the local party and more constituencies are doing it for 2015. This is seen as involving more voters and may lead to different sorts of candidates being chosen.
- The voters have rarely chosen Independent candidates but vote for a party, with only six Independent MPs elected in the last 50 years, although there is evidence that some voters vote for the candidate they prefer as a person rather than the party. Once an MP is elected and becomes known there is generally an incumbency factor so that they receive a personal vote on top of the support that they gain as a representative of a party.
- As we have a first past the post system, several parties stand in elections and not everyone votes, an MP may be voted in by a fairly small proportion of the electorate. In Norwich South in 2010 there was a closely fought contest between the three main parties and also a large number of people voting for the Green Candidate. The winning Liberal Democrat MP had the support of 29% of those who voted and since only 69% voted, he received the votes of 19% of the electorate.
- Although this raises the question as to how far an MP does really represent the electorate, MPs take seriously the idea that they do represent all of the people that live in their constituency once elected. They try to deal with any issue or problem that constituents make them aware of and raise issues that affect the constituency as a whole in Parliament.
- MPs are able to represent all of their constituents with their individual problems and take up issues such as a proposed factory closure or local flooding where there is general agreement that something should be done but they cannot possibly represent everyone when it comes to many policy issues. For example, in a mixed rural and small town constituency local farmers will support a badger cull because they believe badgers cause TB in cattle but many other people will be opposed as a matter of principle or because they have been convinced that the evidence for the benefits of a cull are sketchy. In areas such as this there is not really any room for compromise and the MP will have to decide which view to take.