Lib Dem pact with the devil backfires

So, it looks like not only did the UK Liberal Democrats not get the electoral reform for which they traded their votes to the Tories – or even the half-arsed inadequate AV compromise proposal: seriously, pissweak negotiation skills, Mr Clegg – but they’ve been given a right-royal bollocking for all the excesses of those Tories since the last election.

And why?

Because they bought the stupid lie that MPs have to form a majority government. That someone has to be “Prime Minister”, the Leader Of The Government (the “government” being distinct from the Parliament), and that there has to be some combination of MPs who agree to vote together on everything.

Which is rubbish. Voters (the tiny proportion of them who turn out in the UK) vote (sort of, since the first past the post system enables candidates to win even if a majority of their electorate can’t stand them) for a parliament, not a leader. A group of people, to represent the country, not a hierarchy of rulers. So why is the first act of each such Parliament to abrogate its powers to some “Prime Minister” and his party? Even when his party doesn’t have majority support (which, in reality, none of them do, even if they have a majority of seats, such is their ridiculous electoral system, but that’s a post for another day – and, ultimately, another century, since it looks like this generation of Britons is stuck in the 19th).

Why couldn’t the Lib Dems have simply said – nup. We’re not going to form a coalition with either Labour or the Tories. We’re a different party, and we believe in different things, and sometimes we agree with Labour, and sometimes we agree with the Tories, and this is what we’re going to do in Parliament: support legislation that moves us closer to what we promised our voters we believed, and oppose legislation that moves us further from it. We don’t care who calls him or herself “Prime Minister”, because without the ability to pass legislation the post is ultimately meaningless. We’ll vote on candidates for various Ministries, and we’ll vote on someone to sit in Downing St and take command if we’re at war, subject to the review by parliament as soon as practicable, but otherwise – this is it. This is the parliament that represents (inasmuch as our pathetic electoral system allows it) the people of the UK. Let’s get some legislation out there and see where the votes fall.

Judge us on how we vote, people of the UK, not on this ultimately meaningless personality politics. There are plenty of issues that need to be decided. It’s time to get on with it.

Why couldn’t they have said (and done) that? I’d bet they’d be in a much stronger position today if they had.

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52 responses to “Lib Dem pact with the devil backfires

  1. Couldn’t agree more Jeremy. Imagine a parliament that discussed things on their merits…imagine the UK with a vaguely democratic voting system…

    Brendan O’Reilly

  2. jordanrastrick

    So why is the first act of each such Parliament to abrogate its powers to some “Prime Minister” and his party?

    Because 1) its an utterly fundamental requirement of the British constitution, and 2), the Parliament is not abrogating any powers whatsoever. The authority of the Executive Branch does not reside in the House of Commons, and never has.

    The Crown holds the relevant powers, and delegates it to a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. That Cabinet is drawn from, and must retain the support of, the House of Commons. But the House of Commons is not the sovereign, and cannot in any way conceivable way govern in its own right. If it hadn’t lent its confidence to a new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown would have been legally obliged to advise the Queen to dissolve the Parliament and call fresh elections.

    This is a really fundamental point, and you seem to consistently misunderstand it – surely you studied Constitutional Law at some point in your time at university?

  3. I haven’t studied British constitutional law, no. I did study Australian constitutional law, and our constitution doesn’t even mention the Prime Minister.

    Anyway, the point is that an elected member of the House of Commons has infinitely more legitimacy than the Queen. And if the Queen dissolved parliament because it refused to appoint a “government”, then the voters could return the same result. Eventually the Queen could bloody well accept that the voters want a parliament, not a ruler. I’m pretty sure she can’t force the Lib Dems to support a Labour or Tory PM.

    The Lib Dems could also say, we don’t care who’s PM – pick someone amongst yourselves. Whoever you pick won’t be able to guarantee passage of any bills, anyway – because we’re not promising to vote for any legislation other than that we told our voters we’d be supporting. Sit in Downing St if you like, but the real power resolves in the parliament that represents the people. The elected* part of our system.

    Without the ability to pass laws at will, what does it matter who’s PM? What matters is what legislation passes the parliament.

    *Yeah, I know, we’re talking about the UK electoral system in which you can win a seat with a minority of the votes because of first past the post and voluntary voting. But at least there’s some input from the people there, as opposed to the Sovereign.

  4. Well… a lot of the work of government goes on out of the purview of the parliament. That requires some executive structure, and since the Queen isn’t currently in the habit of deciding upon her own ministers, it falls to the parliamentary majority leader.

    Direct election of individual ministers? I can’t think of anything more nightmarish.

  5. narcoticmusing

    This all seems to smack of some fantasy realme, separate from certain realities.

    The Australian constitution doesn’t mention the Prime Minister – however, it is a product of the States and all the States do have a Premier and the Premier is specifically mentioned in each State constitution. Thus, it follows the conventions of those who enabled it.

    Also, there is a requirement to be able to pass at least one Bill; the annual Appropriation Bill. If you can’t manage that, then you must dissolve the parliament and start over – the entire basis of the no confidence vote is whether the executive Ministers (yes I’m mashing terms for simplicity) can get the Appropriation Bill through. This is why there is a requirement to be able to at least negotiate an agreement whereby a majority of the lower house agree to pass the Appropriation Bill.

  6. “This all seems to smack of some fantasy realme, separate from certain realities.”

    Habits. Habits that our democracy would be better for our MPs breaking.

    “Thus, it follows the conventions of those who enabled it.”

    Doesn’t bind MPs to vote for a particular “Prime Minister”. Doesn’t give the Prime Minister the power to pass legislation against the will of parliament.

    “Also, there is a requirement to be able to pass at least one Bill; the annual Appropriation Bill. If you can’t manage that, then you must dissolve the parliament and start over – the entire basis of the no confidence vote is whether the executive Ministers (yes I’m mashing terms for simplicity) can get the Appropriation Bill through. This is why there is a requirement to be able to at least negotiate an agreement whereby a majority of the lower house agree to pass the Appropriation Bill.”

    The house has to pass AN appropriation bill. Not necessarily “the” one the Prime Minister wants passed.

    If the Greens start voting for Labour policies like sending the refugees to Malaysia, I’ll start looking for another party to vote for.

  7. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy parliaments function like that in states that have a true separation of powers. Parliament doesn’t govern. It makes laws. It is the executive that governs.

    UK voters have voted resoundingly to retain the existing voting system. I guess they figure that if it isn’t broke it doesn’t need fixing, and I suspect they kind of like the idea that someone is in charge of the country.

    You have an endless stream of ideas for changing the political system and all of those ideas seem to result in more power for minority parties like the Greens. Funny that. Once Bob Brown goes, the Greens will be even less popular. People will not tolerate the radical stupidity of moral imbeciles like Lee Rhiannon and they don’t want to be bored to death by prattling drones like Sarah Hanson-Young.

    I prefer a system where two major parties compete for the middle ground and the one that best approximates the views of the majority are voted into power. Once in power they should be able to implement their program without being held hostage by a radical minority.

  8. “Parliament doesn’t govern. It makes laws. It is the executive that governs.”

    At the pleasure of the parliament, the only part of the system for which we vote.

