Thursday 5 March 2015

We're stuck with leaders debates, so we'll have to adapt

Leaders debates. Seriously, who honestly cares? Tribalists, that's who; party activists and the Twitter coprophagiacs. These debates add no value, they represent the very worst of media driven politics and the are the antithesis of British democratic process. We vote for candidates not leaders. Or at least we should. These debates further cheapen our already shallow political discourse and distract from genuine politics in a way that demeans the whole process. I'm not the first to remark it resembles more a beauty pageant or a TV talent show.

The problem here is that there's now no putting this genie back in the bottle. Any move to get rid of them would be shouted down by a cacophony of idiots as censorship or antidemocratic - or somesuch other nonsense. Not that it matters. We were already drifting toward an American presidential style system anyway now that the media is the main prisim through which we consume our politics. So we need to recognise that we are already there and formalise the arrangement

In order to limit the damage this development does we will have to have directly elected prime ministers separate to the election of MPs. Direct election would correct a manifest unfairness in our current arrangements, exemplified by Prime Minister David Cameron who gained office by virtue of 33,973 votes in the 2010 general election. All those votes were cast in the constituency of Witney, which boasted 78,220 electors. The rest of the nation was not allowed to vote for the man. He may have been elected as an MP, but he was not elected as prime minister through a general franchise. 

Furthermore, when Mr Cameron holds office on the back of 10,703,654 Conservative votes, from an electorate of 45,844,691, his franchise represents only 36 percent of the votes cast and less than a quarter (23 percent) of the overall electorate. In any election, the PM hardly ever reflects the choice of leader for the nation.

Direct election of course would lead to separation of powers where we would see the Commons working better as an opposition to government, with more MPs voting as their conscience dictates rather than what their career ambitions demand. That can only improve accountability. 

If we are going down this route, which we are, then we must seize the opportunity to make it work in our favour. This is the low hanging fruit for The Harrogate Agenda. And it's the one reform that looks within our immediate grasp.

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