Who does an MP represent?

June 21, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it’s one of those things that rattles around inside my head with no real resolution, so I thought I’d get it down here to try and formulate my thoughts, but also to see if anyone wants to comment.

The issue is, who does an MP represent and how do they best do it? I’m talking here in quite a theoretical way. And I know the most obvious answer is “their constituents”, but I don’t think it’s necessarily as simple as that. Here are the possibilities as I see them (in a very condensed and simplistic form):

1 – They represent ALL of their constituents
In this scenario the MP tries to represent everyone in the constituency at all times as best they can. However, as there are so many different views and opinions represented there, the MP has to pick their way through them and to keep as many people happy as possible (or as few people unhappy as possible), keeps to a pretty centrist, neutral line.

2 – They represent the people who voted for them
Here there is an understanding that the first past the post system we have means there are winners and losers in every election and so the winning MP should just get on with doing whatever he/she promised in the election and therefore whatever mandate they were voted in on. The difficulty here arises when issues that weren’t discussed in the election are raised.

3 – They represent themselves
I don’t mean in a self-serving ‘Expenses scandal’ kind of way, but what I mean is that they vote on issues according their own views and conscience, safe in the knowledge that they fairly represented themselves in the election and so the electorate knows what to expect.

4 – They represent the country
In the final viewpoint MPs don’t work for local issues, but for national ones, implementing them locally as best they can. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made for the good of the country that may have a negative effect on the local constituency.

I think that it is possible to see merit in all of these different viewpoints, especially if you put yourself in the position of different people. If you didn’t vote for the winning candidate, you’d want your MP to act according to point one; but if you did vote for them, you’d want point two. I’m sure most MPs would prefer to live according to the third point of view; whereas on many occasions national politics (especially if you’re in the Government) requires option four to be the way things are done.

I’m still not sure I know the answer, but it’s an interesting question.