Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Leaders' Debates: UK Democracy's Failings In Plain Sight

Within our 'representative democracy' expressed by so-called Parliamentary sovereignty the idea of Prime Minister debates, first instigated in 2010, is absurd if not downright objectionable.

The electorate in a General Election do not vote for the PM, instead they vote for their local MP which helps form a Parliament from which a Prime Minster is chosen.

One often consistent criticism of Gordon Brown's tenure up until the 2010 election was that he was 'not elected'. But of course he was elected - by the constituents of Kirkcaldy and by members of his own party - it was that he simply didn't have an electoral mandate (as neither did Major for example in 1990). Brown's position was less a reflection of the failings of himself and more a reflection of the failings of current Parliamentary system.

More seriously the lack of separation of powers represents a system where MPs become hopelessly compromised - by default. After being elected for 5 years their main objective is to achieve a ministerial career rather than attempt to hold the government to account. They want to join the government not listen to their constituents; which one pays more...?

The constituents of Witney, Doncaster and Sheffield will know this best - their own MPs wear two contradictory hats, a situation that Witterings from Witney knows only too well.

And with this in mind we see Cameron and Miliband, among others, engage in unedifying comments regarding a leadership debate without so much as a by-your-leave to the rest of us:
Did you notice that the letter sent to David Cameron about disputed formats for the election TV debates was itself a delicate contribution to pariah politics? Though identical in contents, as Rowena Mason explains, the missives were dispatched separately by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Ed and Nick did not sign the same letter as Nigel, oh dear no.
Thus it's acutely apparent that the entire idea of leadership debates is an admission by the establishment that Parliament is failing and that we, as an electorate, are now effectively voting for the executive - the government and the Prime Minister - by proxy.

This becomes even more (offensively) absurd when we consider that Nigel Farage, although leader of UKIP, is not currently an elected MP even though his party has two elected MPs and Farage himself is currently not on course to win South Thanet seat in May.

Thus more than ever the case becomes stronger that we need to directly elect our Prime Minister - and as a consequence separate out more formally the executive from Parliament. This idea is nothing new, it was proposed back in the 18th Century by Thomas Paine. Although born in England, via Common Sense, he was one of the fiercest critics of what he regarded as British tyranny.

The current, and rather childish standoffs over a Prime Ministerial leadership debate merely confirm that such reform is now very long overdue.


  1. I am wholeheartedly in favour of separating the cabinet from the House of Commons. I am opposed to the institution of directly elected prime ministers, which, I have no doubt, can only result in what we, and to a greater extent the Americans, have now, which is a very shallow, almost meaningless and tasteless beauty pageant.

    There is no need to draw cabinet ministers from parliament, they can be appointed from any field, and it may be better to disbar MPs from cabinet positions while they sit in the HoC. A prime minister can be appointed by parliament.

    1. The Harrogate Agenda suggests the direct election of Prime Ministers for the logica reasons explained.

      Personally I have nothing against MPs selecting the PM, but if we are to have democracy, then the people should have, if they wish, a veto on the MP''s decision.

    2. The MPs would have to consult their constituents before casting their votes. That consultation could be conducted electronically. I am much in favour of constituency web sites that are wholly independent of the MP or any other individual or group.

      I haven't looked at the Harrogate Agenda for some time but I I wasn't impressed by it the last time I did look. I recall thinking that at least two of its demands were ridiculous. Directly elected PMs was one of them. I think budget approval by national referendum was another. Let MPs vote for the budget.

    3. If there is one demand in the harrogate agenda that is an absolute must, then that would be demand 5. The others are rather more than nice to have's, but demand 5 is absolutely key. Its taxpayer money they are spending, so let taxpayers make the decisions as to how much of their own money is spent and what its spent on.

    4. @Jim I agree, taxpayers' should have the final decision - it would gives us a lot of leverage, if nothing else, over how we are governed.

    5. How can a yes/no referendum on a budget few can understand exert more leverage than the absolute accountability of an MP to his constituency?

  2. Electing individuals to key posts nudges us closer to becoming a republic. That is not something which I want us to stumble into.

    1. I'm not convinced in truth. We already elect the PM - albeit via proxy - confirmed by the running farce over the leadership debates.

      Even before leadership debates, the saga over Brown proved that PM's are essentially unaccountable to the electorate as a whole. None of this has had an effect on the popularity of the monarchy as demonstrated by the Golden, Diamond Jubilee turnouts regarding crowds on the streets and the turn out for William and Kate's wedding.

      A directly elected PM would merely make the process more transparent and accountable to us the electorate, with the Queen remaining as head of state. So in that sense it would have little impact on the role of the Monarchy.

      Ultimately it's up to the people to decide... and they have over the last decade shown a preference for the Monarchy to stay where it is.

    2. I'd like to see the monarchy abolished but that should not necessarily follow from the election of prime ministers. My objection to that is simply on the grounds that ostensibly 'democratic' elections of personalities rarely if ever result in the election of the best candidate and always seem to have precipitated the degradation of parliamentary process.

      The Harrogate Agenda is a non-starter.