    “UK voters have voted resoundingly to retain the existing voting system. I guess they figure that if it isn’t broke it doesn’t need fixing, and I suspect they kind of like the idea that someone is in charge of the country.”

    That had nothing to do with the referendum in question, and of course the vast majority of Britons did not vote for the status quo: they either abstained or voted yes. However, with their stupid optional voting system, and a shamelessly dishonest campaign against AV by the establishment, the liars in the No To AV camp got over the line. Two thirds of two fifths voted for the status quo, (a) because they’ve never known anything different and didn’t really understand how preference voting works in practice; and (b) because, most importantly, they wanted to give Nick Clegg a thumping for signing up with the Tories.

    “You have an endless stream of ideas for changing the political system and all of those ideas seem to result in more power for minority parties like the Greens. Funny that.”

    Actually, they seem to result in parliaments that would more accurately reflect the Australian population. I’m a bit of a democrat like that. Not keen on an electoral system that disenfranchises millions of Australians in favour of the establishment.

    I reckon anyone who demands the status quo so they can keep out people whose views they don’t like should be ashamed of themselves.

    “People will not tolerate the radical stupidity of moral imbeciles like Lee Rhiannon and they don’t want to be bored to death by prattling drones like Sarah Hanson-Young.”

    If you don’t like ‘em, vote for someone else.

    “I prefer a system where two major parties compete for the middle ground and the one that best approximates the views of the majority are voted into power. “

    Where legislation is regularly passed that a majority of Australians oppose, because they were only given two choices.

    I have no problem with you voting for Labor or the Liberals or whoever. What I do have a problem with is a system that arrogantly tells the 1.5 million of us who voted Green that we’re entitled to no more than 1 representative in the House of Representatives, if we’re lucky and the Liberals happen to direct preferences. That our votes should be redirected to the least-objectionable big party, because they’ve got the system set up in their own bloody favour.

    I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion we shouldn’t even worry about multiple multi-member electorates and should go straight to full proportional representation. There’s no real local representation in this system anyway – my representative in parliament is Adam Bandt, not whichever big party won the local seat. In every electorate, 30-50% of people are told that they’re “represented” in parliament by someone they absolutely didn’t vote for. Like hell they are.

    “Once in power they should be able to implement their program without being held hostage by a radical minority.”

    How does a minority hold the majority hostage? The majority has a majority of votes.

  9. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “At the pleasure of the parliament, the only part of the system for which we vote.”

    At the pleasure of the Governor-General, actually.

    “their stupid optional voting system”

    You mean a system that treats voters as adults and allows them the freedom to choose whether they want to vote?

    “I reckon anyone who demands the status quo so they can keep out people whose views they don’t like should be ashamed of themselves.”

    I reckon people who hold a minority view on any issue should not expect to be able to impose their minority view on the majority.

    “I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion we shouldn’t even worry about multiple multi-member electorates and should go straight to full proportional representation.”

    Oh yes. The system that works so well in Israel!

    “If you don’t like ‘em, vote for someone else.”

    Most people do.

    “How does a minority hold the majority hostage?”

    Ask the Greens. They are pushing through a carbon dioxide tax despite both major parties saying before the election that there wouldn’t be one and despite 60% of voters now opposing such a tax. This is a debasement of democracy, a product of shady back-room deals struck in dark recesses far from the eyes of from the public.

  10. You have an endless stream of ideas for changing the political system and all of those ideas seem to result in more power for minority parties like the Greens. Funny that.

    What would your complaint be if the Greens occupied, say, 11.76% of the seats in parliament having garnered 11.76% of the vote, instead of 0.67% of the seats as they have now?

  11. “At the pleasure of the Governor-General, actually.”

    No, at the pleasure of the people who have been convinced that the parliament has primacy and the governor-general is just a figurehead.

    “You mean a system that treats voters as adults and allows them the freedom to choose whether they want to vote?”

    The system that encourages the establishment to treat voters as idiots and give them really shabby civics education. The system that encourages the public to tune out from politics so the establishment can really screw ‘em without them realising that they actually have a choice. The system that makes that choice as limited as possible.

    “I reckon people who hold a minority view on any issue should not expect to be able to impose their minority view on the majority. “

    That happens with big parties much more than it happens with a real democratic parliament. In a real democratic parliament, you can only pass legislation that the majority supports. In a big-party dominated parliament, you can pass legislation that only a minority wants, but if it’s an engaged minority that the big party wants to keep happy, they’ll order their MPs to vote for it and party discipline will get them the rest of the way.

    “Oh yes. The system that works so well in Israel!”

    The PR part works fine. It’s Israel’s other massive issues that are the problem.

    “Most people do.”

    Most people also vote against every single one of the other parties, too.

    “Ask the Greens. They are pushing through a carbon dioxide tax despite both major parties saying before the election that there wouldn’t be one and despite 60% of voters now opposing such a tax. “

    No, the ALP and the Greens are pushing through a carbon price together with the independents – a majority in the parliament. Hardly a minority “holding everyone else to ransom”. The Greens have one seat. The other parties could all choose to block it if they wanted to.

  12. jordanrastrick

    Jeremy, your continued assertions that the mechanisms of the Westminster system are just “habits”, that place no legal restrictions on prerogative of parliament, are just wrong. False. Incorrect. If you tried to argue them in a university law exam, you would fail. If you tried to argue them in a court case, you would lose.

    It would be like if you argued that the Common Law carries no legal force because its not written down in any statute. That’s simply not how our system of government and law works. The Australian constitution doesn’t explicitly mention a Prime Minister, because it doesn’t need to – the existence of the post is implicit by virtue of our constitution deriving from the (unwritten) British one. You might have noticed the Constitution also says the Governor General is the Commander in Chief of our military; Quentin Bryce could try her luck giving an order on her own steam to so much as turn the ignition key in a single tank, if she wanted to give the public an illustration of how our constitution actually works.

    The PR part works fine. It’s Israel’s other massive issues that are the problem.

    PR makes Israel’s problems worse, precisely because it is more representative and so fringe groups (of e.g. the “lets triple the number of settlements and shoot all the Palestinians” variety) get more representation; and because the actual government, not just the parliament, ends up being a mainstream party plus a hodgepodge coalition of such groups that changes at every election, they can’t have a proper, serious and consistent plan for peace.

    Arguably, this faulty executive branch is only a problem where your political problems are of the “we are in a 60 year long war with all our neighbours” degree of difficulty. In a more stable and peaceful situation such as Australia’s I think there’s every reason to believe the Israeli system might work quite well.

    Of course, Jeremy doesn’t seem to think the Executive branch even exists, so it shouldn’t matter that much if the Lower House is non-proportional. The Senate is just as free to create its own legislation, and is welcome to pretend the Prime Minister doesn’t exist if it wants to.

  13. >> Why couldn’t the Lib Dems have simply said – nup.

    Well, they could. But the places you can hold and exert power in the governance of a modern state go far, far, far beyond the actions you can accomplish in the parliament. Regulation, appointment, administration, implementation. The siren lure of the line ministry is strong. And has probably been the Lib Dodos – sorry, Dems – undoing.

  14. uniquerhys

    SB: “I guess they figure that if it isn’t broke it doesn’t need fixing,”

    First past the post *is* broke – ask any mathematician and they’ll tell you that out of all possible voting systems it is least able to capture the will of the people. There’s no “perfect” voting system, but preferential and proportional always beat out first past the post.

