Protecting voter choice

Ballot-Paper-300x150I spoke briefly in the House last night on an amendment to the Wales Bill.  Lord Hain sought to prohibit people who lived outside Wales from being elected to sit in the National Assembly for Wales.  My objection was one of principle.  Parliament should seek to ensure that electors can select who they want to represent them.  It is not our job to tell them who they can or, in this case, cannot choose to speak for them.  If electors in Wales want to elect someone who lives outside Wales, then that is a matter for them.

It was the same principle that led me to object to banning the dual mandate in respect of members of the European Parliament.  If one is elected as an MEP, one cannot sit in a national legislature.  The Government accepted the conceit of the EP that members were so busy that they could not do another job sitting in another legislature.  (We had to pass legislation to bar peers who were elected as MEPs from sitting in the House until they ceased to be MEPs.)  It may be that one cannot do two jobs at the same time (though this did not seem to stop Iain Paisley, who at one point had a triple mandate), but, as far as I am concerned, that should be a matter for electors.  If they wish to select someone who already sits in a legislature, that is their choice.   The person may or may not be up to the job, but that is a matter between them and their electors.

The point was raised last night that the use of a the top-list meant that electors had no real choice over candidates.  They vote for a party.  That, as I pointed out in response, was a case for changing the method of election, not for restricting further voter choice.

In intervening during Lord Hain’s closing comments, I pointed out that many years ago a Labour MP listed an address in Greece.  Lord Hain said he would not embarrass me by mentioning where some Conservative MPs lived.  It would not embarrass me, since I don’t regard it as a problem.  If electors know where their elected representative lives, and are content with that, it is a matter for them.  If they don’t like it, they can throw the Member out at the next election.

I am for eroding, not extending, restrictions on who can stand as candidates.  Let electors choose who they want.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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22 Responses to Protecting voter choice

  1. tizres says:

    In a grand contest of popular electoral systems, using said electoral systems, which one would win?

  2. labeldesalis says:

    It seems a great shame, bonkers, that MEPs can’t sit in the Lords. The loss of the Law Lords was a great loss too.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I’m glad you address the problem of closed lists. While I broadly agree with your argument about voter choice, no electoral system in use in the UK truly offers electors this. We would need to have open primaries for voters to have control over the candidates representing the parties. The problem isn’t just confined to closed list PR systems: in general elections we vote for a closed list of one candidate per party!

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: Indeed. There is a case for primaries within parties, though any person with the requisite number of signatures and a deposit is eligible to stand as a candidate.

  4. tizres says:

    “Let electors choose who they want.”

    There is so much going on in that short sentence: ‘Let’ would mean that, for example, prisoners should be given full voting rights; ‘electors’ is the intersection of the two sets of the eligible, and of those who are permitted to vote in any one election (or referendum); ‘choose’ requires that a choice is available; ‘who they want’ is unlikely to be on the voting form presented to the elector.

    And, wouldn’t the by-product be to enable the recall of those elected?

    • Lord Norton says:

      tizres: Letting electors choose who they want has no relevance for prisoner voting rights. The argument is about protecting or widening the choice available to those who are electors, not about who comprises the electors. The arguments about franchise and candidature are separate. One could argue against letting prisoners have the right to vote, while arguing that they should be permitted to stand for election.

      • tizres says:

        I would like to vote for you but I can’t. (Shouldn’t voting rights be restored to retired peers?)

        I totally accept your points, of course, The sentence, taken out of context, is like catnip to those who should never be politicians.

  5. Croft says:

    “The Government accepted the conceit of the EP”

    Conceit is the right word it has zip to do with the dual mandate and everything to do with not wanting members to represent the interests of their home nations political/parliamentary structures.

  6. Croft says:

    The obvious comparison here is with the nonsense over the P & Crime Cs and disbarment. Even more to watch the embarrassing spectacle of ministers arguing that the elected mayor of London or the home secretary, who enjoy equal or greater power over the police, should suffer no such impediment to standing for office.

