Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some other ideas for Parliament?

I see that David Cameron is this morning writing about constitutional refrom to take power away from Downing Street. One of the things suggested is fixed-term Parliament, thus removing the power of the PM to decide when to call a General Election. I'm broadly supportive of that but I think perhaps we could even go further, such as:

Take the fixed-term principle farther and don't have a general election of all seats, but rather split the electoral cycle for the seats into two, or even three?

This would mean that the make-up of the House, majorities, balance of power and the like could shift more easily. The legislative process would also be slowed, whcih is not a bad thing, and it could potentially protect against the super-majority that landslides deliver.

Obviously the disadvantage of this could be a feeling of constant elecitoneering. However, if only a third of seats were being contested, then a national campaign would just piss two thirds of the country off. It would be counter-productive.

Confirmation hearings for all Cabinet posts.

This would reduce the ad-hoc reshuffle and bring stability to the leadership in Government departments. Sacking someone would no longer be so easy because the Prime Minister would have to consider the fact the replacement would need to be confirmed.

Obivously both these ideas have other positive and negative aspects which I'm sure people will point out. However, it seems to me that the biggest problem we have is what de Tocqueville called the "tyranny of the majority".

If the current way the polls have been going is correct - and putting the impact of expenses aside - then Cameron may well be on course for a serious landslide. Government's with landslide majorities are not, and should not be desirable.

If you have such vast numbers that you don't even need to debatre something properly to make it law then bad laws will inevitably be signed. One look at some of the Bills of the last ten years is evidence of that. Note, when I said "bad laws" I refer more to their framing than the subject matter in particular.


Unsworth said...

It's the ad-hoc reshuffle which has enabled all Ministers never to be held accountable for any decisions they may make. Very similar to the Civil Service - moving targets etc.

Personally I'd like to see Ministers held entirely and permanently accountable for their actions - with the option of removal from their posts (or even Parliament) by a dissatisfied electorate on an annual review basis. Not that it will ever happen, of course.

As to 'bad laws' - it's the quite fantastic volume of ill-considered and drafted laws criminalising virtually everything which is the real tragedy of this 'government'. Draconian control and retribution has been, is, the hallmark of NuLab. Tinkering with legislation has proved to be disastrous. Where is there any real leadership and integrity?

IanVisits said...

The idea of splitting the electoral cycle could work, but ideally with a longer term for MPs.

At the moment, MP terms are too short for a new MP to enter, get into the hang of things and do some decent work before they are off seeking relection again.

As MPs do have to occasionally do unpopular, but necessary things, the short gap between elections makes it harder for MPs to do things which might impeed their releection.

I'd like to see a combination of term limits (say 2 terms), but that the terms are longer (say 10 years), and combine that with half the seats being contested every 5 years.

That gives MPs the necessary job security to do electorally unpopular, but necessary things, while submitting half the house to election every 5 years maintains the democratic mandate for the incumbent government.

I also like the idea about confirmation hearings, although the system would need to be designed in a manner different from the USA, where it can easily take a year (or more) before the government is even finalised. That is just batty!

Nick said...


Either pettition and vote on an act proposed by the electorate, or the electorate get the right of veto of all bills.

That way, everyone gets a say.

James Burdett said...

Splitting the electoral cycle is never going to work, firstly say it was a third every two years with a six year term. The majority could change every other year. It is a recipe for putting power in the hands of the Sir Humphrey's. Never going to fly.

If you are going to confirm all Cabinet posts, you might as well kick the Cabinet out of Parliament all together. At least you wouldn't then have the executive magnet effect in which most MP's vote for the party line not because they are whipped but because they want a job.

dizzy said...

Low turnout would increase as people got pissed off voting all the time.

Curbishlyauto said...

As a cllr who was elected under the thirds system I can assure you it doesn't work and is universally unpopular.

The constant annual elections have seen a decrease in the numbers of voters, has allowed a lack of cohesion in the chamber and an inability to get projects off the ground leading to a virtual paralysis.

Sorry this is another idea that looks good on paper but in reality is a failure.

dizzy said...

"Splitting the electoral cycle is never going to work, firstly say it was a third every two years with a six year term. The majority could change every other year."

Why is that a bad thing, you;d have a much more sensible legislative process.

Old Holborn said...

Use the Swiss Model of Federal Cantons.

It has made them the richest,most democratic, happiest, healthiest, lowest taxed, most educated people on the planet

dizzy said...


I can see why it might be crap in a Council scenraio where one single area has some sort of election each year. But I;m nt talking about that.