    Preferential and proportional have their own problems capturing the will of the margins – preferential sets the bar very high as 1 Greens member for 1.5 million votes shows. Proportional sets the bar very low, allowing fringe parties like Family First and One Nation to scrape the bottom of the quota system to give the appearance of legitimacy.

    The AV referendum failed because political actors in the major parties were actively campaigning against it (because it would dilute their power). That allowed lies about the system “not being broke” to gain ground and confuse the public. First past the post is broke – AV would have been “less broke”. Misinformation won the day, not the will of the people.

  15. “Jeremy, your continued assertions that the mechanisms of the Westminster system are just “habits”, that place no legal restrictions on prerogative of parliament, are just wrong.”

    That’s not actually what I said, but the point is that the constitutional conventions are no more than conventions. The parliament doesn’t need to call a referendum to change them.

    There is only one part of our government for which we vote: the parliament. In any conflict between it and other holders of power, it should succeed. (Subject to basic restrictions like human rights – I’m not advocating a tyranny of the majority.)

    “PR makes Israel’s problems worse, precisely because it is more representative and so fringe groups (of e.g. the “lets triple the number of settlements and shoot all the Palestinians” variety) get more representation”

    Rubbish. Without PR those groups are still there, and getting their way by lobbying behind the scenes. In a democratic parliament, the disputes that are out in the community are represented in the parliament and can be debated there, in the open, rather than within the big parties behind closed doors.

    I’m also sick of people defining their views as “mainstream” and anyone who disagreed as “fringe”. How bloody arrogant to try to tell other people that only your views deserve to be represented in Parliament.

    “Of course, Jeremy doesn’t seem to think the Executive branch even exists”

    I’m going to stop publishing your comments if you insist on outright lies.

  16. jordanrastrick

    That’s not actually what I said, but the point is that the constitutional conventions are no more than conventions. The parliament doesn’t need to call a referendum to change them.

    In the Westminster system, Constitutional conventions have the weight of law; the more established the convention, the more legal authority it has. The Parliament could attempt to start ignoring them altogether, just as the GG could attempt to give orders to the Army, and just as anyone can choose to try and ignore any part of our legal system if they wish; but without a referrendum it would be in entirely uncharted waters, and its actions would certainly be subject to possible High Court challenge.

    Besides, the existence of a separate Executive run by the Cabinet (technically the Governor General in Council or whatever the term is) is no convention; its explicit. The only parts that are convention is that it has a Minister who is in charge of the others, and that its members must be drawn from the Parliament and be answerable to the Parliament. If Parliament simply stopped paying attention to its existence entirely, the previous Cabinet would stay in power indefinitely, even if its members had been voted out of office and its party had lost a majority on the flooor of the House. It would be a pretty lame duck Cabinet without any ability to pass legislation, but it would still retain a variety of very important powers and functions.

    There is only one part of our government for which we vote: the parliament. In any conflict between it and other holders of power, it should succeed. (Subject to basic restrictions like human rights – I’m not advocating a tyranny of the majority.)

    I disagree. For instance, we don’t vote for the Judiciary, for good reason. Of course The Parliament can disagree with a given Judicial decision and override it via legislation, but there are and should be limits to this power.

    Its a much broader question than basic human rights – it goes to the heart of our system, where democratic processes are not simply a means for 51% of the people to get their way most or all of the time, but merely one mechanism for keeping government power diffusely distributed amongst elements answerable to one another, so that it is not abused. Voters, Politicans, Judges, Bureaucrats, etc – all have part of the authority that once resided only in a Monarch; none is supreme.

    We do not and are not supposed to live in an Absolute Democracy, but rather a secular, liberal, representative democracy.

    Rubbish. Without PR those groups are still there, and getting their way by lobbying behind the scenes. In a democratic parliament, the disputes that are out in the community are represented in the parliament and can be debated there, in the open, rather than within the big parties behind closed doors.

    Nothing stops political parties negotiating behind closed doors under PR, although I agree the system tends to thrust more of the debate into parliament itself, which has advantages of transparency but disadvantages also.

    When push comes to shove, in say negotiating a peace treaty, a Labor or Liberal Prime Minister under our system is less legally answerable to these elements, and therefore has more authority to carry out their policies. Again, this can be a good thing and a bad thing.

    I’m also sick of people defining their views as “mainstream” and anyone who disagreed as “fringe”.

    While in the case of Israel’s hard right I really do consider their views “out there”, I don’t mean these terms in an especially normative or perjorative sense, but rather a quantiative one. Views that a small proportion of people hold which differ a lot from the views of the rest of their society can fairly be called fringe, existing at the “edge” of the space of public opinion, although in normal use it is more loaded than other possible terms. However more diplomatic alternative words that come to mind, like “popular” and “unpopular”, don’t quite capture the full sense of it. Perhaps “marginal” and “median” would convey what I wanted to say without the emotive undertone, but sadly they’d be less likely to be understood. Anyway, for what its worth, I don’t define people this way based on whether they agree or disagree with me; many of my own political views are extremely fringe.

    How bloody arrogant to try to tell other people that only your views deserve to be represented in Parliament.

    If this is directed at me rather than generic “people”, its not accurate. I like PR, I support more proportionality in both houses of Parliament, and while I have reservations about a fully proportional Lower House , you’ll note I say in the comment you’re quoting from that I think the Israeli system would work quite well in Australia.

    Ultimately, a parliament can’t reflect everyone’s views. PR is more democratic, but government by referrendum is more democratic still, and I know that you for one think that would be going too far (essentially it has much more exaggerated forms of the disadvantages that PR has vs Westminster). There are tradeoffs between reflecting public opinion more accurately and various other desirable aspects of government. You can have a preference about where the optimal point of the tradeoff lies, but you won’t have much luck convincing people your version is clearly and strictly superior with only pros and no cons, because its simply not the case.

    I’m going to stop publishing your comments if you insist on outright lies.

    Of course this is your blog and its your decision to make. But unlike a couple of previous occasions where I’ve acknowledged going too far, I’m not going to retract anything I’ve said here or change the style of my commenting unless moderation forces me to. I respectfully put it to you that I’m being held to a much higher standard in this instance than commenters usually are with regard to making an exaggerated statement that pokes fun at the party I’m arguing with. SB routinely says things a hundred times more over the top than this and no one so much as blinks.

    Presumably, the standard is so much higher because either 1) I do it less often, and hence it is less expected and thus much more noticable, or 2) you’re paying a great deal more attention to barbs pointed in your direction than in those of other people.

    I appeal to your sense of fairness, and also to the strength of the debate on the site that derives from erring on the side of letting comments through; but I won’t waste time arguing the toss about this particular point any further beyond this.

  17. Splatterbottom

    Buns I don’t complain about hypotheticals.

    Jeremy: “No, at the pleasure of the people who have been convinced that the parliament has primacy and the governor-general is just a figurehead.

    Read the Constitution. And talk to Gough about the practical realities. The Gevernor-General’s reserve powers are important, and sometimes parliament needs to be dissolved so that chaos can be resolved by the people at the ballot box.

