Against Term Limits
Trevor Phillips has called for term limits for MPs, with each MP having to retire after 4 terms or 20 years in order to create vacancies so that diversification of the Commons to include more women and ethnic minority MPs can happen faster.
This suggestion is profoundly undemocratic. If voters want more than the current 20% turnover of MPs they can do it at general elections by voting out incumbents. Inside the political parties you can get a faster turnover of MPs by deselecting them. But the evidence is - given the boost that incumbent MPs seem to get compared to candidates from the same party in comparable "open" seats and the tiny number of deselections in recent years - that voters and party members prefer experienced incumbent MPs to newbies. Which makes sense - you'd prefer to see a doctor with a few decades experience, or hire a lawyer with hundreds of cases behind them, so why would you want to swap your MP any faster than you swapped government?
The trouble is that Trevor has put one objective that might influence how you want the Commons composed - representativeness by gender and ethnicity - above other objectives that might also be valid considerations and need to be balanced with that, such as ensuring there are enough people in there experienced enough to do the different roles.
The Commons is the main reservoir of potential Ministers. Whilst there have been some notable exceptions who have achieved high office after just a few years in Parliament, most people need a couple of terms working their apprenticeship as backbenchers, and then a series of periods as a PPS, a PUS and a Minister of State before being ready to join the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. Under Phillips' rule it would be virtually impossible to gain this experience so almost everyone in Cabinet would have less prior experience of office than they do now. This would be bound to reduce the quality of Cabinet - experience brings improved judgement and ability to react to major events based on lessons learnt at a lower level of responsibility. There's a case for a few fast-trackers but most politicians need to reach high office slower, learning the job and growing as they go.
For parties in opposition for a long period it would virtually guarantee that there would be no continuity of personnel at all from their previous period in government - increasing the power of the civil service mandarins - for whom no such term limit is proposed by Trevor - over inexperienced Ministers.
Within Parliament the scrutiny function exercised by select committees is strengthened by having MPs of great tenure and experience chairing them, who can stand up to Ministers who often don't know a policy area in as great depth as an MP who has followed it for decades. Under Trevor's rule Gwyneth Dunwoody would have left the Commons in 1990 and never been available for her period as Chair of the Transport Committee.
Other casualties of the Phillips term limits would have been:
Churchill - out of the Commons in 1920
Thatcher - out of the Commons in 1979 just at the point she became PM (not such a bad thing?)
Attlee - out of the Commons in 1942
Foot - out of the Commons in 1970
Benn - out of the Commons in 1973 (maybe not so bad either?)
Disraeli - out of the Commons in 1857, 11 years before he became PM
Gladstone - out of the Commons in 1852, just at the start of his first term as Chancellor and 42 years before he finally stood down as PM
His proposal is also self defeating, as amongst the MPs forced to step down after 4 terms in 2005 or after 20 years in 2007 would have been two of Britain's first four ethnic minority MPs, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott.
Greater BME representation in parliament is happening - Labour has new BME candidates in place in Labour-held seats including Shabana Mahmood, Yasmin Qureshi, Anas Sarwar and Chuka Umunna. It's not happening fast enough but it would be better if Trevor was looking at ways of spreading best practice in fighting selections, or ensuring more BME candidates arrived at point of selection with enough experience as party office-holders, activists or councillors to make them credible parliamentary candidates, or even for all-BME shortlists inside political parties, rather than calling for the culling of all the MPs who have been there long enough to be at the top of their game.