I;m talking about still only voting your MP into Parlianmetn every four years, jsut saying that not every seat will be voting in the same year.

I failure therefore to see how a campaign for a seat in say Cornwall will have any impact on the voting turnout in say Carlisle.

Nick said...

The constant annual elections have seen a decrease in the numbers of voters, has allowed a lack of cohesion in the chamber and an inability to get projects off the ground leading to a virtual paralysis.

Sorry this is another idea that looks good on paper but in reality is a failure.


It's a failure because once elected you toe the party line.

Referenda mean that people vote on issues not party hacks on the expenses fiddle.

The fall off in political engagement is because politicians do what the whips tell them to do. People are completely disengaged from any political decision making bar a couple of exceptions like Joanna Lumley.

We've had a huge growth in special interest groups pushing single issues. The reason is that lack of political control by voters over what happens.

Will turn out be as high as a general election for a referenda? No. However, it will result in better decisions.

It's far better than PR. Here an opposition party can get a look in. An unpopular government can be controlled, because it won't get its bills passed.



wonderfulforhisage said...

My guess is that it would lead to a constant playing to the gallery by the Government of the day. So it would be bribe, bribe the electorate year in year out and on no account frighten the horses with any implemenation of nasty tasting medicine.

James Burdett said...

The legislative process might be better if you had elections in stages, but unless you move the government elsewhere it would be a recipe for disaster.

The US only elects one chamber, the Senate, on that basis. The House of Representatives has a very short term so you get frequent changes. That is of course in a framework of separation of powers which we don't have so much in the UK.

Twotrees said...

Three times as many party election broadcasts on tv for us to turn off?
You must be joking Dizzy.

dizzy said...

Errr not necessarily. PPBs would be regional. There would be no point having a national campaign if you were only contesting seats in one part of the country.

Anonymous said...

Though I agree that landslide governments have the disadvantage of being able to pass lots of ridiculous laws (cheers for that Labour), it seems to me that this system proposed by Cameron might encourage more tactical voting, which can also hold negative consequences. MP's would genuinely have to understand the issues upon which they were voting, and I would worry that most of them aren't equipt with the necessary attention span.

Jess The Dog said...

I find the idea of a split electoral cycle very interesting. The only way this would work is if we had larger constituencies with multiple MPs. That way, you could have an election every four years with MPs elected for a term of eight years - say 2 MPs per constituency with overlapping periods of service.

Multi-member wards seem to be working in local government.

The rest of the ideas being kicked around are generally good:

- reduce the role of the whips (it is reasonable to whip manifesto committment votes but the rest should be free).

- fixed term parliaments (an election now could hasten economic recovery).

- confirmation hearings.

- open primary selections for candidates.

Who knows, I might even support a modest salary increase as part of parliamentary reforms.....taxman would take 40% anyway!

Croydonian said...

RE PPBs, Sky and the like carry them too, and they do not have regional services. Being sad and worthless, I rather like seeing Plaid, SNP, DUP etc PPBs.

Richard Elliot said...

I agree with the idea of fixed term parliaments.

I'm nuetral on confirmation hearings, but I think they could work. It would help balance power between the Executive and Parliament.

I'm not pro the rolling election idea though. Don't you think it could end up with minority Governments most of the time and resulting legislative paralysis?

dizzy said...

"Don't you think it could end up with minority Governments most of the time and resulting legislative paralysis?"

That is a good thing surely?

Nick said...

The problem is the party system and the whips.

They go hand in hand. You can't fix the whip system without getting rid of parties.

If you have parties, you will have whips.

MPs loyalty is to party first, not electorate.

That's why you need to put MPs under the control of the electorate, and that means referenda

Colonel Smedley said...

Fixed term parliaments are a bad idea - DC listed some of the downsides in his speech.

If people do feel the need to remove the power to call a general election from the PM, then there are other options.

Why not give the right to call elections to the people ?

Rights to recall are needed:

1. the right of local people to force by-elections on their local MP; and
2. a general right of recall: public petitions demanding a general election: once 50% of the electorate had signed up then the sovereign could dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.
Details would need to be worked out, but giving this power back to the people is surely a much better route to follow.

Sam Duncan said...

I think fixed terms will probably come about, but won't help at all. And a split cycle would be disastrous.

The Colonel's right: recall. I've been thinking about how it might work, too. How about a permanent e-petition that you can sign up to, or take your name off, at any time (some security would be required, obviously). If the number of names on it reaches the number of votes the MP received at the election, it's game over. This might also help with low turnout: candidates would have an interest in maximizing their vote, not just their share.