  7. Troi says:

    Even if Hain’s amendment were included in the eventual Act, how difficult in practice would it really be for Neil Hamilton to take a 6 month lease on an address in the principality and transfer his electoral registration from Tatton to there before the election? The only practical impact of Hain’s amendment as I read it then would be that that address would be used to calculate his overnight accommodation and travel allowances – so Neil would probably decide to pick somewhere as far removed from Cardiff (and convenient for nipping back to Christine in Tatton) as possible – Deeside or Connah’s Quay would work …

  8. maude elwes says:

    This is another example of the out of touch brood we have to put up with in our Parliament. I watched this debate from start to finish and could not believe my ears or eyes. A person who lives in Greece being given a fixed place to be responsible for the will of the British people in our parliament? Are you all mad?

    Under no circumstances should any politician be up for election if they do not live where they are fishing for votes. They have no right whatsoever to pretend they have any connection to the society or culture of those they want to dupe.

    It is another rigging of the system to propose they should. This kind of back door deal being one of the reasons we are in the mess we presently have, which is, unrepresentative small talk for kick backs. And an obvious mocking of the people who are their employers.

    The British are too easy going, they need a big dose of ‘French’ outrage, or better, Gandhi. It is time the mass of British people began to lay down in front of transport and refuse to move until their demand to be rid of those, who are not in step with the will of the nation, are gone from sight. Just as they did in India when they wanted rid of British rule from their lands. And, I am deadly serious. We, the employers of these benefit claimers in that comfy house of Westminster, must be got rid of and fast. And their Judiciary along with them.

    When these politicians and their so called judges, blatantly defy the will of voters, those who pay their wages, the time has come to defy them in return and lie down, unarmed, as did those brave Indian souls when they wanted their freedom from colonial rule.

    The brass neck of this group of obvious outcasts astounds.

    • Croft says:

      Merely living in an area doesn’t grant ‘any connection to the society or culture’ You seem to miss LNs point entirely.

      • maude elwes says:

        No, I haven’t missed the point at all. Lord Norton’s point was choice. How the locals can have any choice of whom will speak for them or transmit their wishes to government for their area if they are not local, is beyond me.

        It all sounds good and of course inclusive, but again, in practice, doesn’t flush out that way. How can a person who doesn’t live locally have any real connection to the community of the area they are running for? Or, be able to be held accountable for their invalid input, should that be the case, if they live outside the area? Elaborate on that. What effect can any matter brought to them have on their life if they are in Barbados?

        Neil Hamilton is a joke we know, but, he is a good example. He has absolutely no connection to the area he nuzzled his way into. He, like so many others, was pushed into an area where they were desperate to be rid of what they had. As so many of our constituents are having to presently face up to. This new push is an attempt to work in other politically correct and totally disconnected minds on a gullible public. That old story of in ‘safe seats’ you can put up a cow and it will be voted in comes to mind. Most people, when going to the polling station, don’t know who their candidate is. They vote for a party without any idea if the man they are selecting has any real connection to the manifesto or whether their party line goes along with what they personally want.

        This doesn’t only take place when a person is a local. Example, Anna Soubry, how on earth did this gem of the people become thought of as suitable for Broxtowe? Were they aware of her Labour leanings when she was ‘chosen’ as the Conservative candidate for that seat?

        She is obviously border line psychotic. Do you feel the people who select a possible MP will be able to grasp the core values of someone who lives in Greece for those who wish to be honestly represented in Parliament? As if they cannot cover that with a local it is very unlikely indeed they will with an ‘ausländer.’

      • Lord Norton says:

        maude elwes: The key question is, why should your views be imposed on electors?

      • tizres says:

        The issue of local councillors living many shires away annoys the heck out of residents if (and that is usually the crux of the problem), if the residents find out. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be duty bound (in the absence of honour) to resign and put themselves up in a by-election.

      • Croft says:

        tizres: Of course of politicians say they will or do live but lie/mislead that is an argument for recall – something MPs roundly defeated lest it ever actually happen. Recall is a significant solution to many of the trust issues with MPs

  9. maude elwes says:

    @ LN: That is cheating. This is up for discussion on this thread and I laid out my reasons for argument against.

    If you want to take that stance, why should ‘your’ views be imposed on electors? The answer has to be, ask the people in the area if they want an outsider standing in their Labour, Conservative, LIb/Dem, Green or UKIP seat and see what answer you get.

    That is Direct Democracy. Something we should definitely adopt.

    (As a footnote, I thought you looked good and was persuasive, even though I didn’t like the notion)

    • Croft says:

      “The answer has to be, ask the people in the area if they want an outsider”

      They do ask them every time there is an election. People are free to vote for a local candidate – there are always local candidates.

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