Some interesting links: rebel MPs, e-petitions, hung parliaments, and political disengagement

1. Rebels of the Chamber

Isabel Hardman has a fascinating piece looking at some of the most rebellious backbench MPs in the UK House of Commons:

Once an MP starts down the route of the serial rebel, it seems easier for the whips to leave them be. Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, is one such example. “A whip called me once, saying: ‘I just wanted to confirm that you will definitely be voting against us tonight’,” he says. “I replied, yes, your intelligence is right.”

2. Procedure Committee releases its report on e-Petitions

In an earlier post, I reported on a hearing of the UK House of Commons Procedure Committee into the Government’s e-petitions scheme. The Committee recently released its report. Among their recommendations:

  • Extra sittings: The committee’s report recommends that an extra sitting in Westminster Hall, between 4.30 and 7.30 pm on a Monday, should be created for debates on e-petitions. The sitting would take place only if the Backbench Business Committee had scheduled a debate on an e-petition. The committee proposes that this change should be introduced as an experiment and reviewed after a year.
  • Government website:The committee’s report also recommends changes to the Government’s e-petitions website so that the information provided to petitioners is clearer, fuller and more accurate.

 3. The Hung Commonwealth Parliament: the First Year

The 2010 Australian general election, held on 21 August, resulted in a hung Parliament, with both the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/Nationals Coalition emerging with 72 seats each in the House of Representatives. The remaining seats were held by one Western Australia Nationals member (Tony Crook); one Australian Greens member (Adam Bandt); and four non-aligned independent members (Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie, and Tony Windsor). This was Australia’s first hung parliament in 70 years. The Parliamentary Library of the Australian Parliament has produced a detailed overview of the this parliament’s first year and the various standing order changes that have been implemented to better deal with the situation.

4. The Real Outsiders

Samara Canada’s latest report looks at the politically disengaged in Canada:

First, whether they were engaged or disengaged, our participants universally condemned politics. Contrary to the notion that the disengaged are apathetic, we found that those less likely to participate were neither disinterested in nor uninformed about the system. Instead we found that their disdain for politics was driven by an intuitive understanding of how the political system functions and their previous interactions with it.

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Some interesting links

1. The Big Society

The Canadian media has recently been reporting that the current Conservative Government is considering emulating the UK Coalition Government in adopting David Cameron’s Big Society. Some of what has been written here in Canada is critical of this, which is their perogative, but I found that they often failed to adequately explain the plan. See, for example, this post by Murray Dobbin, in which he dimisses the initiative as “social engineering from the right” and pointing out that the Big Society “scam” has been “widely ridiculed” but makes little effort to explain how it’s supposed to work. I am not argueing for or against this initiative, but I did think some Canadians (and perhaps some Brits) might be interested in learning more about it via David Cameron himself. Cameron appeared before the UK House of Commons Liaison Committee earlier this week and answered questions on a variety of issues, but a lot of the focus was on the Big Society. Canadians unfamiliar with the UK will not always understand exactly what he is talking about or referring to, but there is still enough information provided to perhaps provide some insight into what Cameron hopes the Big Society will be. You can either watch proceedings here, or read a transcript.

As a side note, this might be of added interest to Canadians who are likely to find the sight of a PM answering questions before a House of Commons committee for 90 minutes a rather mind-boggling affair.

2. New Zealand referendum on its electoral system

New Zealand adopted Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) in 1996, and in the 2008 election, the National Party promised to hold another referendum asking New Zealanders if they were satisfied with MMP or if they wished to change it. That referendum will take place on 26 November, and Australian elections expert and blogger Antony Green will be going to New Zealand for the last week of the campaign and will provide more details on the referendum and the election over the next two weeks. His first post on the referendum looks at New Zealand’s view of Preferential Voting, which is the voting system Australia uses. Those interested in electoral reform may want to bookmark Antony’s blog to keep track of his future posts. For those unfamiliar with the debate in New Zealand, you might find this piece of interest.

3. Rules of Royal Succession

At the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, the leaders of the member nations agreed to change the succession rules and give female members of the Royal Family the same rights to the throne as men, and to end the ban on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics. This hasn’t prompted much debate in Canada, but if you’re interested in the constitutional aspects of these changes, you might find this meeting of the UK House of Commons Constitutional and Political Reform Committee worth a listen. The witnesses are Professor Robert Blackburn, Kings College London, and Dr Robert Morris, Constitution Unit, University College London. While most of the discussion is focused on the UK, they do raise some of the issues facing Commonwealth jurisdictions, including Canada.

