Back from Westminster

Back from Westminster: British Members of Parliament and Their Constituents

Philip Norton
David M. Wood
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Back from Westminster
    Book Description:

    The British House of Commons has entered a period of substantial change, moving from a state of party cohesion and party leadership toward a more individualistic and active policy-making role. In the dynamic look at the British Parliament and its members, Philip Norton and David M. Wood highlight that change to more intensive constituency response and service on the part of individual members.

    Like members of the U.S. Congress, British Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected to represent geographical districts. The relationship between the MP and the constituency in Britain has become more important in recent years, but the major changes that have occurred in the relationship since the late 1960s have not been matched by extensive scholarly study. Some pathbreaking work has been done on the subject, but it remains overshadowed by the wealth of material focusing on MPs' activities within the legislative chambers at Westminster. This volume seeks to fill the gap by sketching and assessing the electoral significance of the MPs' constituency work and the broader political ramifications for the workings of the British Parliament. Its findings allow the MP to be seen in full.

    Norton and Wood argue that the constituency role has gained in importance in recent decades as MPs have become more career-oriented than their forerunners in mid-century. But a by-product of greater professionalism and careerism has been an expanded job description that may take MPs' time and energies away from playing a more effective role in helping to shape the broader policy alternatives for the United Kingdom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4946-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    The British Parliament is widely seen as a deliberative body that reflects the diverse political views of the different social classes and geographical areas of the country but that most of the time responds favorably to the initiatives of executive leaders in performing its legislative function (Mezey 1979). Compared with the U.S. Congress, it is seen as a secondary and relatively passive policy-making body (Loewenberg and Patterson 1979).

    The main reason that observers of the British Parliament assign it a relatively limited policy-making role is the dominance within the legislative arena of the two leading political parties, one or the...

  5. 2 Legislator and Constituency Representative
    (pp. 24-38)

    The present chapter considers the ways Members of Parliament divide their occupation into its component parts: in general terms, that of legislator and that of constituency representative. Both of these “roles” are actually bundles of more specific roles that MPs might play. We therefore prefer to use the term “faces” for the MP as legislator and as constituency representative. MPs face in two directions according to this imagery: toward Westminster and toward the local areas that they represent.

    The roles ascribed to MPs are various. Donald Searing (1985b, 353) identifies four: ministerial aspirant, parliament man, policy advocate, and constituency Member....

  6. 3 Constituency Service
    (pp. 39-55)

    The traditional Member of Parliament, identified in the introduction, was not overly active in the constituency. Labour MPs were somewhat more constituency-oriented than their Conservative counterparts, but the generalization holds. The Westminster face of Members was more pronounced than the constituency face.

    This was to change in the period from the mid-1960s onwards. MPs became more constituency attentive, spending more time in their constituencies and taking on a greater burden of constituency casework. We anticipated in our introduction that this would be the case, given the changes in the political environment. What is remarkable is the sheer extent of the...

  7. 4 Constituency Project Work
    (pp. 56-75)

    The purpose of this chapter is to elaborate further the “constituency face” of the MP, especially as it involves the role of advocate ofconstituency-wide intereststhrough pursuit of what are called “constituency projects.” In Chapter 2 a preliminary distinction was made between MPs’ casework and project work, and in Chapter 3 the focus was on the former. There appears to be some difference in the ways these two terms are used by scholars as well as by legislators themselves in the United States and in Britain. Efforts by legislators on behalf of individuals or families are called “cases” in...

  8. 5 Universals and Particulars
    (pp. 76-103)

    In Chapter 4 it was seen that project work by Members of Parliament is undertaken in response to job definitions as understood by the MPs themselves. Devotion to project work is not readily traceable to considerations of electoral self-interest, to high levels of constituent demand for services, or to ideological predispositions on the part of the MP. It appears that MPs who lobby government on behalf oflocal economic interests do so primarily in the belief that it is a normal part of their jobs as representatives of their constituencies and out of a sense of satisfaction gained while pursuing projects....

  9. 6 User Perceptions of Project Work by MPs
    (pp. 104-125)

    In their study,The Personal Vote, Cain, Ferejohn, and Fiorina bring the perceptions held by MPs of their own work in the service of the constituencies together with the constituents’ perceptions of their MPs as constituency servers. The MPs’ perceptions were gained in interviews with incumbent and nonincumbent General Election candidates and election agents prior to the 1979 election, and the constituents’ from responses to a 1979 national election survey (Cain et al. 1987). Their ability to bring these two data sets together gave them a good vantage point for examining the links between the elected representative and his constituents....

  10. 7 Seniority and the Personal Vote
    (pp. 126-142)

    In this chapter we focus our attention on the question of whether, following reasoning earlier broached by Fenno and by Cain, Ferejohn, and Fiorina, first-term MPs, because they are more active in their constituencies than more senior Members, are also able to obtain more substantial increments to the “personal vote” with which their constituents reward them. In fact, it will be fairly easily established that this has been the case in Britain, in recent years at least, and attention is also given in the chapter to the question ofwhyit is. There are essentially two plausible answers, the groundwork...

  11. 8 Back from the Constituency
    (pp. 143-160)

    The emphasis in this book has been on the constituency face of the British Member of Parliament. The reader’s attention has been directed conceptually toward the constituency and the MP’s constituency-centered roles. When we have looked at the MP in his Westminster context, it has been in terms of those ways in which service to the constituency is performed in the House of Commons. In this concluding chapter we consider the ways in which the MP’s constituency face affects his own activities at Westminster and affects the House of Commons as a representative and legislative body. First, we summarize our...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 161-165)
  13. References
    (pp. 166-174)
  14. Index
    (pp. 175-178)