While writing my previous post, I had a thought. A constant refrain from people who don’t like ‘big’ government in general and the European Union is particular is that we need to repatriate governance and decision-making (“sovereignty”) back to Blighty and away from the Faceless Brussels Bureaucrats™.
So how many people make decision in our lives right now? MPs, local councillors, Lords (exclude MEPs, obviously, as we only have them because we’re members of the EU) … add them up, divide into the population and that’s our GI – our Governance Index. The higher the number, the fewer elected officials. Easy, no?
Well… no. The first problem is that none of this information is readily available in one place, so a bit of research is in order. Start with the basics: how many people are there in the UK? According to the BBC1, as of June 2014 there were 64,596,800 people living in the UK. And we know that there are 650 MPs (constituencies, anyway – deaths and resignations will affect the actual number). So dividing 64,596,800 by 650 gives us one MP per every 99,380 people.
By way of comparison, Germany has a population of 81,459,000 and the Bundesrat has 630 representatives – one per 129,300 people. Interesting, given the hoo-ha on reducing the number of Westminster MPs.
Of course, there’s more than just MPs, much more. There’s the Lords, to start with. They can’t propose primary legislation but they scrutinise legislation, propose amendments and occasionally reject it. So they do count, even though they’re unelected. But how many of them are there? According to the Lords section of the Parliament web site2, there are about 790 members who are eligible to take part in the work of the House of Lords.
I’m sorry, what? About 790? Don’t you know? Crikey.
Okay then: 650 plus (about) 790 into 64,596,800 gives 44,859 people per Westminster operative. And, because you’re curious, the appointed Bundesrat has a whopping 69 members, giving them a ratio of 116,536 citizens per national lawmaker.
All politics is local
What about our town, city and county councillors – how many of them are there? Here we have a use a variety of sources, and hope that they tally with the numbers of the relevant Wikipedia page3 – again, the information is scattered about and not always consistent. For example, I can download a file from the Boundary Commission for England4 which shows how many seats each Council has, how many people are registered to vote, how often seats are up for election. Information that isn’t available for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, that I can find. Wikipedia comes up with 18,093 council seats for England; the Boundary Commission spreadsheet when summed comes to 17,757. That’s a big discrepancy, and I’m going with the latter number as you figure the Boundary Commission ought to know. Then add in the seats for Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland from the Wikipedia page.
So our sum becomes 64,596,800 ÷ (650 + 790 + 17,757 + 1,223 + 1,254 + 582) = 2,902 people per elected or unelected official.
Hang on: forgot about the Scottish Parliament (129), Welsh Assembly (60), Northern Ireland Assembly (108) and Greater London Assembly (25). That’s another 322 (which almost accounts for the difference between the Boundary Commission and Wikipedia – ha!) taking us up to 22,488 elected and unelected officials, or a GI for the UK of 2,873 people per official.
And relax. Except… what about Parish Councils, Town Councils and Parish Meetings?
They’re all elected (apparently), they can put a precept onto Council Tax bills, so they count. But how many of them are there? Simple answer – no-one knows. There is no central list, some have their own web site (they should all have), some are linked to from the county or borough web site but it’s inconsistent at best, obfuscatory at worst.
I did find one web site that tries to pull all this information together5. It lists 33 for Leeds (Leeds’s web site says 32; Wikipedia says 31 – the Leeds web site, has a link to its 32, but the link is broken). All the Leeds ones are in areas outside what was the City of Leeds before 1974, unsurprising if you know the history. The number of councillors at each parish or town council varies so you can’t guess at a total; Allerton Bywater has 10, Morley has 26. But it would be safe to assume that, in Leeds at least, there are more parish and town councillors than local authority Councillors.
Then there’s things like Combined Authorities, where people who aren’t directly elected have responsibility for spending (although they may be directly elected to their ‘day’ jobs, of course).
So: if we do repatriate powers back to Britain from Brussels, who will we be giving them to? Our 650 MPs, our local Councillors, national assemblies & Parliaments, Lords Temporal and Spiritual or an indeterminate number of parish and town councillors?
Face it – sovereignty is an illusion. You have as little idea who makes the decisions on your behalf as I do, whether they’re in Brussels or Bramham cum Oglethorpe (yes, it’s a place).
You stopped talking about Germany…
Yes. Now. Germany has the Bundestag, Bundesrat, 16 Landtags and 402 Kreise (districts). The nearest equivalents to the Landtags would be the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments.
The UK would be 64,596,800 ÷ (650 + 790 + 322) = 36,661 citizens per representative.
Germany would be 81,459,000 ÷ (630 + 69 + 1,831) = 32,197 citizens per representative.
Which means the UK comes out with a better GI at the national level, in part thanks to there being no English Parliament, in part because there are five times as many regional governments in Germany. As for local government, I have no idea how many seats there are in the various sorts of Kreise so I can’t make a direct comparison.
Which means… I really need to find something better to do with my Sundays.
- UK population increases by 500,000, official figures show; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33266792 [↩]
- Who’s in the House of Lords; https://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/whos-in-the-house-of-lords/ [↩]
- Political make-up of local councils in the United Kingdom; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_make-up_of_local_councils_in_the_United_Kingdom [↩]
- Local Authorities in England; http://www.lgbce.org.uk/resources/electoral-data [↩]
- Index of English Parish Councils; https://politicsresources.net/area/uk/parish.htm – link broken [↩]