    The executive has a different job to that of parliament. It is the executive that governs. It is true that in our system parliamentary elections are also de facto elections for the executive. It is utterly false to say that the executive governs at the pleasure of parliament. If the parliament pleasures itself too much a new election is called by the Governor-General.

    The system that encourages the establishment to treat voters as idiots and give them really shabby civics education. The system that encourages the public to tune out from politics so the establishment can really screw ‘em without them realising that they actually have a choice. The system that makes that choice as limited as possible.
    This is classic leftist douchbaggery. A system which gives voters the choice of whether to vote at all limits voters choices??? The hard left knows it is in the minority, but rather than question its own quaint beliefs it invents theories to explain away its public rejection – theories like blaming ‘false consciousness’ or ‘the system’.

    No, the ALP and the Greens are pushing through a carbon price together with the independents – a majority in the parliament.

    The ALP and the Greens are ramming through an unpopular policy on the basis of the lies and trickery of Gillard. That is the opposite of democracy. That is treating the vast majority of voters who voted against a carbon dioxide tax with utter contempt. This shameless disregard of the will of the people is a virtual coup by the Greens. It shows the vices of radical fringe parties holding the balance of power. As Jordan noted this problem bedevils Israeli politics.

    Unique: ”First past the post *is* broke – ask any mathematician”

    Luckily it is the people, not mathematicians, who decide these matters. That is the beauty of democracy – it respects the views of voters and is anathema to fringe radicals who deserve little more than a good kick up the arse like they got this time.

    The AV referendum failed because political actors in the major parties were actively campaigning against it

    The AV referendum didn’t fail. It was a triumph – the results reflected the will of the people. People clearly have had enough of attempts to fiddle the system by fringe groups trying to enhance their own power.

  18. I never said the Executive doesn’t exist; that’s a lie, and I don’t need to publish lies about what I’ve written. It would be bizarre if I did. (Admittedly, I suspect I noticed it more because I know what I’ve said.) Robust debate is great, obviously – but not outright lies about what I’ve said. (Also, and for good reason, comments that refer to my profession are looked at more critically: this is a forum for political debate, not for attacks on my livelihood.)

    Obviously there is reference to an “executive council” in the Constitution, and I’m not actually suggesting parliament give up on the idea of ministries completely. Actually, it’d be good if parliament remembered that it isn’t constrained to vote for ministers all from the same party – and, in fact, if it were a genuine reflection of the Australian populace, it wouldn’t. If the parliament represented the community more accurately I suspect you’d find that there’d be a Liberal Treasurer and a Labor Minister for Health. A Liberal Defence Minister and a Labor Minister for Education. Maybe even a Green Minister for the Environment. All serving at the pleasure of the parliament and subject to replacement if they stopped reflecting the will of the parliament.

    You are wrong to suggest that there would need to be a referendum to change the constitutional conventions. The Constitution is very clear about what’s required to change the Constitution itself; but there’s no such mechanism required or available for conventions.

    Obviously I agree with an independent Judiciary (obviously MPs have to be subject to their own laws, and obviously it wouldn’t be a fair trial if the public were voting on the outcome, which indirectly would happen with elected judges, eg the US). Fortunately that is something that is set out specifically in the Constitution.

  19. jordanrastrick

    First past the post *is* broke – ask any mathematician and they’ll tell you that out of all possible voting systems it is least able to capture the will of the people. There’s no “perfect” voting system, but preferential and proportional always beat out first past the post.

    This isn’t quite right. All voting systems have imperfections, in that there are certain seemingly obvious mathematical criteria for what constitutes a fair system, and its impossible to satisfy them simultaneously. FPTP certainly fails more of them than many preferential systems, but there’s no strict, objective ordering that puts it last, only personal taste. FPTP also has pragmatic advantages not captured by the mathematics, for example simplicity and transparency – its very obvious to all or most voters how the system works, how their vote effects the outcome, and why the candidate who wins, wins. In general, the most “mathematically preferable” a system, the more sophisiticated it is and hence the less clear its advantages or its workings are to anyone who hasn’t studied voting theory.

    Also, AV fails at one particular criterion, monoticity, that FPTP works fine on. Arguably its one of the worst ones to get wrong – it means ranking a candidate higher can cause them to lose. So its certainly not at all clear that a mathematician should prefer AV to FPTP; personally I do, but not by a very big margin – IMO is by far the worst preferential system and its a shame we have it and not something better.

    If anyone cares for gory detail on this topic, I have a blog post here, that uses Tony Abbott’s election to the Coalition leadership as a motivating example to discuss various voting theory ideas:

    http://musingsnotamusing.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-have-to-get-this-one-out-quick.html

  20. “AV fails at one particular criterion, monoticity, that FPTP works fine on. Arguably its one of the worst ones to get wrong – it means ranking a candidate higher can cause them to lose.”

    How?

  21. Buns I don’t complain about hypotheticals.

    Lame weaselling.

  22. jordanrastrick

    Obviously there is reference to an “executive council” in the Constitution, and I’m not actually suggesting parliament give up on the idea of ministries completely. Actually, it’d be good if parliament remembered that it isn’t constrained to vote for ministers all from the same party – and, in fact, if it were a genuine reflection of the Australian populace, it wouldn’t. If the parliament represented the community more accurately I suspect you’d find that there’d be a Liberal Treasurer and a Labor Minister for Health. A Liberal Defence Minister and a Labor Minister for Education. Maybe even a Green Minister for the Environment. All serving at the pleasure of the parliament and subject to replacement if they stopped reflecting the will of the parliament.

    OK, sure. All the ministers being drawn from a single party is a convention of the party system, not the constitution. This idea is perfectly possible under Westminster, and indeed historically before the evolution towards a two-party environment, it was the norm for British cabinets to be composed this way.

    This doesn’t change the fact that if the Cabinet fails a confidence motion on the floor, if say an appropriation bill is voted down, Parliament can’t just keep chopping and changing ministers for six months until it gets an Executive willing to propose a budget that its prepared to pass. Either a new Prime Minister comes forward in a resonable period of time with a workable majority, and the old Prime Minister resigns and advises the GG to comission the new person into the role. Or, if no one commands such a workable majority, the PM advises the GG to dissolve parliament.

    This “convention” is a real and essential part of the constitution, it has legal force, and if a Parliament tried to ignore it, we’d have a constitutional crisis with no clear outcome (although the likely result is that the GG, the Cabinet and the High Court would all be in consensus that a double dissolution would be required, and that view would prevail). Ask any Constitutional lawyer or academic in the country.

  23. jordanrastrick

    How?

    I sketch the hypothetical details of a monoticity failure at very end of the blog post I linked to. If you want a worked numerical example I’d be happy to construct one.

  24. “Read the Constitution. And talk to Gough about the practical realities. The Gevernor-General’s reserve powers are important, and sometimes parliament needs to be dissolved so that chaos can be resolved by the people at the ballot box.”

    Again, it went back to the people. As it should. Happy with more regular elections, subject to a reasonable limit on frequency (no more than one every year, say).

    “The executive has a different job to that of parliament. It is the executive that governs. “

    No, it’s the executive that administers the laws of the Parliament, with the Parliament’s oversight.

    “A system which gives voters the choice of whether to vote at all limits voters choices???”

