A bit more from the recent BBC/ICM poll for you. The poll also asked a couple of interesting and pertinent questions about how citizens in Wales are represented politically. Both questions concerned the number of representatives that we should have in our major elected chambers.
The first question looked at the National Assembly. As most readers of this blog will be aware, there have been on-going debates about the size of the Assembly for many years. Several groups that have looked into the matter have concluded that 60 AMs is an inadequate size for the Assembly to do to a high standard all the tasks that are now asked of it; recommendations that the Assembly be increased in size to 80, or even 100, members, have then followed. However, asking for more politicians is rarely a winner with the public, as some previous polls have found.
The BBC/ICM poll probed public attitudes to this issue, but asked a slightly different question to polls that I have seen previously in this area. Their question asked:
“There are elections for the Welsh Assembly on the 5th of May. There are currently 60 AMs but some people argue that should be increased to at least 80. Which of these statements comes closest to your view?”
Respondents were then asked to select one from several options.
Intuitively I would expect a question like this to attract a fairly negative response. More politicians rarely seems an attractive prospect, and the question did nothing to explain why some people might argue for the numbers to be increased. This is certainly not a question that might be argued to be pushing people to offer answers in that direction.
So how did people respond? Here is the pattern of answers:
There should be fewer than the current 60 AMs: 23%
The current 60 AMs is about right: 48%
An increase to 80 AMs is about right: 13%
There should be more than 80 AMs: 7%
Don’t Know: 9%
Clearly the status quo is the most popular option. We then have an almost even split between those favouring more AMs and those actually wishing to see the number reduced. Entirely unsurprisingly, those who want to cut the number of AMs are also very likely to have – elsewhere in the poll – supported the idea of abolishing the Assembly; equally unsurprising is that those supporting a larger National Assembly tend to be those who also favour that Assembly being given greater powers.
The second question on this area in the poll concerned how Wales is represented at Westminster. It was recently announced that, in line with the ‘reduce and equalize’ legislation passed in the previous parliament (which across Britain should see a cut from 650 to 600 MPs, and reduce most of the disparities in constituency size), Wales would see a reduction from 40 MPs in the Commons to 29. So the poll asked about attitudes to this subject as well; specifically the following:
“Wales currently has 40 MPs in the House of Commons. There are plans to cut the number of MPs to around 30. Which of these statements comes closest to your view?”, with respondents again given several options to select from. This was the pattern of their choices:
There should be fewer than the current 40 MPs: 18%
The current 40 MPs is about right: 52%
There should be an increase to more than 40 MPs: 28%
Don’t Know: 2%
So once again the status quo option is by far the most favoured. But what is also interesting is that there is actually greater support for increasing Wales’ representation in the House of Commons – something that pretty much no-one is advocating – than there is for increasing the size of Wales own National Assembly, an idea that has rather broader support among political and other elites.
What is perhaps most interesting about these responses, however, is where support and opposition to reducing the number of Welsh MPs comes from. I would have expected that those favouring reducing the number of Welsh MPs would have been mainly people who also favoured increasing the size of the National Assembly – supporters of greater devolution who wished to see the primary locus of political representation moved from London to Cardiff. And I would have expected those who oppose devolution, or oppose taking it further, to take the opposite stances: wanting to keep a strong Welsh body of representatives in Westminster, while firmly resisting enhancing the size of the Assembly as much as they opposed increasing its powers.
That was what made sense to me, at any rate. But I was wrong – on the latter of these two questions, at least. When we look at the details of the responses to the question on the number of MPs, we find something very striking in terms of who most supports a reduction in numbers and who most takes the opposite view. It is among those wishing to abolish the National Assembly (or the few wishing to retain it but reduce its powers) that we find a particular tendency also to support reducing the number of Welsh MPs. Even more strikingly, it is those who favour greater powers for the Assembly (or even independence) who are most likely to support increasing the Welsh voice at Westminster. The latter position might seem somewhat bizarre, even wholly illogical – how could one support Welsh independence while also wanting to have greater representation at Westminster? Without further information on the respondents we cannot be certain, but it would appear to suggest a general desire for a stronger Welsh political voice – and one could quite conceivably support Welsh independence in the long-term while also believing that, until it arrives, Wales needs strong representation in Westminster.