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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Harrogate Conference: Separation of Powers

I wasn't at Harrogate, but support absolutely Richard North's initiative to get the Reform boat moving. I intend to shadow on here the issues emerging from Harrogate as Richard sets them out on EUReferendum; the first is the separation of powers between Parliament and Government; Richard's synopsis of the key points is HERE.

My own initial view is that the immediate accountability that membership of Parliament imposes on ministers balances the tendency for 'Government' and the majority party in the Commons to be seen as one. It is the Party system, which enables whipping as well as patronage, that is the true villain, I think, coupled with the sheer number of ministers. Reducing the number of ministers on the Treasury benches to about a dozen together with reforms to the party system, rather than removing the government presence in Parliament altogether, is in my view the more advantageous course of action.

But what do you think?


DeeDee99 said...

Morning Raedwald

I think TBF has the right idea with his simplified demand for 'a directly elected PM.'

That PM should be able to choose his own Ministers and if he/she finds himself facing a Parliament that is predominently the Opposition, then he/she will just have to negotiate and build consensus like the American President when faced with a hostile Congress.

The Party system, controlling the selection of prospective Parliamentary Candidates and then their actions in the House, is to blame for the breakdown in representative Democracy. MPs are representing their Party, not their Constituents.

Dan Hannan proposed Open Primaries and in the MP who was selected under this system (female, a Doctor, Conservative but I forget her name) has been one of those who has not meekly walked through the lobbies as instructed.

Open Primaries would be a good start.

formertory said...

I think we're too far corrupted by the Party system for an easy reversal now, but would like to see all MPs elected as Independents. Reduce the number of constituencies and increase the representation per constituency - maybe 5 elected, recallable, independent MPs.

PM and Cabinet could be Party-aligned, but with a few hundred independent MPs facing a PM and Cabinet, PM's Questions might be altogether more entertaining and meaningful, instead of an opportunity for a little patronage-led brown-nosing.

Was it Butler who, at PM's Questions, used to receive the unannounced questions from MPs and then delegate the answer to the appropriate Minister? Bit of an encouragement to be on top of your brief.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I see they considered 'seperation of powers' from which the logic lead to speration of the executive from the legislature and from there to a directly elected Prime Minister. The logic to me mirrors that which the founders of the United States came to, except I hadn't seen a Declaration of Independance (equivalent) nor Constitution.

I do wonder if this, is step 2 and that step 1 should be in establishing priciples which to me would be reaffirming sovereignty and common law.

There was an interesting article last week from Andrew Lilico in which he said that true conservatives believe that 'Parliament is Sovereign' and represents the 'people'. Really? I recall Tony Benn saying that in his view the 'people are sovereign', which I think more closely aligns with the view of the founders of the US and also with mine.
The difference is that parliament cannot remove the sovereignty of the people.

bilbobaggins said...

I read 'Raedwald','Guido' and Daniel Hannan with interest - even Matt Parris on a good day - and in reflecting on this Coalition I am reminded we have been here before.

The Whigs' 'Reform Act' and other measures of the 1830s seem to have some relevance to today's needs. How contrarian is it, then, that today's inheritors, the LibDems, may oppose constituency reform, while 'Whiggamore' Cameron seems intriguingly supportive.

Topsy-turvy indeed.

Edward Spalton said...

I don't think it's necessary to have a directly elected prime Minister. The office has become too "presidential" as it is.

I have never understood why ministerial salaries do not count as "an office of profit under the crown". A would-be PM can simply apply for the Chiltern Hundreds when he undertakes to form a government - which he can draw from a wider gene pool than just the rather shallow one in the Commons. Appointments subject to parliamentary hearings, of course.

One suggestion which came up was for a residential qualifications for parliamentary and council candidates. They should have lived in the constituency/ward they want to represent for a number of years. This will mean (a) that their character is likely to be known locally (b) that they are more likely to be in touch with and responsive to local opinion (c) that parties could not "parachute" in favoured candidates as they wish (d) that local parties would be in a far stronger position in relation to their central offices (e) There could never again be manipulation like Cameron's "A list" abomination.

cuffleyburgers said...

Open primaries and power of recall would seem to solve most of these problems.

I like the idea of a residency requirement as well.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the residency qualification it was suggested that MPs are funded by constituencies directly and therefore are accountable to them. Not quite sure whether this is a voluntary financial arrangement or through local taxes...probably the latter.

Michael Booth said...

That last comment was mine - it clicked on before I could put my name to it...

Michael Booth said...

That last comment was mine - it clicked on before I could put my name to it...

outsider said...

The only constitutional system of separation of powers that I have much direct (if distant) experience of is the European Union. Mr North's group, to the extent that they agree at all, would adopt this and modify it by having a direct election for Mr van Rompuy and/or Mr Barroso. To be honest, this model does not inspire me. Whips are just as powerful, patronage is at least as rampant. Any connexion to ordinary folk's wishes seems even more tenuous. Why would people campaign for this?

Odin's Raven said...

Who will bell the cat?

The Boiling Frog said...

@Edward Spalton "I don't think it's necessary to have a directly elected prime Minister. The office has become too "presidential" as it is."

If it's too presidential then it should elected surely?

From my point of view it's an easily understood point which acts as a trojan horse to get past the public a separation of powers

Edward Spalton said...

Hello TBF

Too much like a rival and elected sovereign for my taste. We don't want a more prominent Blair with his "first lady". Or do we?

I think the motto "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change" is a good one. What's wrong with him applying for the Chiltern Hundreds when HMQ invites him to form a government?
Keep him in a right state of humility. I was absolutely revolted to hear Blair refer to "MY Minister of Agriculture" during the Foot & Mouth outbreak.

Actually I would like to see the Crown strengthened so that, as happened once in Australia, the Governor General dismissed a PM who was playing silly buggers and called a general election to see if the people wanted him to go on doing so or not (they didn't)

Best wishes.

Gareth said...

The Boiling Frog said: "If it's too presidential then it should elected surely?"

That is akin to saying MPs fiddle their expenses so they should be paid more. If politicians are pushing politics into areas we do not have the system for why should we accept their choice? The same line of thinking is at the heart of efforts to reform the accountability of the EU - make up for 40 years of unaccountability by conning the public into giving up even more power to support a more (but superficially) accountable European government.

Parliament is what it is and we ought to be picking better parliamentarians.

I would go for a slight change in the measure of majority in the Commons - from a simple majority to a majority excluding the cabinet, and I would prohibit members of the government from voting on government business.

The Boiling Frog said...

@Gareth "Parliament is what it is", is precisely why we're in the current mess.

I'm not sure how preventing members of Govt from voting on Govt business facilitates the separation of powers. Via whips and threats of promotion, or otherwise, MPs can still be made to vote with the Government without ministers taking part.

The PM will also still be elected as leader by his party and appointed de facto by Parliament via the Queen. His loyalty will still be towards the establishment and not to voters who could vote for him directly.

A directly elected PM who appoints his own ministers not part of Parliament, but approved of by Parliament leads to a better separation of powers.

William Gruff said...

Edward Spalton I am much of your opinion and agree with the points you have made.