    No, FPTP limits voters’ choices. Voluntary voting reduces the power of the most disenfranchised in the community, and props up the establishment.

    “The ALP and the Greens are ramming through an unpopular policy on the basis of the lies and trickery of Gillard. “

    That’s a fairly idiotic sentence. The ALP, the Greens and the independents are putting up a policy whose popularity isn’t yet accurately determined because it hasn’t actually been determined just what the details will be.

    “That is treating the vast majority of voters who voted against a carbon dioxide tax with utter contempt. “

    No, they didn’t. That’s the problem with a two-party system: you can’t make that claim, because there’s insufficient parties for voters to choose a combination of views that matches their own. You can’t say people voted for the big parties because they opposed a carbon tax; it’s just as likely (actually, much more likely) that they voted for the big parties because they think one of them has to be the government and they’d rather pick the lesser of the two evils.

    “The AV referendum didn’t fail. It was a triumph – the results reflected the will of the people.”

    Two thirds of two fifths of eligible voters is “the will of the people”?

  25. jordanrastrick

    OK so here you go (may not be quite the same as the blog example). Consider the following first preferences.

    Lisa Simpson: 20
    Homer Simpson: 16
    Mr Burns: 15
    Duff Man: 14

    Total: 65

    We have the two last voters to get to the booths, Marge and Maggie, who want Lisa to win (I’ve picked two rather than one because it makes it easier to skip over details about ties etc.)

    So there’s 67 electors. A candidate needs 34 votes to win.

    Say Marge and Maggie vote for Duff Man, for tactical reasons:

    (Lisa 20, Homer, 16, Duff Man 16, Mr Burns 15).

    Assume that Mr Burns voters are “hyper rationalists”, with second preferences going to Lisa:

    (Lisa 35, Homer 16, Duff Man 15).

    Lisa wins.

    Say instead Maggie and Marge vote accordng to their real preference, Duff Man 2, Lisa 1:

    (Lisa 22, Homer, 16, Mr Burns 15, Duff Man 14).

    Now Duff Man’s preferences are distributed, not Mr Burns’. Say Mr Burns paid Duff Man to direct all his second preferences in a back room deal, and Duff Man’s voters are stupid and follow this advice.

    Mr Burns 29, Lisa 22, Homer 16

    Now Mr Burns only needs 5 second preferences from Homer’s voters to get over the line.

    So Marge and Maggie cause Lisa to lose if they vote for her instead of for Duff Man.

  26. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “No, it’s the executive that administers the laws of the Parliament, with the Parliament’s oversight.”

    The executive has a different job to that of parliament. It is the executive that governs. Parliament has limited oversight. Parliament can enact laws which are subject to the assent of the Governor-General. The Governor-General takes advice from the Executive. Your original assertion that the government governs at the pleasure of Parliament is wrong. It is far more complex than that.

    The push for the carbon dioxide tax is one of the most disgraceful abuses of power this country has seen. It is a clear example of a fringe party manipulating a feckless government into doing something that the Australian people were promised would not happen. This is an object lesson on the corruption fringe parties bring to the table.

  27. “It is the executive that governs. Parliament has limited oversight.”

    Limited by what, precisely? In what way?

    “It is a clear example of a fringe party manipulating a feckless government into doing something that the Australian people were promised would not happen. “

    You need to lay off the News Ltd.

  28. I see what you’re saying, Jordan. I don’t think that’s a big problem with preference voting, though. If there were more specific parties and fewer broad-based big parties that capture votes from all over the spectrum, it would very rarely arise as an issue.

  29. jordanrastrick

    I see what you’re saying, Jordan. I don’t think that’s a big problem with preference voting, though.

    There are many other known preferential voting systems, and none except AV suffers from this particular issue; so its not something we have to put up with in general just because we want to allow preferences.

    If there were more specific parties and fewer broad-based big parties that capture votes from all over the spectrum, it would very rarely arise as an issue.

    With more parties, the problem is worse. Smaller parties are more vulnerable to these weird artifacts of preference distribution. This is why Labor, the Coalition and to a lesser extent the Greens get a reasonably accurate reflection of their overall vote in state and Federal Upper Houses, but the last few seats are always a crapshoot lottery where the ability to calculate and negotiate deals with other microparties, and sheer luck, matter far more than what you actually stand for.

    If I were dictator for a day, I’d probably implement multi-member constituencies with Borda Count or something like it in the lower house, and Meek’s Method in the upper house. It would also be nice to use something like Punchscan for the actual collection of the votes, although I haven’t yet figured out an obvious way to painlessly extend it to allow preferences…

  30. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “Limited by what, precisely? In what way?”

    You can see it clearly in the Senate Committee hearings where there are executive privilege limitations on the ability of the Senate to compel witnesses. It’s part of the separation of powers.

  31. uniquerhys

    jordanrastrick, given that the voters are almost evenly spread between the candidates on the first round, with Lisa having only a slight edge, then any preference outcome that puts one candidate over 50% is acceptable. It’s so close to random chance that J. Random Anybody is good enough. It happens. *shrug*

  32. jordanrastrick

    It’s trivial to extend my example to one where 20 parties have a small number of first preferences, Lisa has a much larger number, and the same effect applies. Would that still be an acceptable situation.

    I could also construct other examples, if I could be bothered.

    Maybe I should dig up the graphs of outcomes of simulated elections that convinced me how bad AV really is. But they’re heavy on mathematical detail.

  33. “the last few seats are always a crapshoot lottery where the ability to calculate and negotiate deals with other microparties, and sheer luck, matter far more than what you actually stand for. “

    Again, usually only because of residue from the big parties’ vote. Smaller parties (and their voters) tend to allocate preferences more precisely to parties more similar to themselves. And the ticket system (without preferencing above the line) gives us results like Fielding, where the voters for a big party would have no idea where their later preferences are going, and wouldn’t approve if they did.

  34. jordanrastrick

    Preferencing above the line would be wonderful. But Meek’s Method or one of its variants (such as Warren or Wright) is equally as important a reform:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counting_Single_Transferable_Votes#Meek.27s_method

  35. Jeremy
    I haven’t studied British constitutional law, no. I did study Australian constitutional law, and our constitution doesn’t even mention the Prime Minister.

    I’m fairly confident that jordan has not.
    I couldn’t find a Prime Minister in the UK constitution either.
    Nor in fact could I find a written constitution.

    SB
    Read the Constitution.

    And neither have you, mate.

    as for the many wondrous blessings of FPTP and sonsoring unicorns thereof, the people of Canada recently voted for a Centre-Left government, and didn’t get one.
    Spin that guys – I look forward to reading this

  36. uniquerhys

    “It’s trivial to extend my example to one where 20 parties have a small number of first preferences, Lisa has a much larger number, and the same effect applies. Would that still be an acceptable situation.”

    Sure. If Lisa represented the Soylent Green Party and all other 19 candidates were opposed (although bitterly divided on what to do instead), then I certainly hope she doesn’t get in despite a first round lead. :-)

  37. uniquerhys

    Separate from voting method, I think the problem is that the House of Reps electorates are too small. Geographically-disperse political movements like the Greens (and heck even Family First or One Nation) have great difficulty breaking open a seat and then holding it.

