MPs in parliament are likely to prioritise national issues, party politics and furthering their own political career over the local agenda that got them elected, new study suggests.
Researchers in Social and Political Science at Brunel University London explored the relationship between MPs, their constituency and their legislative activity. By analysing a dataset of Conservative and Labour MPs who secured their seat in the 2015 General Election, they found that MPs who used their locality as a campaign tactic are no more likely to talk about their constituency in Parliament, then MPs who did not.
Instead the cross-party interviews revealed that regardless of the degree of localness, MP priorities once elected veered towards other factors important to their electorates like national issues and party policies, or career development.
The study also showed that MP’s with a larger majority over the next candidate in their constituency or who had been in parliament longer, where even less likely to emphasise their localness in parliamentary speeches.
“Local mentions are not a priority for MPs once elected,” said Dr Martin Hansen, who co-authored the research. “If local mentions are not a priority for MPs, one may question whether an MP is truly a representative of the people in the constituency and their specific issues.
“Each constituency elects an MP based on their expectations of the type of representation the MP will provide. An MP who is local to the area and who has projected this image is therefore expected to be vocal about local issues in Parliament.”
Originally, the research predicted that MP’s presenting local ties on their website, would mention their constituency in the House of Commons in order to increase their connection to the constituency for use in a later election campaign – This was not the case.
While MPs are elected locally, they have a national responsibility. Those in Westminster must perform a balancing act between representing their electorates and fulfilling the national agenda, which can sometimes be in opposition to the voices of their constituents – especially within the context of Brexit. The cross-pressure that MPs feel between national and local issues are brought to light by the research.
Dr Hansen said, “This harks back to an ongoing debate regarding whether MPs should follow what their constituents are saying directly or take their view into account but essentially make up their own mind.
“Traditionally, MPs have always done the latter, but it does seem there is a move among some voters towards preferring the former.”
With an early general election looming on the 12 December 2019, the locality of an MP has once again come into focus. The study shows that constituents value a candidate with local ties over one who parachutes in.
“In the current election you've got candidates running constituencies they haven't run in before, most notably some of the new Lib Dem members. As a result, you will see a lot of oppositions highlighting their locality as residency matters for voters,” said Dr Hansen.
The research concludes that MPs with local ties will emphasise their localness to the electorate but not in their parliamentary contributions and speculates more work needs to be done to understand how an MP’s localness impacts their legislative behaviour.
The full study can be found in Representation Journal
Simone McNichols-Thomas, Media Relations
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