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AV must not be adopted; axe the Whips instead.

Comment 7th July 2010

I have to admit I'm bending the rules here a bit: no legislation has been passed yet to bring forward a referendum on changing the electoral system to AV, but I would be in favour of its repeal should it be passed.

In theory, constituent democracy works on the premise that constituents choose a candidate, not a party.  As such, the constituents have the greatest pull over the candidates and MPs.  Greater, that is, than the parties.  For, if local parties select their candidates and local constituents select their MPs, then the MPs owe their jobs and their power to their constituents.  MPs know that they will lose their jobs at the next election if they don't do what their constituents wish.

Unfortunately, the practice is somewhat different.  Any MP who harbours any ambitions of a miniserial portfolio or even a seat on a Select Committee must do as the Whips say, even if their constituents wouldn't want the MP to do so.  And how few people go into politics to spend their entire career on the back benches?

There is a simple solution to this: ensure that Whips can only force MPs to vote in a given way on manifesto commitments.  MPs would then vote with their consciences on all other legislation; which is, after all, what their constituents elected them to do.  The game of Tug-'o-War between their conscience and their ambition would be over. 

However, the proposed legislation also stipulates a fixed term five year parliament.  This would merely entrench unpopular and failing administrations in power; who wouldn't have wished Brown's failed administration out much sooner than it held on until?  If the Whips had no power over MPs for non-manifesto commitments, MPs would feel more able to throw out an unpopular administration, even if it was their own party. 

We have the system, one of the best electoral systems in the world, but it is being abused by power-hungry party-leaders and Governments.  We must first try fix the system and only replace if we cannot.

In order to reinforce all MPs' sense of duty towards their constituents, there is one change we could make without altering the system irrevocably.  We could introduce powers of recall, whereby a petition signed by a proportion of electors in a constituency could force a by-election.  This would focus the minds of MPs on their constituents' wishes.

Axe the Whips, not the electors's power.

Why does this matter?

Reducing the power of the Whips and reaffirming that of the constituents would do more to fix the rusty bits of Parliament than just about anything else.  It would make MPs more accountable to the electorate than their party once more.  Then Parliament would truly represent the Will of the People.  It is within the bounds of possibility; I fear very much that is isn't within the bounds of the Government's desire for power.


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