Emma Does Politics

There is such a thing as society. It's called politics.

Archive for the tag “parliamentary procedures”

Electoral Reform: Voting Buttons

This guest blog entry was by David Shepheard. He is a member of UNISON, working and living in London. Views expressed in this post are those of the author only.

I was talking with a friend about politics earlier and it reminded me of something I dislike about politics. That thing is the amount of faffing about they do, with silly old rituals.

One of those things is the long process of saying “Aye” and “Nay” and ringing the Division Bell and having people walk around in lobbies. That all eats up time. And as we pay these people a ton of money to work for us, I would like them to be more economical with our time.

Voting Buttons for the House of Commons

I would like to see all of that tossed out and replaced with a bunch of buttons in front of each MP:

  • Aye
  • Nay
  • Abstain

Instead of having party whips running around and trying to get party members to obey their commands, MPs should just be told to get on with it and vote by the Speaker. And instead of having party whips calling up MPs on their mobile phones and asking them to come back from the pub to vote, they should be sitting in their seats and pressing voting buttons. We pay these people a lot of money to talk about laws and think about laws – not to sit in the pub and to come back and blindly follow the orders of a party whip like a zombie.

I would like to see those buttons send out data in real-time, so that there is an instant result, and the MPs get on with talking about the next law immediately (or after a short toilet break). They should put a gigantic screen up in the House of Commons and show the vote on a pie chart.

I would also like to see the content sent out of the House of Commons in real time, so that people can log onto a website and see instant stats for laws, as they happen. And it should be possible for people to dig into the data (to see exactly who voted for or against each law – or to see exactly what laws any MP has voted for or against).

Voting Buttons for the House of Lords

I also think there should be a similar system in the House of Lords. They should have a gigantic screen too, and it should show a queue of laws coming in from the House of Commons that they have to vote “Content” or “Not-Content” on. Again they should have buttons in front of them, this time they could read:

  • Content
  • Not-Content
  • Abstain

What I would really like to see with the House of Lords, is for them to also try to work in real-time, and work towards reducing the amount of time they take to deal with laws that are sent over from the House of Commons.

If they decide to approve or reject laws, that could be bounced back to the House of Commons in real-time. There should not really be an excuse for laws taking a long time to bounce back and forth.

Why an Abstain button?

If any MP or member of the House of Lords fails to vote in any vote that should also be recorded in the stats (so we should be able to get stats to show who is not bothering to do half their work). Abstaining is a conscious decision to avoid voting yes or no. If someone listens to the “yes” and “no” arguments and is undecided by either argument, that is fine.

But not turning up to work, without a good reason, is not acceptable. Regular people face getting the sack if they do not turn up to work. The same should apply to people in government. There should be some sort of threshold of “Failed to vote” that triggers a “dereliction of public duty” investigation, with possible removal from office being a consequence.

I even think that, if someone is too ill to get into the Houses of Parliament, that that should trigger an investigation and possible removal from office. But, as illness is not “dereliction of public duty” there should not be any disgrace to someone being too ill to be a Lord or MP. But if they cannot do the job, and arrangements cannot be made to help them do the job, they need to pass on the baton to someone else.

This guest blog entry was by David Shepheard. He is a member of UNISON, working and living in London. Views expressed in this post are those of the author only.


An open letter to Angela Eagle MP

Dear Angela Eagle,

Thank you for your enlightening talk on Monday (24th February 2014). It is slightly unfortunate that the topic of your presentation didn’t quite tie in with the name of the event (“How We Re-Engage People with Politics“). Given the title of the event, people were bound to expect the ideas presented to be about restoring engagement in processes where people used to be engaged. The most notable such example is voter turnout, which as you noted, has been declining steadily since I can remember, and even since before that.

Instead, we were given a presentation on parliamentary procedures and one idea on how it should be reformed. Unfortunately, I am not the parliamentary procedures geek that Emily (one of the event’s organisers) is. I doubt many (any?) members of the public who attended were, as were were led to believe the topic would be something else. Don’t get me wrong — I learned a great deal from your presentation, but it was very much Parliamentary Procedures 101 for me. I didn’t have the background knowledge necessary that evening to give a fully considered and meaningful response to many of the points you raised. Judging by the questions from the audience, neither  did many others.

However, I do not mean to appear dismissive. I would very much like to engage in a meaningful discussion of the important issue you raised. It has become clear during the life of the current parliament that bills can be sped through parliament without due process with regard to whether a bill can be implemented in a practical manner, and without proper time for review by those who would wish to consider whether the proposed bill is a just and fairly-written bill. I would very much like for you to either publish your notes on Monday’s presentation, or directly send me a copy, so that I may study them and give the well-thought-out responses and queries that I believe you had hoped for that evening.

Bringing this letter round top my favourite topic (implementing “None of the Above” on election ballot papers), I would like to thank you for your time listening to me talk on the subject that evening. You raised a few objections to the idea, such as how we can already spoil our vote, and if we had “NOTA with teeth” it might lead to an unending series of by-elections.

While it is true we can spoil our vote (or indeed, abstain), neither of those truly express a conscious expression of disapproval for the candidates on offer. A spoiled vote is, for official purposes, read as an accidental error, and historically, has resulted in ever-more-precise instructions about the “correct” way to vote. A “spoiled” ballot in which the voter placed a cross too many or too few or not clearly for a single candidate is, in the final analysis, considered no differently from a “spoiled” ballot in which the voter has written a long essay explaining his disapproval of the candidates and/or parties available in his constituency. Even if we were to officially recognise all spoiled ballots as NOTA votes, the resulting statistic would still be viewed with suspicion, since there will undoubtedly be “genuinely spoiled” votes, in which the voter intended to vote for a single candidate but got it wrong. The only way to clearly disambiguate protest votes for NOTA from spoiled ballots is to make NOTA a conscious choice rather than the result of human “error”.

I later explained that genuine NOTA has yet to be implemented anywhere, as the current implementations across the world simply call for the leading “live” candidate to win the seat outright as if the NOTA votes were abstentions. After I outlined my proposal for how “NOTA with teeth” could be implemented (a by-election to be called after one year), you objected to that idea, as it could lead to an unending series of by-elections.

I have two counterpoints to that. In the “real world”, everyone is subject to annual performance reviews anyway. Asking for only those MPs who had a nominal level of mandate granted at the polls (instead of say, all MPs) to prove their worth in an annual review seems quite reasonable when examined in that light. Knowing that their performance will be reviewed at the polls in a year’s time might even incentivise that MP to do a better job (or at least, that is the popular theory among management experts). Second, I would put forward the notion that any MP who is demonstrably less popular than a literal “someone, anyone, other than these guys” vote probably shouldn’t be put forward by their party again in the by-election. Having a NOTA with teeth might motivate parties to put forward candidates who are more acceptable to the general public.

Additionally, NOTA would be of demonstrable advantage to all parties. First, it would increase the voter turnout; people who would vote NOTA currently tend to abstain. The increased voter turnout would serve to increase the perceived legitimacy of the electoral mandate. Second, since NOTA voters are actively engaged in the election process by voting, it is that much easier to convert a NOTA voter to a party voter, something that should be of relevance to any political party. And given the topic of the event on Monday, something that really should have been given proper air-time that day.

Angela Eagle, I look forward to receiving your response at your soonest convenience.

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