    It’s time we recognized that an individual’s politics are not defined solely by where they live. In the 19th/early-20th century it made sense to elect a local to travel the great distance to represent your issues. Now we’re all a click away from what’s going on in Canberra, and those we trust to represent us may not live anywhere near us.

    Leave the regional issues to State and Local governments and have Federal focus on bigger issues that affect all of us.

  38. jordanrastrick

    I’m fairly confident that jordan has not.

    Incorrect.

    I couldn’t find a Prime Minister in the UK constitution either.
    Nor in fact could I find a written constitution.

    Me, earlier:

    The Australian constitution doesn’t explicitly mention a Prime Minister, because it doesn’t need to – the existence of the post is implicit by virtue of our constitution deriving from the (unwritten) British one.

    So the only thing you’ve said that I hadn’t already raised is that you “couldn’t find a Prime Minister in the UK constitution”. I assure you that despite your inability to find evidence for it, the role exists and is highly important in the UK constitution.

  39. jordanrastrick

    I’d ask anyone wanting to make a serious argument for the views Lykurgus seems to hold concerning our constition, to start by considering the example of the right to free speech, another important democractic concept that you won’t find written anywhere in the Australian constitution, but is nonetheless present. And I quote:

    The Australian Constitution does not have any express provision relating to freedom of speech. In theory, therefore, the Commonwealth Parliament may restrict or censor speech through censorship legislation or other laws, as long as they are otherwise within constitutional power. The Constitution consists mainly of provisions relating to the structure of the Commonwealth Parliament, executive government and the federal judicial system.(6) There is no list of personal rights or freedoms which may be enforced in the courts. There are however some provisions relating to personal rights such as the right to trial by jury (section 80), and the right to freedom of religion (section 116).

    Since 1992 decisions of the High Court have indicated that there are implied rights to free speech and communication on matters concerning politics and government, e.g. permitting political advertising during election campaigns.(7) This is known as the ‘implied freedom of political communication’. Issues arising from these decisions include defining when communication is ‘political’ and when the freedom should prevail over competing public interests.(8)

    Source: http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/2001-02/02rn42.htm

    For a simple introduction to the British constitution and the Westminster system which it governs, wikipedia is a pretty handy starting point:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Constitution

    Again, for those who prefer a summary there are a few choice quotes on that page (as at the time of writing):

    The constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.[1] Unlike many nations, the UK has no single core constitutional document. It is therefore often said that the country has an uncodified, or de facto constitution.[2] However, much of the British constitution is embodied in the written form, within statutes, court judgments, and treaties. The constitution has other unwritten sources, including parliamentary constitutional conventions and royal prerogatives.

    Also interesting in the context of Jeremy’s original points about Parliament not having to appoint any one to serve as Prime Minister:

    The most important prerogatives still personally exercised by the Sovereign are the choice of whom to appoint Prime Minister, and whether to grant a dissolution of Parliament on the request of the Prime Minister. The most recent occasion the monarch has had to exercise these powers were in February 1974, when Prime Minister Edward Heath resigned after failing to secure an overall majority in Parliament. Queen Elizabeth II appointed Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, as Prime Minister, exercising her prerogative after extensive consultation with the Privy Council. The Labour Party had the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, but not an overall majority. The 2010 general election also resulted in a hung parliament. After several days of negotiations, between the parties, Queen Elizabeth II invited David Cameron to form a government on the advice of the outgoing prime minister Gordon Brown.

    The Sovereign normally grants any request of the Prime Minister for a dissolution of Parliament. However, several authorities agree that a Prime Minister who is granted a dissolution must win at least one vote of confidence from the newly elected Commons before he or she has the right to request any further dissolution. This would mean that, for example, a sitting Prime Minister who suffered defeat in a General Election, and was then defeated in the first confidence motion he or she faced in the new Commons, would not be granted a dissolution.[12] No refusal of a requested dissolution has happened since the beginning of the twentieth century.[12]

    The last Sovereign to dismiss a Prime Minister who had not suffered a defeat on a motion of confidence in the House of Commons, or to appoint a Prime Minister who clearly did not enjoy a majority in that House, was William IV who in 1834 dismissed the Government of Lord Melbourne, replacing him with the Duke of Wellington.

    Queen Victoria was the last sovereign to veto a ministerial appointment. In 1892, she refused William Ewart Gladstone’s advice to include Henry Labouchère (a radical who had insulted the Royal Family) in the Cabinet.[13]

    The last sovereign to veto legislation passed by Parliament was Queen Anne, who withheld assent from the Scottish Militia Bill 1708.

    The Royal Prerogative is not unlimited; this was established in the Case of Proclamations (1610), which confirmed that no new prerogative can be created and that Parliament can abolish individual prerogatives.

    In the UK, at least, it would probably be possible for the Parliament (which does tend to get the final say on most issues) to gradually chip away at the Royal Perogatives by incremental acts of parliament (this is more or less the history of the evolution of British law) to eventually shape the system into something like Jeremy’s proposal. But note that the Parliament is not the Commons – it is the Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown, acting as a body.

    Also note that in Australia, it is actually likely to be harder for the Lower House to make such a change unilaterally, because we have an explicit referrendum mechanism for constitutional modifications.

  40. Splatterbottom

    Lykurgis: “And neither have you, mate.”

    As if you would know. I’ve read enough of it to know that the executive is appointed by the GG, not the houses of parliament as Jeremy erroneously asserted. You should start with Chapter II:

    64. The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
    Such officers shall hold office during he pleasure of the Governor-General.

  41. “I’ve read enough of it to know that the executive is appointed by the GG, not the houses of parliament as Jeremy erroneously asserted”

    Um, no I didn’t. The GG does indeed “appoint” them. As ordered by the Prime Minister as representative of the parliament.

    The PM is merely the parliament’s representative to the GG, and the GG can only exercise those powers as directed by the PM, on behalf of the parliament.

    The only power the GG can in reality exercise without the parliament’s approval is dissolving it so that the voters are consulted again. If the unelected GG started trying to exercise other powers I suspect we’d have a referendum to remove those powers PDQ.

  42. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “The PM is merely the parliament’s representative to the GG, and the GG can only exercise those powers as directed by the PM, on behalf of the parliament.”

    That is just not true. The GG sacked Whitlam as PM and appointed Fraser as PM without direction from the houses of parliament and quite clearly without direction from the PM.

    Also, although we don’t have a true separation of the legislative and executive branches of government there is no warrant for asserting that we don’t need a PM.

  43. “The GG sacked Whitlam as PM and appointed Fraser as PM without direction from the houses of parliament and quite clearly without direction from the PM.”

    All Fraser got to do before that election was pass the Labor budget that had already gone through the House of Reps, through the Senate. And then the people got to make their choice.

    “Also, although we don’t have a true separation of the legislative and executive branches of government there is no warrant for asserting that we don’t need a PM.”

    I don’t mind having a PM to speak for the Parliament, at the parliament’s pleasure. What I object to is the idea that the PM’s supposed to “govern” us. We vote for a parliament for that.

  44. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “All Fraser got to do before that election was pass the Labor budget that had already gone through the House of Reps, through the Senate. And then the people got to make their choice.”

    And? The system is circular, but there is still a distinction between the functions of the executive and the functions of the legislature. You think they should be rolled up together. I would prefer that they be made more distinct and that we have a truer separation of powers.