4. A UK Clarity Act?

According to this article in the Independent, the UK is considering adopting its own version of Canada’s Clarity Act in order to counter the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP)’s drive towards a referendum on independence for Scotland.

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Some interesting links

This blog’s author is rather swamped at work these days, and so I will take this opportunity to share with you some recent links that have caught my attention.

1. Is the tide finally turning for Nick Clegg?

Having gone from everyone’s darling after the first ever leaders’ debates last spring to the most despised person in British politics, Nick Clegg seems to be getting some respect in the press these days, and from rather unlikely sources. First up is this piece in the right-leaning, pro-Tory Telegraph by Paul Goodman, wherein he writes: “Whatever happens, Clegg will be in the midst of it – polite, influential, under-scrutinised and enduring as ever, despite the opprobrium heaped on his head. (…) His party has not split. He has faced no leadership challenge. None of the party’s MPs has called for him to go. His last party conference rallied round – as will the coming one, despite the inevitable huffing and puffing. His one-man masochism strategy is also a marathon strategy, as he strains towards the day when voters will thank him, however begrudgingly, for his role in the great mission of deficit reduction.”

Then there’s Rafael Behr’s piece in the left-leaning, pro-Labour New Statesman: “Speculation along these lines is a diverting political parlour game, but it ignores the current reality that Clegg is the Deputy PM, leading a party with enough seats in parliament and enough ministers in cabinet to leave yellow fingerprints all over government. The best testimony to the Lib Dems’ power is the fury it routinely provokes on the Tory right. Hawkish on the deficit, liberal on social policy and populist on bankers; thriftier than Labour but nicer than the Tories, the Lib Dems are squatting stubbornly, sometimes chaotically, in the middle of British politics. The voters might not thank Nick Clegg for it in the opinion polls; the other parties resent him for it. One thing he cannot be, however, is ignored.”

2. Political perceptions run amok

Recently, in The Observer, we learned that Labour’s new strategy would be to attack David Cameron as a “recognisably rightwing” leader. This view of Cameron was roundly rejected by readers of the more right-leaning Spectator (note the reader comments on this piece, rather than the blog post itself) and over at ConservativeHome, where the general consensus among right-wing Tories is that David Cameron may be many things, but right-wing is not one of them.

3. Parliamentum

For anyone who generally enjoys reading this blog, I would like to recommend another blog to you, Parliamentum, written by James W. J. Bowden. He writes about “Westminster parliamentarism in the core Commonwealth (The UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), particularly the unwritten constitution, the reserve powers of the crown, and the evolution of parliament, the cabinet, and the crown as institutions.” His approach is more academic than mine, since my goal is more to explain how parliament and parliamentary procedure works to people who aren’t very familiar with either, but I think both blogs complement each other quite well.

4. The Cabinet Manual and the Working of the British Constitution

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released  a report analyzing the draft Cabinet Manual, a potentially powerful document that codifies and unites the often unwritten conventions and rules that have governed and guided governmental activity for decades. I have mentioned this draft Cabinet Manual in a few posts. You can download the PDF of this report here.

5. For anyone going through Parliament withdrawal

Some good news: the UK Parliament resumes sitting next week. The BBC’s Mark D’Arcy provides a handy look-ahead as to what to expect. If any of that sounds interesting to you, you can livestream proceedings in the House of Commons, the House of Lords and committee hearings thanks to Parliament Live TV. Canada’s Parliament doesn’t come back from its summer holidays until September 19.

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Some interesting links

1. Time to salute the post-2010 election Parliament

BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy has a good column providing an interesting overview of the current UK Parliament and an assessment of some of the many reforms introduced in the dying days of the previous Parliament and at the outset of this one: “So I’m afraid, as I head off for my holidays, I’m going to indulge in a little optimism. A stronger Parliament is doing a better job. And that is a good thing for the country.”

2. The Death Penalty: A Matter of Emotion, Not Reason

With efforts underway by pro-capital punishment forces to force the House to debate the issue by gathering 100,000 signatures on an e-petition, the Spectator’s Alex Massie provides a thoughtful piece on the subject: “I have a little more faith in the British justice system than I do in its American counterparts but not so much that I’m happy to grant the state this kind of sanction. If I won’t trust the state to issue an ID card why should I trust it with the death penalty?”

3. Can David Cameron and George Osborne defy history and remain friends?

The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt looks at the long history of Prime Ministers falling out with their Chancellors of the Exchequer, and ponders if Cameron and Osborne can avoid a similar outcome.

