Theories of Representation

Theories of Representation

Trusteeship: sometimes known as ‘Burkean representation’ (reflecting the ideas of philosopher Edmund Burke), this is the idea that representatives (MPs, for example) use their superior knowledge and experience to act for the people- they don’t just do what the people would want (which would mean acting as a ‘delegate’). Instead, they try to act in their best interests, because the people may not know what is in their best interests. This has been argued to be an out-of-date way of viewing representation.

Mandate: this means ‘an instruction or command to govern’ and is sometimes used to describe the right to govern. By winning an election. A government has had its manifesto (set of policy proposals) approved by the public, so they have the right to carry out those policies. This has been argued to be a misleading way of describing representation in the UK, as most voters are unlikely to have read manifestos in detail. Once in power, there is little to stop a government from breaking or not fulfilling manifesto pledges.

Descriptive: the idea that MPs should literally represent the people, for example by being from a similar background to most of their constituents, and think in a similar way. This may lead to a representative with a very narrow interest base, however.

Explain, with examples, different theories of representation. (6 marks - two paragraphs)
Your answer should include: Trusteeship / Mandate / Descriptive / Delegate

The Roles & Influence of Parliament


Membership of the House of Commons is gained through being elected as a constituency representative through a general election. There are currently 650 MPs, elected through the first-past-the-post voting system. MPs are usually members of political parties, although it is possible to stand (and win) as an independent candidate. The majority of MPs either represent the Conservatives or Labour. Most MPs are backbenchers, who do not hold a role in government. Those who do hold such a role (for example government ministers) are known as frontbenchers.

There are various ‘office holders’ in the Commons, for example:

  • Speaker: a party-neutral officer elected by the Commons to preside over debates and ruling on parliamentary rules and procedures. Sits in the middle of the House.
  • Leader of the Opposition: leader of the largest opposition party (the party with the second-largest number of MPs) with responsibility for leading scrutiny of and opposition to the Government.
  • Whips: party members responsible for enforcing discipline, particularly on backbenchers, ensuring that they vote in accordance with their party line. The system used is a ‘line’ system- if a reading/voting of a bill is underlined three times, the MP must vote according to the party line.