    “What I object to is the idea that the PM’s supposed to “govern” us. We vote for a parliament for that.”

    You seem to be favouring some form of government by committee. That can only be a disaster full of back-room deals and hideous compromises. I would prefer a separately elected executive.

  45. jordanrastrick

    I don’t mind having a PM to speak for the Parliament, at the parliament’s pleasure. What I object to is the idea that the PM’s supposed to “govern” us. We vote for a parliament for that.

    It seems the debate has been reduced to the point where the only remaining disagreement is semantic.

    The Parliament does already “govern” us in the sense that it has the exclusive power to create, change and revoke laws.

    Its essentially meaningless to ask whether the PM is the Cabinet’s main spokesperson to the Parliament or instead the Parliament’s main spokeperson in the Cabinet; functionally, she’s both.

    She “governs” only at the Parliament’s pleasure, in two senses: first, she can’t pass laws without the support of a majority in both houses, and second, the lower house has the power to remove her from the Cabinet role. When this happens, if Parliament can’t come to a consensus on the makeup of a new Cabinet, the PM is obliged to advise the GG that she in turn is obliged to dissolve the Parliament, and so the decision ultimately reverts to the electorate.

    This is the Westminster system. It seems SB, Jeremy and I all fundamentally approve of how it works, despite what’d I’d term some unconventional lingusitic choice in describing it during earlier comments…. does anyone disagree?

    Anyway, In light of the resounding success we’ve had rationally discussing these issues, I will return to Jeremy’s orginal post to clarify with why I don’t like his choice of words, and why I don’t think he’s applied the right reasoning to the case of the current British government:

    Because they bought the stupid lie that MPs have to form a majority government.

    It is a indeed lie that MPs have to form majority governments. They don’t. They can form minority governments, which is precisely what the Lib Debs and Tories have done, just as the Independents, Greens and Labor have done here. In both cases, negotiations took place to form agreements on a number of key issues, to get all parties support for the appointment of a given Cabinet. Here, these issues included Poker Machine Reform, Carbon Pricing, and the NBN; there, they included spending cuts, and a referrendum on AV.

    That someone has to be “Prime Minister”, the Leader Of The Government

    Someone does….

    (the “government” being distinct from the Parliament)

    ….but while the government is *distinct* from the Parliament, its not *separate*, since we’re talking about the Westminster system. One way to put it is that “the government” is a group of delegates from the Parliament who’s job is essentially to advise the Queen/GG about what orders she should give to bureaucrats (and by convention, this advice must always be accepted.)

    and that there has to be some combination of MPs who agree to vote together on everything.

    There, of course, doesn’t. The Greens, Independents and ALP are free to vote as they want on issues not covered in the post-election agreements they made, and are exercising that freedom; ditto the Lib Dems and the Tories.

    Furthermore, all parties are also free to renege on their coalition agreements if they really want, but that may of course trigger a situation where parliament has to send a new set of advisers to the Queen/GG, or failing that the Queen might dissolve the parliament.

  46. jordan
    It seems the debate has been reduced to the point where the only remaining disagreement is semantic.

    It’s what psychs call the “sunk-cost fallacy” – you can’t give up defending your position now, because you’ve spent too much time and energy defending it already.
    It would make that labour seem to have all been for nothing – so no matter how futile you see it becoming (or how much of a boob you think you’ll end up making of yourself), you will continue.

  47. jordanrastrick

    If I recall correctly it was economists who first called that particular cognitive bias the sunk-cost fallacy, lykurgus; the psychs copied it from them. Regardless of its origins I’m glad to see awareness of it is becoming more widespread.

    you can’t give up defending your position now, because you’ve spent too much time and energy defending it already.

    That’s an interesting way to put it, because I don’t think I’ve significantly altered my position at all (which is a shame – its a much better use of time to participate in a debate that changes your mind), and am still willing to defend it, because it is correct.

    From my point of view, I have correctly argued all along about how the Westminster system actually works, others including Jeremy have disagreed, and the course of the debate revealed disagreement was mainly or entirely in misunderstanding one another’s use of terminology – assuming Jeremy’s subsequent clarifications of his position honestly reflect his beliefs, and that your one-liners about the absence of the PM from the UK constitution etc were only throw away incitements to further argument as opposed to a substantial attempt to argue some sort of alternative position.

    And? The system is circular, but there is still a distinction between the functions of the executive and the functions of the legislature. You think they should be rolled up together. I would prefer that they be made more distinct and that we have a truer separation of powers.

    There’s obvious merits to this, SB. But since neither Jeremy nor any other commentor seens to be advocating an armed uprising to introduce multi-member electorates etc, I don’t really see how anyone’s desires for reform in the system differ all that much from yours (or mine). Which makes me think these comments are perhaps a little unfair:

    Luckily it is the people, not mathematicians, who decide these matters. That is the beauty of democracy – it respects the views of voters and is anathema to fringe radicals who deserve little more than a good kick up the arse like they got this time.
    ….
    The AV referendum didn’t fail. It was a triumph – the results reflected the will of the people. People clearly have had enough of attempts to fiddle the system by fringe groups trying to enhance their own power.

  48. Actually, I think y0u have changed your view – you now seem to agree with me that the Lib Dems could, and perhaps should, have declined to agree to a Tory government and passing Tory government legislation. That the parliament didn’t need to abrogate its powers to either big party: it could’ve voted for its own cabinet of ministers, not necessarily from the same party, and a Prime Minister to speak for it to the Queen, but without the power to really “rule” in the sense of changing anything without Parliament’s approval.

    The point is that the PM should just be a representative the Parliament elects to speak for it, who serves at the pleasure of the Parliament and is subject to an immediate vote of No Confidence if he or she tries to govern in a way inconsistent with the majority will of Parliament.

    The Lib Dems didn’t need to give the Conservatives the power they did.

  49. jordanrastrick

    Actually, I think y0u have changed your view – you now seem to agree with me that the Lib Dems could, and perhaps should, have declined to agree to a Tory government and passing Tory government legislation.

    The Lib Dems were not obliged to agree to anything. However Parliament has to agree to give its confidence to some Cabinet. In theory the Lib Dems could have demanded a mixed cabinet of Labor, Liberal and Lib Dem members, ala Oakenshott’s suggestions in the aftermath of our election; but the reality of the party system is that it would be highly unlikely for either of the two majors to agree to this. Given that one of the Lib Dems objectives was to achieve the relatively quick formation a stable and functioning Government to deal with Britian’s massive and ongoing economic problems, and also that their priority for achieving a more representative system was to give voters a chance to permanently choose a new voting system rather than just have a single term of a more diverse government, their deal with the Tories was entirely reasonable.

    and a Prime Minister to speak for it to the Queen, but without the power to really “rule” in the sense of changing anything without Parliament’s approval.

    The PM doesn’t have this power. The Lib Dems, or other Tories, can walk away from the Cabinet at any time.

    The point is that the PM should just be a representative the Parliament elects to speak for it, who serves at the pleasure of the Parliament and is subject to an immediate vote of No Confidence if he or she tries to govern in a way inconsistent with the majority will of Parliament.