4. MPs find their voice at last

Complementing Mark D’Arcy’s article about how reforms have made the UK Parliament stronger, Steve Richards writes in The Independent about how these reforms have shifted power to MPs and away from the executive: “Until recently the committees were something of a backwater for MPs, largely ignored by the media and viewed with indifference by ministers. They produced their reports. Some of them were extremely insightful and provided an important alternative commentary on various governments. Rarely did they get much publicity. No member acquired such an aura that he or she became associated with sex appeal. This has changed. Suddenly committees are sexy.”

5. An interview with the creator of PMQs – The Game

Helen Lewis-Hasteley interviews Mark Richards, creator of the PMQs computer game I’ve previously blogged about: “I had really enjoyed doing retro video game-style caricatures of political figures and, one day, it just occurred to me that Prime Minister’s Questions is a real-life turned based battle, like those bits from the old Pokemon games.”

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Some interesting links

1. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s appearance before the House of Lords Constitution Committee

On 18 May 2011, UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg appeared before the Lords Select Constitution Committee to discuss issues such as the AV referendum aftermath, Lords reform and other constitutional matters. You can watch that session here.

2. Role and Powers of the Prime Minister

The UK Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform is currently conducting an inquiry into the Role and Powers of the Prime Minister. They’ve published on volume of written evidence, and one submission stood out for me, a paper by the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, FBA, Attlee Professor of Contemporary History, School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, which looks at the functions of the Prime Minister as they have evolved from 1947, 2005, to 2011.  The list has grown from 12 items in 1947 to 47 today.

3. Parliament’s role in conflict decision

The UK Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform looked into the matter of the role of Parliament in decisions to commit British forces to armed conflict abroad. You can read their final report here (HTML version) or here for the PDF.

4. Antony’s Green Australian State Election Archive

For anyone interested in all things electoral from Australia, elections expert Antony Green has been engaging in an archiving project of his collection of electoral material. The material available concerns Australian state electoral publications. You can access the archive here.

5. Up a gum tree

I’d linked to this Financial Times article in a post about Australia’s Question Time, but feel it warrants another plug. In this lengthy piece, Matthew Engel looks at how Australia’s hung parliament is working – or rather, not working.

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Important Political Resources

I admit to being somewhat surprised by some of the keyword searches that bring people to this blog. It seems that too many people have no idea where to get key information – somehow they end up on this blog rather than on the sites they should be visiting to get the information they want. Consequently, I thought I would provide links to key resources based on recent keyword search activity. I will add to this post over time, as needed. Also, if any readers know of sites that should be added to this list, please comment with the link or use the site’s contact form to let me know.

Topics: Election results Canada, Election results UK, general information regarding how elections, by-elections, referendums are carried out, election financing laws, voting procedures, etc.

Elections Canada: If you are looking for information pertaining to any aspect of elections in Canada, Elections Canada should be your first stop. It will most likely be the only site you need to visit. It provides detailed election results of current and past elections, you can even download the data in CVS format. There is extensive information explaining how the voting system works, information for voters, for candidates, for parties, information about political parties, financing regulations, research and discussion papers on all things electoral, and even back-issues of the no-longer-published Electoral Insight magazine, which provides a wealth of interesting articles on various aspects of voting and elections in Canada (some dated by this point, but nonetheless interesting). If you’re looking for information about voting procedures in a particular Canadian province or territory, Elections Canada also has links to the Elections body of each (under the heading Provincial and Territorial Election Officials).

Electoral Commission: Sadly, the UK’s Electoral Commission doesn’t have the same mandate Elections Canada does – it doesn’t oversee or administer national elections. However, it still provides statistics, analysis and reports on elections, as well as information on party financing, boundary reviews, information for voters, and much more. This should still be the first place people visit for information about elections in the UK.

Another useful elections-related site for those interested in Canadian elections is the Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections. Any possible statistic you might want about Canadian elections (going back to 1997 only) can probably be found here.

Topics: Parliamentary privilege, parliamentary procedure

A lot of people regularly search for “parliamentary privilege” and end up on my blog. I have written a few posts dealing with some aspects of privilege, but it is a very complex subject matter, and I am hardly an expert. The usual sources for information about privilege are the procedure manuals published by various parliamentary bodies. The most famous – the “bible” so to speak, is Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, now in it’s 24th edition. Sadly, Erskine May is not available online, however, the procedure manuals of the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Parliaments are. Each has detailed sections on parliamentary privilege, and all quote Erskine May extensively.

Readers might also want to consult the UK Joint Select Committee on Privilege’s 1999 report: Parliamentary Privilege – First Report. It is somewhat dated, but still provides a thorough overview of the topic.

