How effective are backbencher MPs?

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How effective are Backbench MPs?                                                   Úna Richards 25/03/2013

A backbencher is an MP who does not hold governmental office, and is not a frontbencher spokesperson in the opposition. There is no said test of backbench MP efficiency, however we can come up with a measure of their effectiveness by looking at how effective they are within their role. What are they expected to do? Do they fulfil their role? In recent years, a large number of backbencher MPs have become more effective despite their limited air time, nowadays the majority of backbench MPs are often more active and involved in debates and plenary discussions.

A key function of backbencher MPs is that they represent the people of their own constituency whenever they are involved in government policy. It is typical for local MPs to bring up issues relating to their constituency and become active in decisions that are likely to affect their particular constituents. For example, when there emerged a proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow airport in 2009-10, the relevant MPs from constituencies in the Thames Valley, such as John McDonnel MP, actively opposed the plans or sought to change the details of those plans. When in debates and discussions MPs often try to represent the interests of their constituents, also they often represent pressure groups, either because the pressure group has funded them or the MP supports the group’s interest. Although many MPs successfully represent their constituents’ interests, it is arguable whether they actually represent the constituents, themselves. Indeed, roughly, only a fifth of Parliament are women, and only 4% are from minority ethnic groups, due to Parliament’s lack of diversity, it is questionable whether MPs are actually able to represent the population. Additionally, most MPs come from similar backgrounds: white, upper middleclass and have gone to Russell group universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. In this sense, Backbench MPs are ineffective in that they are unable to fully represent the people they are supposed to be representing. However, it should be stressed that in the last decade more and more female MPs and MPs from minority ethnic groups have become backbencher MPs, growing as a representative body and therefore becoming more effective.

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Some backbencher MPs are largely ineffective in that they are sometimes unwilling to contribute their ideas, plans for policies and bills due to fear of how they will be received by the higher status politicians in Parliament. There is a common view that going against the PM/head of opposition and select committee ministers may have a negative effect on a backbencher’s political career, as they are less likely to get promoted. Therefore, they often lack influence or say in the government’s planned policies or bills. Although, occasionally it’s the courage of a backbench MP to criticise the government that ...

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