The other night I was having a conversation with Darrell and Mark on Twitter which started off being about Gordon Brown's statement on political reform which was expected the next day (and what a letdown that turned out to be) and then drifted off into a discussion about the merits of the Single Transferable Vote. Unusually for a Lib Dem, Darrell has reservations about adopting this system because of the loss of the constituency link. Mark said this didn't matter really because he viewed MPs' roles as legislative rather than pastoral - and he later blogged about it. It so happens that the delightful Mr Quist, with whom I have already disagreed this week, on the objectification of women, wrote a similar post last November.
My own view is that casework is vital to give MPs a real understanding of what life is like for real people which ultimately should lead to better laws, based on real life experience rather than on some statistical gobbledegook put together by policy wonks. That has its place, but it needs to be accompanied by a good old dose of reality.
I know that there are very many people out there whose lives have been changed for the better by the intervention of their MPs. Government departments, like everyone else, make mistakes. However they are not always quick to admit them and put them right. It's often not until the MP gets involved - and sometimes they need to get involved quite persistently, that that injustice is finally resolved.
It's because of questions by MPs, and Liberal Democrat MPs have led the way on this, that the flaws in the tax credit system were exposed - at one point 42% of their payments were actually wrong. Casework started those lines of enquiry. I'm sure any MP's office could think of many other examples where a simple casework enquiry has helped the important process of holding the Government to account.
Darrell was concerned that the larger constituencies would make it impossible for the MP to have a proper link with their constituents, and the larger area would mean that they simply wouldn't be able to cope with the increase in casework that that would bring. I think there are ways of dealing with that. In Scotland we now have larger multi member Council wards and councillors have had to learn how to work together, sometimes across party lines but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That would be the same in multi member parliamentary constituencies. Constituents will not only have greater power at the ballot box, they will also be able to go to someone that they have voted for if they wish. MPs will also have different specialities and interests so casework may divide along those lines. In the end, connection with constituents is what the MP makes it.
Ultimately, for me, the advantages of STV in terms of giving power to the voter, getting a more diverse range of people elected and making people's votes count make it the must-have voting system. I think you can maintain a connection across a larger constituency with imagination, creativity and commitment.
I don't want to see our MPs becoming closeted in a Westminster based ivory tower making laws that have no basis in reality. The concerns people bring to them are vital in informing MPs and help them to both hold the government to account and to effectively scrutinise new legislation. The closer MPs are to their voters the better. I think Lib Dem MPs in particular have that desire to connect and to help in their DNA and no change to the electoral system will stop them.