Topics: How Goverment works, parliamentary seating charts, number of MPs by party, general information about MPs, Committee business and reports, status of legislation before the House, Hansard, etc.

The first stop for anyone interested in any of the above, or related topics should be the official website of the parliament of the country you’re interested in. They normally have all that information and more. Here are the parliamentary websites of the countries this blog focuses on the most: Parliament of Canada, UK Parliament, Parliament of Australia, Parliament of New Zealand.

Topic: Styles of Address

Wondering how to refer to an MP, Judge, foreign dignitary, member of the Royal Family or a parliamentary secretary? The site you want is Heritage Canada’s Styles of Address. Or you could try Australia’s equivalent. And we mustn’t forget Debrett’s, the authoritative guide to addressing people.

Topic: Politicians using social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Canada: PoliTwitter aggregates the Twitter, Facebook, blog and other feeds of any elected federal or provincial official in Canada who has any online social media presence. You can sort them by federal/provincial, by province, and by party. It allows you to see immediately what various politicians and parties are tweeting, blogging and generally discussing online. You might also want to check out TweetCommons, which does something similar.

UK: PoVoice UK does something similar, but only with Twitter activity from UK politicians. It doesn’t seem to be as extensive as PoliTwitter, for example, I can’t tell if politicians have to voluntarily add their feed to it, or how it works, exactly, but I don’t follow it and so can’t really comment that much on how useful it might be. There is also TweetMinster which follows much more than MPs.

Australia: TweetMP documents all Australian federal MPs on Twitter.

Again, if you know of a site that you think should be included on this list, please comment with the relevant information, or use the Contact form.

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Some interesting links

1. Constitutional and Political Reform: where does the Coalition go from here?

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee this week and discussed all sorts of interesting issues: lessons learned from the AV referendum, recall legislation, Lords reform, etc.  You can watch the Committee meeting here.

2. It’s my Party

Samara, a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy, produced a series of reports based on exit interviews with MPs who’d decided not to seek re-election in the 2 May 2011 election. Their third report, “It’s my Party: Political Dysfunction Reconsidered” is particularly interesting as it highlights the frustrations that former MPs felt about the way politics is practiced in Parliament, laying most of the blame squarely on political parties and how they operate both inside and outside of Parliament. I do plan to write an actual post about my thoughts on this report (at some point), but in the interim, you can access the PDF here, download an ePub version here, or the mobile version here.

3. Prisoners and voting

The issue of voting rights for prisoners is simmering on the backburner in the UK. The aforementioned Political and Constitution Reform Committee reviewed the matter earlier this year. The report is available in HTML and PDF formats.

4. Some Lords reforms can’t wait

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee warns that incremental changes which would improve the functioning of the second chamber cannot wait for radical reform of the House of Lords. You can read their (very short) report here.

5. Lessons for Scotland?

The Scottish National Party won an outright majority in the Scottish Assembly last week, and leader Alex Salmond quickly promised a referendum on independence for Scotland. Françoise Boucek suggests he might study Quebec’s travels down to the road to independence.

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Some useful links for Canadian Voters

Here are some links that might help you make up your mind how to vote in the May 2 2011 election. I will update this post if/when I come across more useful links.

Party Platform Comparison

So far, only the Globe and Mail has provided readers with a comparison of the party platforms on major issues. The CBC has provided a party-by-party breakdown for the questions it used in its Vote Compass test, which might also be of some interest to voters.

Fact Checkers

Wondering if the claims made by parties and the counter-claims made by their opponents are true or mostly bull? Check out the CBC’s Reality Check, and Maclean’s Bull Meter.

Seat Projections

Never an exact science, but some sites do try to put polls into perspective and translate them into possible seats. One of the best is ThreeHundredEight.com. You can also try DemocraticSpace.

Vote Pairing

I’m not exactly endorsing this practice, but for the interested: “Vote swapping takes aim at hotly contested ridings. For this election, Pair Vote matches voters in close races (swing riding) with each other, or with one who is in a riding where winner is already known, to maximize voting impact. Both voters ensure a vote for their party of choice, plus one or two votes has a real chance of electing someone. That’s the best vote swapping can do within our broken voting system.”

If there is something you think is missing from this list, please use the Contact form to let me know!

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More AV links for the interested

(Are you looking for information on how voting works under AV? Please see this post.)