    This is already the case. Its just that both MPs and the vast majority of the populace have less of appetite for an election every 6 months than you do, so Parliament’s generally attempt to give every Prime Minister a minimum of a couple of years of guiding a coherent platform of government action rather than turning every single major issue into a popular referrendum. Which would result in a system where you may was well just cut out the middlemen and do it directly. you don’t, supposedly, approve of.

    And for good reason. Issues are simply not cleanly divorced from one another. If you spend more on the health system, that necessarily affects the prospective budget of every other government service. More direct, more representative systems, where either Parliamentarians or Voters get to make individual decisions about every tax and spending measure (and it largely all comes down to money in the end – the government Benches are the Treasury Benches; the British PM’s explict constitutional role is the First Lord of the Treasury), are highly dysfunctional. This is why California had to start handing out IOUs to its employees.

    Groups of people as large as Parliaments, let alone Electorates, don’t have coherent collective opinions about how things should be run. The most accurate reflection of popular opinion would be to reduce taxes and increase spending at the same time. This is impossible, but a group of people is quite capable of wanting to do it, because there’s nothing forcing the combined opinions of the group to be consistent about fiscal reality, or any other aspect of reality for that matter.

    Hence, we all compromise on some of our beliefs, and delegate our collective authority to groups small enough to come to a coherent consensus opinion. In the case of legislative functionality, a Parliament does the job, but the executive powers, like what psychologists call the executive faculties of your mind, need to be more centralised.

  50. jordanrastrick

    Eh, sorry for the typos / mis-copy pasting.

  51. you can’t give up defending your position now, because you’ve spent too much time and energy defending it already.

    That’s an interesting way to put it, because I don’t think I’ve significantly altered my position at all (which is a shame – its a much better use of time to participate in a debate that changes your mind), and am still willing to defend it, because it is correct.

    Thank you for illustrating my point, jordan

    Actually, I think you have changed your view – you now seem to agree with me that the Lib Dems could, and perhaps should, have declined to agree to a Tory government and passing Tory government legislation.

    I stand corrected.

  52. jordanrastrick

    It would make that labour seem to have all been for nothing – so no matter how futile you see it becoming (or how much of a boob you think you’ll end up making of yourself), you will continue.

    The love of the debate, including irrational emotional investment in arguments I’ve already made, is what primarily motivates me to continue in these affairs, beyond any rational desire for truth seeking. Fo sure.

    Fortunately, discovery of the truth – including by means of being making oneself into a boob – is often a side effect :-) And besides, its fun….. if I were arguing only to try and convince other people, I would indeed have long ago stopped doing it altogether as a poor use of time.

    Thank you for illustrating my point, jordan

    Jeremy’s original post contains a few incorrect or questionable statements. For the love of making myself a boob in your eyes, Lykurgus, I’ll go back over the origins of the debate in mind-numbing detail:

    So why is the first act of each such Parliament to abrogate its powers to some “Prime Minister” and his party?

    It doesn’t abrogate any of its powers. The Parliament retains its role as the Legislature, and votes in a Prime Minister to head the Executive. Sometimes (well, always) members of the parliament form coalitions that agree to compromises where one person gets to be the PM in exchange for (sometimes unstated) promises to Legislate in certain ways. But no power goes anywhere. Jeremy has subsequently more or less agreed that this is the way Westminster works, which means he got this bit wrong, or else he phrased what he really meant to say so badly that he looked wrong, which functionally works out to the same thing.

    Because they bought the stupid lie that MPs have to form a majority government. That someone has to be “Prime Minister”, the Leader Of The Government (the “government” being distinct from the Parliament),

    The presence of the word majority makes the first sentence true, since minority governments exist. I may have actually missed it in my first reading, which would be my bad. The second sentence is either false, or vacuous. Someone does have to be “Prime Minister”, and the “government” both exists and is distinct from the Parliament, as I have consistently “advocated” here, so unless Jeremy’s use of “scare quotes” is an indicator that he wants us so skip over this part of what he’s saying entirely, he was “wrong”.

    Why couldn’t the Lib Dems have simply said – nup. We’re not going to form a coalition with either Labour or the Tories. We’re a different party, and we believe in different things, and sometimes we agree with Labour, and sometimes we agree with the Tories, and this is what we’re going to do in Parliament: support legislation that moves us closer to what we promised our voters we believed, and oppose legislation that moves us further from it.

    This is rhetoical and so neither true nor false, but I’ve given plenty of reasons why it the Lib Dems made what was likely the best possible choice in pre-committing themselves to voting certain ways on certain issues. Its easy to know how unpopular university fee increases were going to be, and that it would actually help scuttle the AV referrendum – in hindsight. The Lib Dems aren’t used to being in power, so the idea that they would forsee this political development is really a bit of a stretch. Reminds me a little of my argument that the Greens should have known how badly their voting down of the CPRS would turn out, actually….

    We don’t care who calls him or herself “Prime Minister”, because without the ability to pass legislation the post is ultimately meaningless.

    In this case the scare quotes simply can’t save this statement from being incorrect. David Cameron can sack the head of Health Department or declare war without parliamentary approval, so the role is not meaningless even absent any legislative function. And I’ll note that while Jeremy talks of Parliamentary review of military powers, in the World Wars, not only did the British Parliament fall more or less quietly in line behind the Executive’s decisions, elections were actually suspended.

    Why couldn’t they have said (and done) that? I’d bet they’d be in a much stronger position today if they had.

    The counterfactual is of course ultimately impossible to determine, and also depends on what is meant by stonger, but I’d bet against Jeremy on this if it were possible.

    Contrast my original comment, which only takes direct issue with the first and most clearly wrong statement:

    Because 1) its an utterly fundamental requirement of the British constitution, and 2), the Parliament is not abrogating any powers whatsoever. The authority of the Executive Branch does not reside in the House of Commons, and never has.

    Utterly is probably too strong. Cross that word out, and I stand by the paragraph in its entirety.

    The Crown holds the relevant powers, and delegates it to a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. That Cabinet is drawn from, and must retain the support of, the House of Commons. But the House of Commons is not the sovereign, and cannot in any way conceivable way govern in its own right. If it hadn’t lent its confidence to a new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown would have been legally obliged to advise the Queen to dissolve the Parliament and call fresh elections.

    This, again, is both clear and correct. You could say that the sense in which “the Crown holds the relevant powers” is complex and requires elaboration, but its accurate, and I go on to discuss the issues further down the thread.

    This is a really fundamental point, and you seem to consistently misunderstand it – surely you studied Constitutional Law at some point in your time at university?

    I stand by my statement that Jeremy seemed to be suffering from a misunderstanding, although in retrospect (and especially with the benefit of subsequent comments by both of us) the gap I perceived between the reality of the Westminster system and Jeremy’s assertions about it was grossly exaggerated.

    Having provoked Jeremy with a hyperbolic response to his hyperbolic remarks about how British Government works, we spent a fair bit of time talking past each other, but we managed to be civil enough that it eventually became clear we had both jumped to conclusions and in fact never really disagreed a great deal (about the objective bits) in the first place.

    On the other hand, you’ve managed to avoid being wrong in this thread only by virtue of saying virtually nothing, and simply leaving incorrect arguments implicit in rhetorical noise (“I can’t find UK Prime Minister mentioned anywhere in the Constitution…..”)

    Would you like a cookie? :-)

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