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According to political theorist Hanna Pitkin, there are 4 ways in which the word representative can
be used:
1) A representative is freely and fairly chosen by those whom he or she
This provides a simple and clear definition of a representative. Only the House of Commons is
elected so only the Commons can be called representative. To evaluate whether, according to this
definition, the House of Commons is truly representative brings us back to the old debate about first
-past-the-post elections as opposed to proportional or majoritarian electoral systems.
2) A representative acts on behalf of those whom he or she represents
There are two difficulties here. First, should the representative be allowed discretion in doing this? If
so how much? Second, who actually is the MP representing?
Representative or delegate?
A delegate does what his or her voters want, and refers back to them if he or she doesn't know what
it is they want. A representative uses his or her own intelligence to decide what is best for the
voters. The standard view of the role of an MP says that on the whole the MP should act as a
representative not a delegate. After all, the MP cannot consult widely enough on all issues to
become an effective delegate. However, it is fair to say that MPs will probably try to have some
view on what their constituents want.
Who is the representative acting for?
The main dilemma here is whether MPs act on behalf of their constituency, or whether they act on
behalf of their political party. On the face of it, the best answer seems to be the constituency. After
all, the great strength of the first-past-the-post system is often said to be the constituency link. But,
on the other hand, an MP is elected on a party ticket. The great majority of voters really do not care
whether their MP is Mrs X or Mr Y, but vote for the candidate because he or she 'represents' at
election time the political party whose manifesto they prefer. If at the end of four or five years the
MP stands again for election, the voters will be judging his or her party's record when they come to
vote, not the MP's individual performance (unless it has been spectacularly bad, as in the case of Neil
Hamilton, the disgraced MP for Tatton, in 1997). If this is the case, we actually want our MPs to be
party delegates and not constituency representatives.

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A representative body is a cross-section of the whole community
This is another use of the word 'representation' which is quite common - for example, when we talk
about a 'representative sample'. However, the House of Commons fails quite badly in this respect. In
terms of gender the Commons seriously under-represents women. There has been very little
change, in the way in which the Commons represents ethnic minority groups, which are still seriously
under-represented in Parliament.…read more

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