A very detailed post tackling the question “Is AV better than FPTP?” by a Cambridge University maths professor. Well worth reading, even if you’ve already decided to vote Yes. Definitely worth reading if you’re still undecided and probably should be read if you’re planning to vote No:

Consider first what it means if you get five bites of the cherry. It means that your first-choice party is eliminated, and your second-choice party, and your third-choice party, and your fourth-choice party. Compare that with the poor old voter who gets just one bite of the cherry. Their party is either the party that wins or the party that comes second. In the first case, they obviously do better by far. In the second case, it is not clear: if you vote Labour and Labour come second to the Conservatives, then you might well have preferred the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. But (i) they were behind Labour and (ii) right until the final round your vote was counting for your favourite party rather than for lower and lower choices.

A quick slogan:

GETTING MORE BITES OF THE CHERRY IS A DISADVANTAGE STUPID!

Meanwhile, the Independent provides a nice overview of the history of voting in the UK, pointing out that FPTP is “a veritable novelty”:

If we really are going to talk in terms of centuries, then the voting system Cameron and others are fighting to defend is a veritable novelty – younger, in fact, than Lord Reid of Cardowan, who appeared alongside the Prime Minister at last week’s launch to assert that any voting system other than the one we now use would not be “British”. John Reid was born in 1947. The first time the House of Commons was elected on the principles of what Cameron calls “an equal say and an equal voice” for all was in 1950.

Over at the Spectator, Alex Massie despairs that the game is lost:

Since the BNP-spectre has loomed so large in this election can one point out that Phil Woolas was hardly the only politician making a pitch for what might be termed BNP-lite first preferences? Is it better to run a campaign persuading someone to vote Tory or Labour rather than BNP or one in which said Tory or Labour candidate might hope to receive a BNP voter’s second, third or fourth preference?

At the last Voting Power in Practice annual workshop, voting experts unanimously rejected FPTP:

22 voting theory specialists voted to select the “best voting procedure” to elect one out of three or more candidates. Each voter chose from a list of 18 nominated voting procedures as many as she/he approved of. From a possible maximum of 22 votes, First Past The Post (FPTP) – also known as Plurality Voting – received no votes. The Alternative Vote (AV) took second place with 10 votes.

To anyone planning to vote No because they want something other than AV and hope that a future referendum might offer up a proper PR system, Chancellor George Osborne has made it very clear that a No vote will close the door any talk of electoral reform for years to come:

In a message to his Lib Dem colleagues that there will be no further deals on electoral reform, Mr Osborne insisted the May 5 referendum would settle the issue ‘for the foreseeable future’.

‘I don’t think it’s likely we are going to have another referendum any time soon, which is all the more reason why we have got to go out and win it,’ he said.

‘This settles it for a long time.’

 

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Link sharing

I’d like to share a few links with readers.

Everyone’s favourite elections expert from down under, Antony Green, is in the UK at the moment – in part to observe the ongoing referendum campaign, and in part for a vacation. He has a provided a very interesting contribution to the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog in which he writes that the experience with AV at the Australian state level suggests that AV in the UK may not change the national picture of who wins seats that much, but will increase the legitimacy of MPs who otherwise could not demonstrate that they have local majority support.

Human rights activist Jemima Khan has an in-depth interview with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The comments from readers are the typical anti-Clegg knee-jerk reactions that have become the norm in the more left-wing media, but the interview itself is interesting.

One of the points Clegg raises in the interview is his concern the impact of his work might be having on his children:

He has successfully managed to keep his family out of the spotlight, “to create a firewall” between his world and theirs, although he worries constantly that “what I am doing in my work impacts on them emotionally, because my nine-year-old is starting to sense things and I’m having to explain things. Like he asks, ‘Why are the students angry with you, Papa?’”

This led James Forsyth to pen a thoughtful piece on the consequences of political abuse. Sadly, the comments there aren’t much better – not aimed at Clegg specifically, but at politicians in general, which then leads me to this piece by Steve Richards in the Independent calling for an end to the loathing of politicians:

Throw into the mix the fashion for a fairly aggressive media culture and it is not surprising we are where we are. It is a dangerous place to be. Think about the weird sequence. We vote, or some of us do, and then those who are elected are loathed. What would we prefer? Perhaps Prince William should not only get married but rule over us too.

Also from the Spectator, from a couple of weeks ago, a post by Alex Massie about the use of hyper injuctions in the UK, which prohibit individuals from even talking to their MPs about certain matters. There is growing concern that this might be a breach of parliamentary privilege.

From Canada, a rather depressing assessment of the House of Commons. Again, it’s a bit old (from February), but still worth reading.

And finally, a piece from ConservativeHome about what academics think of the coalition.

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