From: Sir Humphrey Appleby
To: Bernard Woolley
Subject: Electoral Reforms
We should welcome the proposals for electoral reform. Fewer MPs will mean larger constituencies. The larger the constituency, the fewer voters will know their representative, and the more they will vote for the party and not the candidate. This means that MPs’ careers will depend on the favour of Party HQ, not the approval of their constituents.
There was a terrible period after 1832 when a constituency numbered about 1,200 voters and their member could know nearly all of them. This meant he could disobey his party leaders so long as he retained the support of his constituents. Fortunately we have, through successive Reform Acts, enlarged constituencies to 50,000 or more and thus brought MPs back under government control. It is our duty to then guide the party in power towards the correct decisions, which they can then impose on their party. We have a proud record of success in this task.
The alternative vote system is a trivial measure, but still a move in the right direction. Our objective is full Proportional Representation, when electors simply vote for a party, and the parties then appoint their placemen in proportion to the votes they receive. This would cut the last link between the MP and the voter, eliminating the risk of voters electing one of those maverick independent-minded members who cause us so much trouble. All MPs will have their jobs by virtue of party patronage alone and therefore their docility will be guaranteed. Furthermore it will greatly increase the likelihood of a coalition, as no single party will be able to introduce those sweeping reforms which overturn those tried and trusted administrative procedures which enable us to conduct responsible government.
Your criticisms of some aspects of government as being ‘undemocratic’ suggest a profound misunderstanding. Democracy is the enemy of government. The mass of voters have no idea how the country should be run. That is our job. Democracy is only a device to enable the government to pretend it is acting with the consent of the people. The purpose of elections is to give ordinary citizens the illusion that they have control over the decisions that shape their lives, while leaving us free to conduct the affairs of the nation as we know they should be conducted.
(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)
© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 21 September 2010