Rules matter…

Ballot-Paper-300x150Institutions are not neutral in their effect.  They operate on the basis of processes and rules.  What those rules are can affect outcomes.  Had the Labour Party adopted the same rules for electing the  leader as the Conservative Party, Jeremy Corbyn would likely never have become party leader.  Under the Conservative rules, MPs reduce the number of candidates to two (assuming more than two are nominated) and those two names are put to the party membership.  Jeremy Corbyn is not likely to have been in the top two selected by Labour MPs.

The rules for electing the Conservative leader are about to be employed.  There is much talk of Boris Johnson as the successor to David Cameron as party leader.  However popular he may be among party members, he has first to make it to the last two selected by MPs.  There are other potential  candidates who have been busy building a parliamentary base.  Johnson may have built up support in recent months, but he did not appear to have much of a following last year.   There is talk of an ABJ (Anyone but Johnson) movement, which may mobilise behind a particular candidate.  It is always possible he may suffer the fate of Michael Portillo, just being squeezed out from being in the last two.  I am not saying that will happen, but rather emphasising the importance of the rules.

The same applies in the context of the EU referendum.  Parliament legislated for it and stipulated the question.  (I have previously commented on the significance of the wording.)  However, there were no rules laid down as to a threshold for turnout or what proportion of the electorate needed to vote for the result to take effect.  One could argue that formally no such rules were necessary, given that the referendum was advisory.  However, without any such qualifications, it is not politically feasible to act other than in accordance with how a simple majority voted.  Had there been a requirement, say, that a two-thirds majority was required for a major constitutional change (not unusual with some organisations) or that all parts of the United Kingdom had to vote to withdraw from membership of the EU, then the outcome would have been different.

Rules matter.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to Rules matter…

  1. I am the Amen chorus on this theme.The result of a simple binary and uncomplicated popular direct vote without any reference to other structures is creating massive geopolitical change. There is certainly great interest in seeing how the House of Commons, your Lordship’s Noble House, the Cabinet, the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Gibraltar will react to all of this. I am eager to see what Philip Lord Norton Baron of Louth will have to say over time.

    There is no doubt the world has changed. Truthfully this may be one of the most significant geopolitical events of this still young century. But it is shaped by the way it came about….

  2. Nick Hackett says:

    Also Ed Miliband changed the rules to allow the £3 member. Governments only call referendums when they know what the result is going to be – or maybe not. David Dimbleby interviewing Hillary Benn last night said he could remember Tony Benn being sat there 41 years ago stating that the problem with the Ec is that it is fundamentally undemocratic. Maybe an elected president could have saved it, but it’s too late now.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Nick Hackett: I was minded to comment on the fact that rules change. All the main parties have changed their leadership election rules over the decades, including moving from election by MPs to election by party members. In the case of the Conservative party, the procedure pre-1965 was by ’emergence’.

      • Croft says:

        ” Had there been a requirement, say, that a two-thirds majority was required for a major constitutional change (not unusual with some organisations) or that all parts of the United Kingdom had to vote to withdraw from membership of the EU, then the outcome would have been different.”

        A threshold would certainly have killed the re-emergence of the neverendum in scotland. I’m sure the SNP think they have an outside chance to get 50% but little chance of getting 60% or so…

    • Juncker was elected. Most British people have no idea he was, though, because Brits think “everyone knows” that “Eurocrats” must be “unelected”.

      • maude elwes says:

        Okay, if you believe Juncker was elected, please elucidate. Did you vote for him, and if so, how and when?

        I didn’t and know for sure I did not get an opportunity to do so. Again, I repeat what I have written previously, appointment isn’t democratic election. And a vote within the confines of your Parliament or crew isn’t being elected in the democratic sense. And if you believe it is then you are deluded. Just as that Parliament of ours believes it is running a democratic club and then wonders why it is not in touch with its employers, Us. Additionally, propaganda is not a means of achieving open support as who you are selling the lies to are experiencing what is pretended isn’t happening. As you well know.

        The EU, if, as it portends, wants to be the United States of Europe, the first move is to include the entire citizenry of that ‘European Union.’ As a possible election candidate for President of the EU Juncker would never have won a majority vote by the people. He is immensely disliked. Apart from the fact he is an incontinent drunk, he was a man who had cost his tax payers a fortune by his fiddling of their money at a rate it makes our home grown fiddlers look novices.

        This link projects him in a so called good light, but, if read to the end still shows he is a dark dealer and anti democracy is his forte. And why is that? It is because he knows he would never be elected by those outside his appointment circle.

        And here we see more of his dark side.

        I can only assume you are a furious Remainer, who likewise, despises the rule of democratic accession. And dearly wishes to pretend you can continue to speak for a public who indeed has alternative ideas to your agenda.

      • Croft says:

        I’m not sure many ppl consider indirect election much of an election.

      • maude elwes says:

        I did answer this comment, Carl Gardener, but it has somehow been lost. Perhaps because my dislike of Juncker and his ‘non election’ got the better of me. Club selection by drooling minions is not a democratic election. Not ever. That is an appointment. Quite a different kettle of fish. And as far as the man in the street, who pays for this organisation of blood suckers, it should be considered illegal and as such, a criminal offence to take office by the back door.

  3. Croft says:

    BTW I didn’t know – not having been online much – of your role in the ref Q amendment. Interesting

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