Debating electoral reform

The Speakers’ Corner Trust provides an online forum in which protagonists can present and debate each side of a particular issue. I have just debated with Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, on the subject of electoral reform.  You can read the exchange here.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Debating electoral reform

  1. Carl.H says:

    At the end of day it is about a system that works, we know democracy actually doesn`t as there is no clear leader or control.

    A lot of our legislation is unpopular, undemocratic but that`s simply because it`s the best way. I don`t know any industry or even Service that would work in a democratic (as the public like to see it) way.

    At this present time the electorate are sick to death with politicians and a system that seems corrupt in the politicians favour so they are seeking to lay blame. Cleverly some politicians, not unusually, cotton on and jump on the bandwagon without too much thought. Look at any system closely, not just Government or elections and you will find fault. There is no Nirvana, we will never ever get a completely just and fair system.

    A good Politician is no more than a salesman, one that could sell sand to arabs and at present they want to lay blame for their faults at the system. They ARE trying to lay blame at parts of the system where the public didn`t know any existed until the salesman started his spiel.

    I am fed up now with potential leaders asking people what they want when THEY KNOW that leadership is not about that. It`s about leading, knowing what is best regardless of what people say and I`ll complain and next election vote differently.

    Yes the constituencies need sorting out to make things more equal but lets have a system where leaders can get things done….And if they do them that badly heck we`ll take to the streets, our lives are really not that hard in comparison to some.

    I don`t want to see a system where the only way things get done are through backroom deals.

  2. James Walker says:

    Why do the deals have to be backroom anyway?
    Why can’t they be debated freely in parliament in the public eye?

  3. Lord Norton says:

    Carl.H: I agree about the nature of leadership.

    James Walker: A pertinent question. Post-election bargaining tends to shut out the electorate and, if conducted behind closed doors, there is no transparency either.

  4. I cannot share your enthusiasm for the present system, though it undoubtedly does have advantages. One being that, whilst people like myself enthuse about encouraging smaller parties to grow, and therefore increase involvement in the process, I really have no idea how this plethora of parties would be financed.

    All our major parties in the present system have had huge difficulty in financing their work at one time or another, and the stories of from where the money flows has been a consistent theme of many political scandels in recent years.

    Yet we can’t expect our politics to live off fresh air. There has been talk from time to time of state funding, but I imagine the expenses row, together with the fiscal deficit, has put that in abeyance for at least the time being.

    That said, I understand the present Government is in power with the support of only some 22% or thereabouts of the 2005 electorate – a far greater percentage of the vote, obviously, but still well below half.

    Should the expected hung parliament materialise (don’t know what thought’s been given to a garrotted or beheaded one?), one expects the parties to do what they can to advance their manifestos in the resulting discussions.

    Whilst you are right in that nobody will have voted for the resulting hybrid, this process surely does not have to be an entirely negative one. There are opportunities for policy refinement. And I’m sure you would be among the first to agree that not all good ideas in Westminster necessarily come from the party in power, whichever party that is.

    The discussions could be viewed as an opportunity to create a body of policy reflecting, at least in part, a body of opinion supported one way or another by a far greater percentage of the electorate than 22%.

  5. Lord Norton says:

    stephenpaterson: But how is one to know they enjoy that degree of support? There has been no prior endorsement and, in all likelihood, there will be no accountability for them at a subsequent election.

  6. Carl.H says:

    If ones talks about democracy and the support of the electorate, one has to be careful with figures. The 22% that saw the Labour party elected Government may have dwindled within weeks, one cannot say.

    At best elections for voters are a gamble, the manifesto`s may not be stuck to or they are unable through parliament to stick to them.

    “There are opportunities for policy refinement. ”

    But there is also the fact, and it is that, that parties will disagree and never find middle ground. Whilst in some cases this will slow down, what seems to the public, unnecessary legislation, it will at times be seen by the World as indecisive andcould reflect on how we are treated in a business and other respect.

    We have seen many times over the years the coalition Governments of other Countries suddenly fall to pieces because of a particular issue where one party cannot support the other. It throws the Country into turmoil and the financial costs are humungous in terms of trade and another election.

