Thursday, May 14, 2009

Constitutional reform: we told you so

As the revelations of stupidity, cupidity and greed continue to drip out from the purloined records in the possession of the Daily Telegraph, the chorus for change has grown ever louder.

As political leaders denounce "the system", the response from the wider market may not be precisely what they anticipate. They are of course right, "the system" has created a class of MPs in safe seats who are ultimately unaccountable.

This may have created the culture that has allowed such absurd expenses claims, but in many ways the expenses scandal is just the tip of a wider and far more serious crisis; a crisis of our constitution.

The constitution of the UK rests upon an electoral system where one can either vote for a party label or make a judgement on the personal qualities of an individual, but very rarely both. If you live in Scunthorpe and are a Labour supporter, you may be deeply unhappy to find that voting Labour involves voting for Eliott Morley, who is one of those MPs most deeply involved in the expenses furore. Likewise, one could be a Conservative supporter in Stratford-on-Avon and find that your party allegiance means supporting John Maples, who is also one of those most prominent in the expenses affair.

In these safe seats, it is very difficult to replace the sitting MP, if he or she retains the support of their party. So unless the Labour or Conservative Parties themselves reselect their candidates, it would be very rare for a sitting MP in a safe seat to be replaced.

Of course I don't believe in safe seats for any party, and that is why Liberal Democrats argue that a single transferable vote with multi member constituencies is a better system. STV allows the electorate to choose between the candidates even amongst those of the party they support. Meanwhile in some places people would choose to split their votes between parties to support popular MPs of other parties. For example Frank Field is very popular amongst supporters of other political parties, as is Ken Clarke.

If the root of the problem of Parliament is the way that small party cabals can control selection and then election in safe seats, then conduct of Parliament and Parliamentary business is also clearly in need of substantial reform. The public are growing increasingly intolerant of the way MPs conduct themselves in the chamber of the House of Commons. The contrast between the screaming hubbub of the big occasions -which always comes as a shock to new visitors to the Palace of Westminster- and the languid hours of an empty chamber reflects a deep rooted and serious problem. Parliament can no longer control the legislative process and more and more laws are being passed without proper scrutiny. The result has been that some critical areas of legislation have been totally botched. The considerable incursion of the state into our privacy has been largely done with minimal debate in Parliament.

The time has come for the creation of a proper constitution. The vagaries of the current situation have already proven themselves unsustainable. The Liberal Democrats have been arguing the case for constitutional reform for decades and in the wake of the public disgust with our MPs, we must now address the absurdities that the current system creates across the board.


Tristan said...

This still doesn't solve the problem that MPs are selected from a small political class which, no matter the party, places its own interests above those of the people they rule (honourable exceptions of course apply).

Tabman said...

Tristan - sorry, not so. A more proportional system opens the door for those outisde the "system" to stand and, more importantly, win.

Newmania said...

Liberal Democrats argue that a single transferable vote with multi member constituencies is a better system.

No you want a single transferable vote because it makes weak second choices count as much as strong first choices thus swelling the vote of the Party disliked least even if it is the Party liked by almost no-one .Why not just suggest Liberal votes should count as two votes , makes about as much sense and would achieve your goal .
The answer as recommended by that popular chap Frank Field is open Primaries in safe seats . That would mean candidates actually had to reflect the views of the electorate . Immigration , Criminal Justice and the EU would look pretty different if we had a proper accountable democracy and not the insider stitch up we get.

Cicero said...

Newmania- your Maths is a bit suspect here. Firstly in FPTP smaller minorities can gey huge majorities- so Labour got nearly 70% of the seats in 1997 on a vote little more than 40%, and this would still be true even with open primaries. Indeed open Primaries have had no where near the turnout of a full election, and as a result it makes parties vulnerable to small groups with hidden agendas, entry-ists if you like.

With STV there is nothing to stop all of the candidates of one party being elected, if that is what people vote for. The surrent system, whether modified by open primaries has allowed Labour to enact policies that they did not have a mandate for, and which are opposed by the overwhelming majority of the voters.

A more open electoral system creates a freer market and opens politics up for more non party figures to be elected too.

Open Primaries don't do that.

Chris Close said...

I will be adding tales of injustice to my blog over the next few days - worth watching out for....

then blog

Newmania said...

My point still applies. It is your maths that is wrong. You think you have added more choice but in fact you have only divided the same choice to your advantage

'A more open electoral system creates a freer market and opens politics up for more non party figures to be elected too.'

The open market metaphor is inapplicable . The administration is always a monopoly it’s a question of how to choose it . Weakening the Party system passes power upwards from electors to politicians .The Party system is a Union of voters against the ruling elite. It is the only means of getting rid of one lot. That’s why I support it
Reforming Parties is what I want not dispensing with them this is because |I see individual choices as informed by the culture around them and elevated by the traditions we inherit not constrained.. It is a paradox of Liberals from my point of view that by over emphasising individuals “Humans “ they create anarchies of choice which dis-empower everyone but the elite. That is fundamentally why Liberals like the EU , it gets the decisions away from those pesky voters.

Anonymous said...

Newmania, go look up cognitive dissonance. I think it applies to you.