In all aspects of our lives, partnership is important. It is commonplace in our education system and workplaces. We even see it within our politics with ministerial departments, the inner-workings of our political parties and even cabinet (what’s left of it, anyway). But what about partnerships with our members of parliament? Would having two MPs per constituency be a good idea?
The idea of job-sharing within parliament has been discussed for many years now. Most recently by Caroline Lucas and, at their National Council, supported by the SNP Students. Both agree that this would help manage the workload of MPs, involve people who’d wish to continue with jobs or volunteer outside their MP work and would increase participation from under-represented groups such as women, carers, people living with disabilities and the BAME community.
For many MPs the sheer workload from constituency case work, debates, committees and ministerial roles can be overwhelming and harm the wellbeing and family lives of elected representatives. Research on newly elected MPs from 2011 found the workloads impacted on their private lives. Some MPs also have the issue of having second jobs, often being condemned for when missing important events. A recent example is that of Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative MP for Moray, who missed the recent important debate and vote on Universal Credit.
These issues could be avoided if the job of MP was shared between two members, leaving them both with smaller, easier workloads and more time for family or other commitments.
In terms of the representation of our parliament, progress is being made, but not fast enough. Since the election in June, parliament has become more diverse than ever, with women making up 32% of the parliament, BAME at 8%, LGBT at 7%, and people with a disability at 0.6%. However, this is nowhere near the national average especially for women at 50% of the population, BAME at 13% and people with a disability at 18%. With job sharing, the increased number of MPs would allow for better representation.
However, there is opposition to the idea of job-sharing. The main problem is one of practicality. How would job-sharing work? How would votes be cast? What would the salary be? What about ministerial positions? Is parliament even big enough?
The current annual salary of an MP is £74,962, meanwhile the national average wage is around £27,600. Therefore, the wage of a single MP could easily pay for two representatives.
In previous discussions on this issue, one of the main opponents has been North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale. He describes the move as “parliamentary populism and opportunism at its absolute worst”. He highlights how the position of MP cannot be done “time-sharing”, that members should be on top of their work and if not, they shouldn’t stand for election. This is quite humorous as he, being recently interviewed, spoke of how difficult the job can be, with it almost breaking his marriage, despite his wife being employed in his constituency office.
Job-sharing is not a perfect system. It is still in need of research and review in order to make it a viable option for parliament. However, putting all the tedious working of this system aside, it clearly shows itself as a force for positive and progressive change that would improve representation and access to becoming a member of parliament. Seeing parties like the Greens and SNP adopt this policy and working on how it could be adapted is a good sign for its future and the future of how we are represented.