    Political parties should be funded by their membership not the state.

  7. Lord N: I suppose one might, at some cost, go through the nicety of a referendum on the outcome, though where exactly one goes should the outcome be rejected, I know not.

    Although the coalition would be unlikely to stand as such at a subsequent election, the MPs that support it will presumably stand again in most cases, in which case they’d have to defend their records.

    Indeed, given the scale of the cuts to come, a long term player might conclude that 2010 would not be a bad election to lose, or, indeed, a resulting coalition a bad one to be excluded from, given the opportunities afforded by domination of the Opposition.

    This, of course, excludes the potential game-changing consequences of intervening electoral reform.

  8. Lord Norton says:

    stephenpaterson: That’s another conundrum to add to the list. On your point about the 2010 election being a good one to lose, I can see the force of that, but qualified by the observation you make about game-changing consequences.

  9. Carl H: Democracy takes time. There are, of course, urgent decisions that have to be taken from time to time, but these are few and, when an instant decision is required, generally delegated.

    When one considers the 3,600+ new criminal offences that have littered the statute book since 1997, few if any with adequate scrutiny, one cannot help but feel that some further impediment to a Government may not be altogether a bad thing, if only to ensure that the legislation is both actually required and commands the support of a Parliament less likely to give it carte blanche.

    Coalitions can, of course, break down. But so can the parties. The coalition that is the Parliamentary Labour Party famously broke down in the early 80s courtesy of the Gang of Four. That was in opposition, but no doubt the same has happened in Government over the course of history, Lord N has probably written several books on it.

    Who knows? A hung parliament could mean parliamentary debates may actually become meaningful and contributions actually affect outcomes, without desperate resorts to confidence motions, or is this really too much to hope for?

    Ministers might present difficulties to Parliament and simply say: “Well, that’s the situation, folks, what do you think we should do about it?” and let Parliament decide without fear of being thrown in the Thames.

    We might even achieve requirements for members to attend debates in order to vote.

    Huh! Some hopes….

  10. Carl.H says:

    “one cannot help but feel that some further impediment to a Government may not be altogether a bad thing,”.

    Stephen I have infact argued the same point about a hung parliament being good for Westminister but after a great deal of thought I concluded that although it may, it would not be good for the Country. I stand ready to be corrected if such a thing happens .

    If we look to this board, where we do have intelligent non party (in the most part) debate one can see there are opposing views that would not change and could not be watered down in anyway. This type of thing would make coalition Governing extremely weak insomuch that no matter what may appear wrong very little could be done.

    I am all for free voting on all issues and to this regard would like to see the “no confidence” votes kicked into touch and a rigid term of office imposed instead, unless the people take to the streets !

    Regards scrutiny and new laws, I cannot disagree which is why we need a strong non-political upper House and I think that is one of the most important forthcoming battles of the next parliament.

  11. ladytizzy says:

    A surge in people suddenly discovering a third party can not be equated with much more than the same people suddenly discovering their ability to make an X on a piece of paper.

  12. Carl.H says:

    A surge in people suddenly discovering a third party can not be equated with much more than the same people suddenly discovering ……Adultery !

    Sorry LadyTizzy, it just happenedto fit so appropriately.

    I don`t think a surge of people have discovered anything, the papers and TV have to be filled with something and a hung parliament seems their latest thrilling installment. People are not just fed up with Labour or the Tories…..They`re fed up with politicians of all flavours and lets face it who wants to vote for anyone who will be making drastic cuts…and that`s all of them one way or another.

    My best guess is you`ll get perhaps 55% of the electorate voting this time.

    On another note the Lib Dems were on the door tonight, pleasant lady, local Councillor I think. I told her I was a swinger…well a swing voter who`s mind was open…She doesn`t agree with PR either though there were things we disagreed on, local issues mostly.

    They`ve all got the good of the country as number one priority haven`t they ? Why is it when you say that statement in terms of politicians it brings sneers ?

  13. Pingback: Platform 10 » Blog Archive » On Hung Parliaments and Coalitions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s