The primary reason MPs don’t listen to the voters
Forcing politicians to win local backing before they stand would make them accountable to the people, not their party whips
How exciting: a Speaker's Conference! They don't come round very often: only five were held during the 20th century, one of which (that of 1916-1917) determined to extend the franchise to women. This one has been requested by Harriet Harman, Labour's right-on Leader of the Commons, and will look at ways to make Parliament more representative.
I'm afraid that its recommendations are already drearily predictable: ethnic quotas, all-women short-lists, voting at weekends, ballot-boxes in supermarkets, votes for under-18s and felons and lunatics and clergymen and foreigners. But I can't help feeling that we're missing a real opportunity.
For diversity doesn't just mean totting up numbers of women and brown people. It means genuine pluralism: of age, accent, professional background, geography and - above all - opinion. It's this last that the multi-cultis tend to have problems with. They are all for diversity, provided it's on their terms: more Muslims as long as they don't hold Islamic views about criminal justice; more women as long as they're not Sarah Palin.
British voters are more excited about American politics than our own affairsYou want a genuinely representative Parliament? Try open primaries. Instead of cliques of party officials deciding what constitutes "diversity" let voters decide whom they want. In other words, give parties a statutory right to ask local authorities to conduct a full ballot for them, with the party meeting the costs, so that every registered voter in a constituency can decide who the Labour, Conservative or Lib-Dem candidate should be.
Obviously, you can't oblige parties to avail themselves of this right; but, once one did, the others would almost certainly feel obliged to follow suit. People would no longer feel that they had candidates presented to them as a fait accompli. As in the United States, voters would be given a stake in "their" candidate at an early stage. It surely tells us something, by the way, that British voters are more excited about American politics than about our own dreich affairs.
With open primaries, we'd get a far more representative House of Commons and - as a delicious bonus - a far more independent House of Commons. No longer would three quarters of MPs be in safe seats, irremovable provided they didn't fall out with their Whips. As things stand, whenever there is a conflict between what their constituents want and what their party leaders want, MPs, perfectly rationally, favour the latter: the only way they will lose their jobs is if they lose their party nominations.
Just as in Strictly Come Dancing, voters can tell the professionals who is in charge
They therefore take to passing their parties views downwards rather than their constituents views upwards. And a good thing, too: the experts don't always know best. In politics, as in Strictly Come Dancing, the voters have every right to tell the professionals that they are ultimately in charge, thank you very much.
To take just one recent example, how many MPs would have dared to vote against a referendum on the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty if they knew they might be challenged for their party nomination? Open primaries are a guy-rope, tying the political parties to public opinion. When public opinion shifts, primaries ensure that the parties drift with it rather than being cut loose.
Harriet Harman and the other diversity-mongers might be alarmed by a truly "representative" Parliament. The political class wouldn't be able to get away with holding opinions - on Europe, on immigration, on capital punishment - that were at odds with the rest of the country's. Some of these things make me uncomfortable: I am, for example, an opponent of the death penalty. But I accept that full democracy will sometimes leave me on the losing side. I wonder how many multi-cultis could say the same? ·
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